posted by Matt Ward on Aug 10, 2010.
The face of web design has been changing over the past few years, with the advent of various mobile devices. In this article, we will consider the implications of this change, and take a brief look at the concept of having to reinvent ourselves as designers in order to stay at the top of our game.
The other day, a co-worker and I were talking about a concert that she had attended, which featured a bunch of acts from the era of 80’s hair bands. You’d never catch me at such a show, and I didn’t even recognize any of the band names when she told me, but she did seem to have enjoyed herself. The one thing that amazed her, however, was how many of those in attendance (and on the stage) actually seemed to be stuck in the 80’s.
Apparently at this show big, bleached yellow hair was still as rocking as it was back when I was all of five years old.
As the conversation continued, I asked her to offer tell me who she considered to be “hair bands”, and she started naming of some of them, most of which I already forget. But then she named Bon Jovi, and that gave me pause. I’m no Bon Jovi fan, but I always thought of him as more of a contemporary adult rock. He might have a bit more flair than some of the others, but I still always placed him as a part of that genre.
Wanting to get to the truth of this matter myself, I looked him up on Wikipedia, where I found this really interesting passage:
In 1992, the band [Bon Jovi] returned with the album Keep the Faith. The album was released in November 1992. Produced by Bob Rock, the album signified an ending to their early metal roots in previous albums and introduced a more “rock n roll”-driven groove to the album. Much more complex, lyrically and musically, the album proved that Bon Jovi could still be a viable band in 90’s, despite the industry’s and audience’s growing affinity for Grunge.
And there it is – the precise bridge that clearly marked the transition from the Bon Jovi of the 80s to the artist/band that I am more familiar. Interestingly, this all happened just a couple of years before I really started getting interested in music through that very Grunge scene that was changing the face of the music industry.
Another artist who followed a similar path is Madonna. Back when she first came out, she was the queen of 80’s pop. She was young, scandalous and sexy, both in terms of her lyrical content and the way she dressed, and because of it her music sold. She had a bunch of hit singles and transformed the cultural understanding of the word Madonna from being the chaste, pure and ever-holy mother of Christ to an alluring, anything-but-chaste vixen.
As time marched on however, the woman who called herself Madonna didn’t rest on her laurels or try to cling desperately to the past. As the world changed, she just changed right along with it. In many ways she grew and matured along with her audience, and while I don’t think she ever left her provocative sensuality behind her, she definitely mastered the art of reinventing herself in order to stay fresh and current in the ever changing landscape of the recording industry.
Again, I can’t say I’m a big fan of her music (though some of the tunes are somewhat catchy), but I’ve always maintained that she is probably one of the smartest women in music today, and that the majority of what we see from her is all very carefully thought out and contrived. That’s why she, and other acts like Jon Bon Jovi, have managed to endure, while so many of their contemporaries have fallen away, and become little more than obscure footnotes of history and trivia, who occasionally play cheesy and nostalgic reunion gigs.
Let’s Talk About Design
I’m no expert on the history of music, but I think I know enough to say that the mainstream emergence of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and the like literally transformed rock music (though it all started earlier than that), diverting the scene in a whole new direction that we are still hearing on the radio today.
And the same thing is happening in the design world today.
Just a few years ago, web designers were web designers. We designed websites that were meant to be viewed in a browser on a computer. Yes, there were variations in browser compatibility and screen size, all of which gave us headaches, but catering to users who refused (and still refuse) to abandon IE6 was just part of the territory.
Today, however, things have already changed dramatically, thanks mostly to smart phones. The iPhone, Blackberries, Android powered devices can all surf the internet with their own unique browsers, specifically designed for these relatively tiny screens, which actually have a lower number of pixels than we had back when I was cranking out pages for 800×600 displays.
With every passing day, more and more people are starting to think as much about their mobile presence as they are about their regular website.
And then, of course, there are all the apps. It seems like every smart phone has its own collection of apps, usually numbering in the thousands, if not the tens of thousands. And, of course, all of the apps are proprietary, meaning that what runs on my iPhone won’t run on my wife’s Blackberry (though there may be different versions of the same basic app). Oh and let’s not forget about all those iPad apps.
Just look at what developer Amber Weinberg writes in a recent article over on ThinkVitamin:
So with these devices come variety. No longer is a simple 5 page brochure site enough. It needs to be mobile friendly, progressively enhanced, semantic and accessible. (emphasis added by me)
Like Amber, many of the designers and developers that I typically associated with good old fashioned web design just six months ago are making the shift over to the mobile world (did I really just called web design “old fashioned”?). Either they are adding a mobile service to their standard offerings, or they’re actually jumping head first into the whole world of app development. Moreover, it seems like every time I log onto Dribbble, I see some sort of work done specifically for mobile devices.
Even I’ve feel the itch from time to time, and have even considered creating an iPhone app at some point in the future. I’m also going to be working on a mobile version of the Echo Enduring Blog (though I can’t say for certain whether that will be ready for the re-launch in September).
Will You Be Left Behind?
Another part of the other reason that I feel the need to at least familiarize myself with mobile design and development is that I don’t want to get left behind. I honestly have no idea where the industry is going, but when change comes (and it will come), I don’t want to be like one of those 80’s hair bands who failed to adapt and fell by the wayside.
Am I saying that websites are going to vanish? I don’t think so. I think HTML, CSS and other web technologies will continue to endure (though they will also change and evolve over time), and that websites will continue to play an important role in our communications, both in business and our personal lives.
What I am suggesting is that the scope of the internet will change. Indeed, it has already started. Instead of encompassing email, instant messaging and websites designed for laptop and desktop displays, the new landscape of the internet is growing to include mobile websites and proprietary apps, many of which are actually integrated with existing websites. Many people also have the internet on their televisions these days, which could also have a significant impact over time.
Once this stage of growth has completed itself (and something else has likely started to germinate), I truly think it will be the designer who is able to offer services pertaining to the entire spectrum who will be most successful, or at least who will be afforded the most opportunity.
There will still be room for specialization, but as the spectrum of the web continues to broaden, so too will the definition of a web designer. As if we don’t already wear enough hats, it seems likely that the generally accepted assumption about our roles will grow to include mobile sites and smart phone apps. In time, it’s entirely plausible that these mobile touchpoints will even being to outweigh the importance of the traditional website.
If and when this happens, it seems to me that those who are unable to change and adapt will be in danger of falling off and being left behind in the mire of irrelevance.
Of course, to some degree this is all just conjecture based on what I’ve already seen happening in the industry over the past six months to a year. That being said, I’m certainly no fortuneteller, and cannot foresee exactly what’s going to happen.
What I do know, however, is that the industry is going to change, one way or the other. The internet certainly isn’t new anymore, but it remains one of the most fluid any dynamic media to ever emerge in the course of human history, and it will continue to shift and evolve for years to come.
As designers and developers, we will certainly have some sort of role to play in that evolution – just as musicians and bands have a role to play in the continued evolution of the music industry. But, when this evolution starts to take the industry in a new and exciting direction, it’s up to us to recognize the winds of change and, like the Madonnas and Bon Jovis of the world, to reinvent ourselves in the face that change.
Personally, I’m excited to see where the next few years will take us. What about you? Where do you think we are going as web designers? Have you resisted the movement towards the mobile world or plunged head first into it?Post A Comment
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