Are web designers obsolete?
Recently Smashing Magazine ran an article by Cameron Chapman. The reaction was immediate and the editors quickly found themselves under fire from hundreds of designers who felt they’d been crudely misrepresented. Many felt magazines editors were essentially of ‘biting the hand that feeds them’.
So vehement was the reaction editors were forced to post rebuttals including an interesting response by Michael Aleo along with an apology (see Cameron update, above). However, the anger remains and the discussion continues.
It’s easy for writers and content providers to overlook the design aspect and concentrate on function over form but as any designer knows, good design is supposed to be invisible. No matter, if it’s in print, on the Web, or a really cool App, a designer’s job is making sure content is the king. That’s what design is supposed to be. So, is Cameron paying us a compliment?
No, I didn’t think so either. While many of Cameron’s arguments are flawed, and they do perhaps paint a rather old fashioned, simplistic picture of the work of web designer, the article poses an interesting question about the shifting relationship between form and function on the Web. In this age of social media and RSS feeds what will become of the traditional website?
The question is not a new one, critics have been predicting the death of the website since Web 2.0 was a twinkle in O’Reilly’s eye. Despite this, the traditional website has continued to exist. A domain name is basically a brand name and, as Aleo points out, few businesses are going to willingly give up the power and control of a domain for the promise of a subdomain on Facebook.
So, What’s the problem with Social Media?
As any designer and web marketer will tell you, the key to an effective web presence is branding. A brand is about creating a consistent message, throughout your company’s online and offline material. From a branding perspective, the problem with Facebook and Twitter and so on, is that everybody’s pages, walls and whatever, basically look the same. No matter where you go, Facebook looks like Facebook, WordPress blogs look like WordPress blogs and Bloggers look like, well blogs. Even a DIY blog, still looks like a blog, largely thanks to its functionality. It’s not too hard to see why, Social Media Sites are in the business of selling themselves, they’re in business to sell your data, not your business.
Another problem with relying on Facebook or Twitter for branding, is that it requires a pre-sold audience. You can’t just join Facebook and expect to get thousands of friends. That requires work. You need to find a clever way to bring your audience to you. Sound familiar? It Should. After all no one joins Facebook for the marketing opportunities, except for media companies and their clients. Frankly, we get enough of that in our inboxes already. People join social media sites to be heard and to stay in touch with their friends. Chances are, that doesn’t include you, or your clients.
If you have to ask, it’s not you.
Another point to keep in mind, about the Web, is fashion. Nothing goes out of date faster than the Web, particularly for the young. As saying goes: anything can be cool until your parents find out. As more and more older people head for Facebook country, the younger crowd are already looking for an exit. What could be less cool than chillin’ with the olds on Facebook? Unless, of course, its chilling with some faceless corporation on Facebook.
What does this mean for Social Media Marketing. Well, it’s like those scooters that were all the rage a few years back. They were cool for about 5 minutes, until you until saw some random corporate suit riding one and then you knew the fad was over. Remember, when iPods used to be cool? Well, now everybody and their mother has got one. The marketing people are telling us the cool people are buying iPads and smart phones but for how long? 18 months ago, not having a Facebook page meant being social outcast, now, with recent privacy issues still largely unresolved, Facebookers are starting to wonder why they ever bothered.
For these reasons, Social Media, no matter how cleverly designed, won’t replace a properly designed branded website. It’s simply not designed to. Just as you need amazing content to convince your audience to listen, you also need amazing design and functionality to convince them to stay. That’s the simple reason Websites are still the grandfather of the web; it’s because a website always was, and still is, the easiest way to create lasting impression on the Web.