Tools and AI are reducing — but not eliminating — the role of humans in web design and development
This feature first appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Web design and development is one of the most dynamic domains in the IT industry today. It has grown exponentially in recent years and spawns new trends every year. Some of the latest trends are Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), responsive web design, AI chatbots, voice search optimization, Progressive Web Apps (PWA), Content Management Systems (CMS), and motion UI.
Most users consume web content and transact online on mobile devices, and these trends are a reflection of that reality. Changes in web development are driven mainly by the evolution of internet-enabled consumer devices, AI, changes in consumer needs and behavior, and commercial goals.
In recent years, there has been a proliferation in different types and forms of consumer devices. Alongside the ubiquitous smartphone, we now have smart watches, glasses, fitness wearables, smart TVs, and other devices. Increasingly, consumers are looking for scalable and secure web apps with lots of features, with customization and enhanced usability.
Web design refers to the visual representation of a client’s ideas and requirements, and definition of the user interface. A web designer creates a website’s layout, aiming for both aesthetic appeal and optimum user experience. Web designers also need to understand search engine optimization.
A web developer (or programmer) builds a live interactive website or application based on this layout. There are front-end, back-end, and full stack developers. In 2020, a web designer’s role is not always entirely distinct from a developer’s role. More and more web designers are learning programming in order to handle parts of design implementation, and developers are honing their user experience design skills.
How the website sausage gets made
Websites today are rarely developed manually from start to finish. The use of design software and web building tools at various stages of the design and development process is the norm. This is partly because it’s cheaper and much quicker to use D-I-Y software to develop web applications.
Experienced developers are expensive and in short supply. Also, it takes considerably longer to build websites manually. Though humans plan and manage the design and development process, some functions are executed by tools and Artificial Design Intelligence (ADI) in a fraction of the time that it would take humans to complete such tasks.
AI can handle repetitive time-consuming tasks, leaving designers and developers with more time to focus on creative work, building features, and developing innovative strategies.
Web designers use a variety of design tools to streamline their design workflow. Some popular web design tools include Photoshop, InVision Studio, Sketch (which works only on Mac), Affinity Designer, and Marvel. There are prototypes and mockups, such as UXPin, Axure, MockFlow, Protopie, and Fluid, to name a few. Design frameworks and libraries include Bootstrap, a well-established CSS framework, Startup 3, Pattern Lab, and Google’s Material Design.
The use of templates to develop User Interfaces (UIs) is widespread, but component technology is changing that. Businesses are always looking to reduce development costs. Modular design enables economical, flexible yet high-quality web development.
Using templates, a developer can create a web page only with what a particular template offers, whereas modular design does away with such limitations. You can develop blocks of content and combine them to create a unique and user-friendly page. Thus, instead of using CSS frameworks, developers are now building modular CSS components that they can reuse multiple times over the course of a project.
React is a popular component-based front-end framework used to create encapsulated components that can be composed to build complex interactive UIs. Vue.js is a progressive framework used to create UIs. AngularJS is a structural framework that is used to develop dynamic mobile and desktop web applications. Next.js is a widely used server-side rendering tool for React, and Nuxt.js is used for Vue.js.
Website development platforms, such as GoDaddy and Wix have been around for some time now. More recent platforms are Bookmark, Webflow, Adobe Sensei, and Firedrop. Wix is an AI-enabled platform that has the capability of generating a website based on content provided and options selected by the user.
Adobe Sensei can handle routine recurring tasks as well as advanced image editing. The software comes with AI-enabled face recognition capability. Sensei is also capable of analyzing user data, discerning patterns, and enabling customization. Firedrop, another design automation platform, uses machine learning to read your inputs and recommend options based on your answers.
Tools and automation have a place …
Key advantages of using software, AI, and machine learning in web design and development are speed and cost. Advanced technology has made it possible for web developers to build web applications in less time than before. AI can process huge sets of data at speed, thereby enabling organizations to achieve scalability, enhance customer experience, and realize better business outcomes.
AI tools are useful for testing and quality analysis of web applications. Predictive analytics uses algorithms for testing and analyzing massive amounts of data in order to predict glitches and inadequacies.
To a certain extent, AI can enable businesses to provide personalized content to users. AI is useful for processing and analyzing user data, thereby enabling effective content creation in order to engage a company’s target audience. This helps to increase site traffic. Designers and developers use AI to improve the search engine ranking of their websites.
AI is enabling developers to create more responsive websites and applications. AI has proven effective in enhancing customer experience in the form of chatbots and voice search. In coming years, Gartner expects 30 percent of web searches to be voice-based via tools like phones and home assistants — that is to say, browsing will happen without a screen.
… but AI can’t do everything
Many consumers have privacy concerns regarding web apps that use AI and machine learning to monitor their behavior. Web analytics tools are capable of processing a lot of customer data, thereby making users increasingly wary that businesses and other organizations have access to personal and other information.
Though very useful for certain functions, AI often falls short when it comes to intricate tasks. AI-enabled design tools are not yet capable of precise imaging. While these tools can crop simple images without human intervention, a skilled graphic designer is required for images with elaborate detail. Websites generated by AI tools often lack a fine finish; they might look tacky and present a flawed user interface.
Automated web applications similarly lack a distinctively human touch, which is what many users still want. They don’t want impersonal responses. Even well-developed chatbots can’t substitute for humans. Users know they’re conversing with a bot.
The use of AI in targeted advertising is still delivering mixed results. Personalization algorithms don’t always get your real interests; instead they can be pretty obtrusive and keep showing you irrelevant ads.
Web design and development is a combination of creativity, methodology, rules, and best practices. As discussed earlier, humans organize and administer the design and development process. Refined aesthetics, complex tasks, and deep customization are best left to human specialists.
Designing and developing unique and rich websites is still the preserve of competent human designers and developers. AI is still incapable of delivering distinctive and highly-customized applications. Many websites churned out by web-building tools look and feel similar.
For example, the website automation tool Grid has disappointed users who expected better results from a built-in design assistant that the company claimed could use five color palettes in myriad ways to produce unique outcomes. For now, humans have a clear edge in developing oneof-a-kind websites, with a fine aesthetic and superior user experience.
The demand for creative and competent designers and developers is actually expected to increase in the near future. Artificial intelligence is still developing and is not likely to completely replace skilled designers and developers anytime soon. Currently, AI assists humans, not the other way round.
Websitebuilderexpert.com quotes Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen as saying, “[N]o machine will be able to mimic the creative ability of the human mind.”
A mixed future
Increasingly, humans will handle the creative and complex aspects of development and let tools take care of repetitive coding and other tedious work. Expert developers will focus on development strategy and use AI effectively to produce secure, highly customized, and optimum browsing experiences for users.
If you work in web design and development, then you should decide what direction you want to go in and then become proficient in the technologies and tools most suitable for your line of work. Keeping track of developments in your field, being aware of current and emerging trends, and learning relevant languages and skills is important.
For example, the market is trending toward web apps that are usable on different devices. This means web developers need to build different types of websites or applications for a range of diverse platforms.
Gartner expects 85 percent of customer interactions to occur without human intervention at the business end by the end of this year. The use of chatbots in place of customer service staff is increasing because it’s cost-effective. This might see an uptick in the demand for animators and script writers.
Despite such advances, there’s no technology-related reason for skilled design and development professionals to be pondering a future that involves a different line of work. For the time being, AI cannot match good designers and developers in several critical aspects of web development.