The Future of Careers in Web Design

by in Design on 21st Sep 2010 · Comments

Web design and development is an ever changing industry, and as technology grows and develops, so does the job description. What is the future of web design? How can web designers function today, versus how they will function and make a living 10 years from now?

In this article, we'll look into an interesting concept: based on what we know today, we'll look into the day-to-day life of a web designer a few years down the road. Not only can this be interesting, but having an accurate prediction of the future can prepare us for a solid future career.

The Future of Careers in Web Design

A Look into Trends

Trends can be more than just fads. In fact, everything that has stuck in today's world was once just a starting trend that grew up into something much bigger. Think of MySpace, Facebook, and even Twitter when they were just starting out. It was just a fun trend everyone slowly began getting into, but look at these websites now. They've literally changed the way we live, work, and for web designers, display ourselves online.

MySpace may be not as popular as some of its rivals anymore, but it can truthfully be said that it was the first big social media network. Social media did not have nearly the impact a few years ago as it does today, hence MySpace's true impact on the world. Facebook and Twitter of course are still going strong, along with a number of other popular social media websites.

The point being, always stay up to date with the trends, and if something gets popular don't ignore it and expect it to be a waste of time for the future. Beyond social media sites, take the latest app, CMS, design style, or whatever else into consideration. Then, ask yourself: why is it so trendy?

Trends happen for a reason, because something is working for them. It is very possible that some of the most recent trends today are a peephole into the future of web design. After all, it only took one small social media website to create a mass of them, the first simple blogging system to eventually create WordPress and the entire blogosphere, and one designer to come up with a new web design that created the user interfaces we love best today.

Trends

Design Trends Now and In The Future

Of course, not every trend will stay around. The ones that are the most practical and usable will stick, and could eventually effect the way we work. Let's do some more specific predicting now and guess which design-related trends are going to be staying with us for several more years.

Font Replacement

Sifr and Cufon are just the beginning of font replacement it seems. As technology grows, it may become easier and more efficient to replace web fonts with custom fonts. No matter how we'll do it in the future, though, it is likely that font replacement is here to stay.

Font Replacement

When you think about it, it's actually surprising that this idea and technology just came about within the last few years. It has given designers so many more options when it comes to typography, and has contributed greatly to the ever so popular typography design trend.

In the future there will likely be more options for font replacement, and especially those that do not involve Flash or JavaScript. As browsers evolve, they'll probably support more font replacement techniques, and CSS may even help out. With @font-face, we are already on the way to pure CSS font replacement, although more compatibility and flexibility need to be implemented for its wide-spread use.

Print to Web

Lately there has been a lot of design trends that are bringing the look of printed designs to life on the web. For example, interesting typography is being used more, and so are subtle paper textures. Also, the use of common paper layouts, like newspaper columns, are coming more into style for user interfaces. A favorite in the blog design community is the magazine layout, and 3D figures that represent bookmarks, notes, and other paper-like objects are being used more as well.

Print to Web

In the future texture will continue to be used, and support for things like multiple backgrounds will continue to develop as well. We can already do some pretty cool things with the new CSS3 to create life-like interfaces and use any version of CSS with some cool tricks to make a textured website. Even modern, clean, and minimal website designs are starting to implement texture, letterpress effects, and other trends.

Personalization

As the web grows bigger, more individuality is needed to stand out. In recent years, illustrated web designs have become very popular. If a designer, these illustrations showcase the designer's style and talents. Otherwise, illustration in web design has a good use of branding by providing the website with a bit of personality.

Personalization

In the future we'll exhibit a lot more individuality through illustrations, imagery, and color schemes. In essence, it is a trend to stray away from trends. Before, many websites had similar colors, standard business images, and similar layouts. While consistency is key in some areas, it's definitely not required in others.

Web 3.0 Design

Just as fast as Web 2.0 came, Web 3.0 began developing. There are varying definitions of what phase three of the web will be, but the majority of the theories focus around a user-centric approach. Things like iGoogle, "the portable web" (mobile, iPad, etc.), pick & choose content, smarter user interfaces, etc. are all coming about under the new definition of 3.0.

Web 2.0, in contrast, was more focused around providing the user with content. A large pool of floating content such as blogs, better search engines, smart SEO, all made up Web 2.0. As from a design perspective, Web 2.0 consisted of clean and sleek designs that focused around providing content to the user in a more efficient way.

Web 3.0 Design

In the future design will take on a whole new era, along with the era of Web 3.0. More user-centric applications will be developed, customizable features, and better user engagement. For web designers, this means a much higher focus on user interface design. Today, we have web designers that specialize in UI design, but not all that have a strong knowledge of it. In the future of web design, we'll see a lot more web designers learning how to create web designs to better fit the user's perspective and flow throughout the website.

Development Trends that Will Likely Continue

Just like design trends, we can expect a lot of trends related to technology to carry on into the future and evolve further. Below are just a few ideas.

HTML5 over Flash?

There has been a long debate over whether Flash is still relevant in today's fast paced industry. It seems to be getting outdated, and smaller effects are being replaced with things like jQuery animation and even CSS. Now, though, even HTML5 has joined the battle.

According to this article: Does HTML5 Really Beat Flash?, HTML5 is already more efficient than Flash when displaying video in many browsers. However, in some browser-operating system combinations, HTML5 isn't completely compatible yet.

HTML5 over Flash?
Image credit: justinsomnia

In the future Flash isn't going to die completely. Flash does still have some practical uses, such as full-flash sites and custom animations. However, Flash's use for more common things is likely to decrease, like displaying video and small navigation and effects. They will eventually be completely replaced by HTML5 and other future technologies. Beyond HTML5, we may see improvements in JavaScript, CSS, and more that will act as better replacements as well.

Smaller Screens and Mobile Design

It's definitely safe to say mobile devices aren't a trend, and now we have other fun gadgets like the iPad to think about. The web is evolving out of just a computer screen, and onto a more versatile level.

Smaller Screens and Mobile Design
Image credit: viagallery

In the future many mobile and small-device web design technologies will be more compatible with each other. Right now, app development is far from mobile web design, and the practice of mobile web design is different than the practice of creating an iPad design. Because the trend is relatively new, there is a lot of competition and no standard programming language or best design concepts best for us web designer and developers. In the future, that will change, and learning one technology will benefit us for designing pages or creating apps for a large variety of mobile devices.

For right now, just try to stay up to date on the latest technologies and trending best practices.

More Options and Easier Editing for Clients

Think about how just WordPress development has evolved in the last year or two. A few years ago, anyone could buy or download a WordPress theme with no back panel options and be happy. Now, even with free themes, it's almost demanded. Now all WordPress themes, premium or not, come with a custom admin panel that lets its user change social media options, logos, backgrounds, and more. Options are a huge trend right now, and they're so useful, they're not going away any time soon.

More Options and Easier Editing for Clients

As more clients and web owners require to do more and more business online, better and easier functionality is needed. Beyond the WordPress example, integration with many popular apps are needed, and some clients require web designers or developers to create custom web applications to exactly fit the needs of their business.

In the future all web designers will have a knowledge of how to create and work with custom web applications, even though it was often the web developer's job. The web designer and developer's jobs are going to become more intertwined, and it is going to be essential for a web designer to learn more coding practices and technologies.

Future Web Design Business

So we've looked into the day-to-day activities and future technologies we likely have to encounter, but what about how we do day-to-day business? While some business tactics will stay true to time, the way we do business will evolve as the Internet grows larger and as we all grow more dependent on it.

The Growth of Freelancing

In the web design industry, freelancers can make more working solo with an unlimited salary, work by their own standards, and grow as much as they see fit. In addition, many businesses can save money by hiring a one-time freelance web designer rather than a large firm or getting an in-house designer.

The Growth of Freelancing
Image credit: jetling

With so many benefits from both sides, and with so many freelancing resources available today, the growth of freelancing web designers will likely continue. Anyone can start at a young age, while they're still in school, or during a career change. It's easy to set up and get going, and with experience and a good brand it can be just as profitable in today and future generations as a salaried job.

Less Clients and Fewer Custom Websites

A rise in premium themes and templates means more businesses (especially start-up businesses) are looking for pre-designed templates and cheaper solutions. A future day in the life of a web designer may mean working on a premium theme for sale, a custom web app that sells subscriptions, and perhaps working with a client only to customize a pre-made website they've bought.

Less Clients and Fewer Custom Websites

Client-less web design has its ups and downs. For one, creating a good income can take more time, but at the same time passive income is exponential and can be a more steady form of income. For those that prefer working with clients rather than personal projects for income, it can still be possible, but with a shift in mindset. In the future of web design, it may be more practical to offer services that relate to altering, adding on to, or customizing themes, apps, or plugins.

In other words, the web design business of the future may be more focused on customizations, rather than creating a client website from start to finish.

Non-Local Business

Local clients are a great way to start up a web design business, and to keep them alive. However, today many start-up design firms or freelancers have never even looked at a local client. As the web grows larger, the world grows smaller. In the future, this will continue and it may become irrelevant and unnecessary to search for local web design work.

Non-Local Business
Image credit: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

Social media, blogging, and free releases are all great ways to obtain international attention to your small home-town business. Also, things like Skype, GoToMeeting, and even specialized business applications are making it easy to work "face-to-face" with a client across the world. Right now, local businesses can be beneficial, but it may not be a reliable business model within the next ten years. Always be sure to improve your web design skill set enough to beat a large portion of the online competition, not just the local competition.

Future Personal Projects

Today's most popular personal project among web designers is probably blogging. It is easy to set up, anyone can write, and blogs can easily be social media stars. It's easy to see why so many web designers choose to blog in between client work. However, what do the personal projects of the future look like? Will blogs continue to strive, or will some other hobby take over?

This one is more difficult to predict. However, a rise in web apps as come about, since everyone seems to be missing their own unique touch when using applications from bigger companies.

There will probably be a rise in custom-made web apps, as web apps are becoming easier to create. It doesn't take a team of highly educated individuals to make something work on the web anymore. Today, one person can code and design a web app from scratch in a few months. The ideas by all these creative people have always been there, it's just the easier this becomes, the more those ideas will come to life.

This is probably also true for things like WordPress plugins, Joomla! add-ons, jQuery tools and more. Along with the rise of personalized web apps, there will be more personalized applications or tools that already go with some of our more popular CMS's and favorite tools. Custom solutions and integration to our favorite applications today will grow in numbers tomorrow.

Future Personal Projects

In the future it may be more common for a web designer to start off their day coding their latest web app idea, plugin, or designing the interface to a new feature of an already developed app. This is, of course, opposed to blogging and over-saturating the already over-saturated blogosphere.

Business Finances

Today, many freelance web designers keep their business balances in PayPal. It is the easiest way to store money online safely and securely, and it is nearly compatible with everything. Nearly all web-based purchases can be made via PayPal, and in recent years PayPal has made the transition to act more like a bank. Users can receive interest from a generous rate, and PayPal debit cards are becoming more common.

Beyond PayPal, other banks are coming online, and there are even banks that are founded online and are completely operated online. Accountancy firms are now offering 100% online services to individuals like web designers and other online freelancers.

Business Finances

In the future services like PayPal will still be going strong. Depending on how PayPal deals with its service charges and rates, though, they may or may not see a complete shift to the use of their service. In recent years, especially during the 2008-09 recession, PayPal received numerous complaints about how their service charges were only increasing. Although PayPal is winning now, in the future, whichever online bank suits business owners best in terms of finance charges, interest, variety in tools, and overall compatibility will win.

Where we'll be keeping and handling our business finances is unknown for now, but there is no doubt we'll be seeing a rise in online services and software for taxes, accounting, and other finance related things. In the future, it will be possible to truly run a business completely online.

Further Resources

Conclusion

The future of web design is coming fast and it is indeed exciting. We have a lot to expect through trends, but some new technologies and trends may come completely by surprise. What we can do now is keep up to date with trends, and whether or not we choose to follow them right now, we'll be ready if the trends of today grow out of proportion in the future.

In this technology-related field, everything from design practices to technology and business can change within the next ten years. Unlike many other industries, it can be hard to predict where we'll be, or where we'll even want to be. However, with the best prediction possible, how do you imagine yourself working as a web designer in ten years?

Kayla Knight is freelance web designer and developer with several years of experience. In her spare time she enjoys the busy college life, and writes for some top design blogs.