Is WordPress Killing Web Design?

Loose notes from SXSW 2010 session: Is WordPress Killing Web Design

Good question – I’ve been asking myself this lately. Unfortunately the session quickly devolved into a lot of platitudes and stating of the obvious. Yes, design has been commoditized and is no longer an “elite” activity. Yes, your site is as creative as you make it, it has nothing to do with the CMS you use. All pretty much goes without saying. Took notes for half an hour, then headed to the HTML5 discussion… which was full and not allowing more people in.

We’re not just talking about WP – we also mean Drupal, Joomla, Movable Type, all of them. But we don’t want to let facts get in the way of a good panel title.

People confessing they use WordPress… “It’s almost like an AA meeting.”

Is creativity stifled when people use tools like this? People never ask how they’re going to put it together, how they’re going slice up the design.

“I’m going to design a site” is one mindset…
“I’m going to design a WordPress site” is another.
No need to be a slave of the tool you’re working with.

“The two most dangerous things in the world are handguns and content management systems.”

If anything’s killing web design it’s lack of imagination. Need to move away from the “paper behind glass” mentality.

Hacking themes can be a great way to learn HTML/PHP/CSS – there’s an approach to it that isn’t over-reliant… just a kick-start.

If fonts get any bigger, I’m going to need a bigger monitor. Is what what we want? It’s not what I want…

It’s like a lowest common denominator path on the way from newbie to veteran — everyone has to pass through this WordPress phase. People think of it as a safe solution – it makes them look good with very little effort.

Why aren’t people switching their themes every week? No one’s going to die. Be more playful. If you want to think of design as a constraint, then it’s a constraint. If you think of it as a chasm, it’s a chasm.

[… left early … ]

12 Replies to “Is WordPress Killing Web Design?”

  1. When I was doing web design I had to fight the urge to take the easy way out and just setup a WordPress blog and stick a template on there and call it a day. [spammy URL removed]

  2. WordPress saves me huge time not only because it provide the websites i create with the ability to change content trough the great administration panel, but also helps me to set up websites very fast.

    Before wordpress i tool normal templates and edited to add content, but now, with wordpress the process is much faster. I edit things in admin panel and they are automatically reflected in the front-side.

    I can’t say too much about web design, i did not designed by myself before wordpress, nor i create now, but thinking from the perspective of a web designer, i bet his work also simplifies and he can focus on more advanced things than the basic ones.

  3. Lucian – Yes, we all agree that WP is a huge time saver for the reasons you mention. That’s the whole point of the conversation. We all save tons of time with WP and have delegated design duties away by utilizing free or prefab themes. In so doing, the involvement of doing design work is being diminished.

  4. oh well – i guess it means you web design guys have more time to do other interesting stuff? no….i am a landscape architect and have no web design background – producing my site was fun but hard work – and i used a wizywig application – not a CSS thingy anywhere – but glad I did not get a template in the end –

    design in the real world gets boring sometimes – but dont worry people like to look different and as more people want a website more people will want something a ‘little bit different’

  5. Web Designers no problem. Wait until they start replacing doctors. WordPress physician.

  6. Is WordPress killing web design, or is lazy web design killing web design? WordPress is just a tool, no different than a pencil or paintbrush. Print designers imposing their preconceived idea of design onto the platform of the web hinders web design; lazy designers who don’t push WP hinders web design; not WordPress.

    The tool is indifferent. WP doesn’t make or break design anymore than a pencil makes or breaks a drawing. It’s the designer on the other end of the tool who’s responsible for that.


  7. I agree with Geoff here. WordPress is just a tool to make the designers’ work easier. To say that it is killing off web design is like saying the paintbrush killed off cave drawings. It’s evolution, and you will only jump onto better tools to help create better examples of art. Sticking to the primitive just to make people think you are cool, or traditionally astute makes no sense at all.

  8. I tried to do a website from scratch [dreamweaver]. Then I tried to do a website using Joomla! [very fiddly but I got in amongst the CSS and HTML] and then I got a wordpress site. Things took off from there.

    There are many aims that a person will setout with when making a site. It isn’t the CMS that makes or breaks a website. It is the person behind it. I third what Geoff says.

    If it wasn’t for wordpress I wouldn’t have a website that I was happy with.

    Creativity can still be accomplished if the person wants to be creative.

  9. Lemonade, you’re kind of making a different point. The point of the talk was that with 5,000 free or cheap themes out there, there is little incentive for anyone to code up a theme from scratch, like all of us did in the old days. These days you’d almost have to be nuts to take on all of that extra work when you can start with an existing theme and modify/tweak it, saving dozens of design hours. That’s a boon to all of us, but dramatically lessens the time all of us spend doing original design work.

    No, nothing prevents you from designing from scratch. But no one has time to burn. Very few people will spend time on labor when they don’t have to. And our collective design skills suffer as a result. That’s what the talk was about.

  10. I think this is a great topic. I really agree with Digital Agency, that WordPress is part of the evolution. It’s like any other tool and it’s up to web designers to adapt ourselves and get in front of clients and tell them why we are valuable. And perhaps we need to expand our skillsets, for example: how to do some information architecture and content writing if the client needs it.

    Proclaiming that WordPress (and other CMS) are killing the livelihood of designers makes it sound like we’re victims of the evil CMS platforms. “Us poor designers…”

  11. I really think you guys are missing the point. When a client comes to you wanting a new site, do you quote them for a full design, soup to nuts? Very rarely! You tell them to go theme surfing, find one that’s close to what they want, and you modify it to suit their needs. I’ve done very little totally original design work since becoming a WP developer. That doesn’t mean that WP itself is in the way – it means there’s a huge ecosystem of free/low cost themes, and you’d have to be nuts to be designing sites the old way in the WP age.

    WP may not be “killing” web design, but most of us working in WP are doing a whole lot less original design than we used to.

  12. @Scott, that’s a really good point. I agree.
    I definitely haven’t done “real” design work in awhile. I usually show a couple of pre-made themes and ask my clients which ones they like. In some ways it’s saves me a lot of work from figuring out what they are looking for. But for sure most clients ask for customization work on themes.

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