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We’re in the Dark Age of web design

How can you not appreciate such pieces of human genius and artistic sensibility?


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Lorenzo Doremi

2 years ago | 5 min read

When we speak of the dark age, we often refer to a scary, negative, and gloomy period of history where terror and inquisition reigned over lands.

As kids, we feared the horrible medieval tales about torture and how nasty life was for poor peasants; but was the Dark age really dark?

A bright period for art

During the Dark Ages (or more correctly, Middle-Ages), art flourished in every part of Europe. We can admire the magnificent Byzantine mosaics, which brought infinite shades and lights to churches and cathedrals.

Then Romanesque art and architecture came in, merging the concepts of solidity, strength, simplicity, and reliability.

Romanesque art
Romanesque art

A bit later, the famous gothic architecture was born, from the ashes of Romanesque art. The gothic style was majestic and easily recognizable all over the world: tall and sharp pinnacles, intricate vaults, and disturbing gargoyles dominate European cities.

How can you not appreciate such pieces of human genius and artistic sensibility?

Photo by Llibert Losada on Unsplash
Photo by Llibert Losada on Unsplash

The Dark ages were sure “dark” and scary but also the cradle of art, science, architecture, and literature:

hard times create strong people, and strong people create beautiful things.

Speaking of the Middle ages as Dark is an insult to magnificent men and women who give foundation and inspired their successors to us.

Why the Dark age of web design?

As a designer with a coding background, I try to look and understand how everything (from sketches to code) is made on modern websites, which forces me to search for the most recent beauty and coding standards.

This often leads me to great websites like awwwards.com, where you can find good trends both in design and development. While surfing and admiring these great pieces of modern art, I also noticed something wrong…

Art before usability standards?

Those websites are pretty slow. And no, I have a good internet connection (100Mbps… four times faster than my national standard). Some of them are even laggy, eating up all my poor computer resources. They also have huge loading times.

Now I do not pretend every website has the same speed and reliability as giants like Amazon or Google, but every day it passes I feel these “inspiration” websites are becoming less and less usable.

Thankfully, most of them are portfolio or showcase websites, but I started noticing how this horrible trend of “wait 10 seconds” started regard E-Commerce websites too; as technology evolves we’re also supposed to enhance experiences and we know that people are pretty lazy: waiting more than 3 seconds is often too much for half of the users.

The recession killed the developer’s job

Another critical point that I have to bring up is how being a developer changed dramatically in the last 20 years.

Back in the 90s or early 00s, developers were some kinds of unicorns, especially here in Italy, and their wage was extremely high (let’s say 2300€ a month instead of the current 1300€).

Because of the recession and the growing interest of companies in simple, low-cost, showcase websites, being a developer has become both a “common” and low-quality result job in the last few years.

Communication agencies started flooding the market trying to ride the wave of technology, but with increased taxation and global recession they were forced to look for quantity and cheap work:

nowadays the wage and workflow are a lot similar to factory-working, where you have to “code” 3 WordPress websites a month in both a continuous economic and quality downtrend.

Anyway, this could be more of an Italian problem: trying a website cost calculator, the simplest website is at least valued at around 15K dollars in the US, while I can guarantee that the same website here can be paid around 2-3K.

Lowering the wage and selling off the IT jobs is creating a lot of economic difficulties for modern white collars, and probably the constant need for them will crash into a wall after people understands how the industry is working.

Photo by Jonathan Kho on Unsplash
Photo by Jonathan Kho on Unsplash

No-coding mentality

Another thing that is killing both developers and designers is the no-coding mentality that is flooding nowadays.

It all started with Dreamweaver, but now software like WordPress, EditorX, Webflow, and Anima are pointing in the direction of how “let computers code for themselves”.

How does this impact designers and developers?

  1. Low-Skilled developers become obsolete quickly
  2. Designers have both to design and develop
  3. College education is becoming useless

If in the past a strong knowledge of algorithms and complex informatics was fundamental to become a good developer, nowadays, because of the accelerating software and/or framework adoption-abandonment cycle, higher education is reflecting very bad in the IT industry.

Sure top-notch job positions still need high education, but since entry-level jobs need a totally different kind of skillset, guys and girls who have chosen to pursue degrees are entering the industry a lot later, and tend to lose the competition when comparing with people who instead try to keep up with the most recent no-coding piece of software required.

As in the historic Dark Ages, we can affirm that the web design Dark Age can be found not in art or culture, but in people who live it.

Not everything is bad.

As stated in the beginning, the medieval Dark Age gave birth to numerous wonderful things, and so we expect this kind of contemporary web design gloomy period has its pros too.

Go and look at awwwards websites. They are beautiful. Integrating designers straight into development is creating the best digital masterpieces we have ever seen. Like gothic art, we as developers and designers are building the most fascinating web that ever existed, because the strenuous competition for a job is forcing us to learn and grow constantly.

Hard times create strong people, and this era is exactly confirming this aphorism. Personally, I am a millennial, but I see that Z-Gen are enthusiastic, energetic, and prone to becoming entrepreneurs: their will to compete, win, and change the world is going to bring us exactly where medieval times ended: Renaissance.

The Renaissance of Web design.

Thanks to the introduction of new technologies like AR, VR and interactive 3D graphics, the future of web and interaction design as its whole is extremely optimistic.

In these hard times, we’re developing technologies that will simplify and boost user experience, modeling the foundation of perfectly interacting technologies which in part already are and will become part of our daily life.

When no-coding mentality will completely destroy the low-quality development market, developers will again benefit from higher education and will be able to focus on complex IT topics again.

Designers probably will become instantly transform their Figma designs into fully animated and clean-coded websites without needing buggy plugins or parallel software, and they will be able to study and discover the future of Virtual Reality interaction.

We’re living in a transition phase, which will end in ashes and reborn in a new technologic era. At least…I hope it with all my heart.

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Lorenzo Doremi

A Jack of all trades UX guy. Mainly interested in human-computer interaction, contemporary sociology and art.


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