The Bright Side of an Increasingly Homogeneous Web

This post was originally published here. Reproduced with permission.

Each day, it seems like the web becomes a little less varied. At least, when it comes to the tools we use to build and view it.

Just think – WordPress powers about a third of all websites. Google Chrome is the browser of choice for nearly two thirds of all users. Popular JavaScript frameworks such as React, Vue and jQuery are continuing to grow. Not to mention toolkits such as Bootstrap that wield readymade layouts and UI elements.

Now, that’s not to say that we’ve completely run out of options or creative license. But it does mean that much of what we create shares at least some common threads. Whether it’s a CMS, the Google Fonts we utilize or even a trusted plugin – websites large and small are more alike than ever.

There are certainly downsides to this evolution. For example, while a single dominant web browser may save some compatibility headaches, there are also legitimate concerns about security, privacy and potentially stalled innovation. But there are some good things that come with this, too.

And the positive effects of a more consolidated web are our focus today. Let’s take a look at what this means for the web design community.

We Have More Foundational Knowledge

In days past, the web became a sort of proving ground for developers. All kinds of different tools became available for building and maintaining websites. The roll-your-own CMS, for example, was a popular way to let clients manage their content without giving them too much access.

While this was somewhat effective on a developer-by-developer basis, it wasn’t necessarily meant to work at scale. If you happened to take over a site that was built with a fully-custom CMS, you might have had a hard time figuring out what the previous developer was thinking. Even seemingly-simple tasks could require a lot of trial and error.

When systems like WordPress and Drupal came along, this provided a common foundation for all of us to build from. Now, taking over an existing website is a much different experience. We already know how to create a page or update software. There’s plenty of documentation for figuring out how things work.

Of course, sites can still be comprised of a disparate collection of themes and plugins. But because more websites are running on a common platform, the starting point for building or troubleshooting is much further along. We don’t have to worry about building everything from scratch, nor do we need to spend hours investigating the basics.

A person holding books.

There Are Trusted Solutions to Big Challenges

Continuing with the previous point, let’s take a trip back in time. Suppose it’s the year 2005 and a client has asked you to build them an eCommerce site. How would you have approached it? Now, think about how that approach may be different today.

Odds are, you’d have had a much more difficult time finding a stable, readymade solution. While there were shopping cart providers, this niche was just beginning to become widely adopted by the masses. And there were plenty of fly-by-night providers who may have promised a lot, but it was nearly impossible to know if they could deliver. By the time you found out, you may have become mired in a bad situation.

Over time, many of those providers were weeded out as segment leaders emerged. eCommerce is still a challenge, but web designers now have a solid group of options to choose from. It’s not so much about finding one that will still be there in a year as much as it is in selecting based on your project requirements.

The same can be said for other niche areas that require specialized functionality. Categories such as membership websites, online education and rich media can be built more solidly and cheaply than was possible back in the day. Thus, searching around for the right software is a more manageable and slightly less risky task.

A web hosting control panel.

Improved Efficiency

It stands to reason that, when we have whittled things down to a few proven paths for our projects, we’ll get things done more efficiently. That’s not to say the journey isn’t without its bumps, but it is easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We’ve talked about how a system such as WordPress can get things off to a faster start, but the same can be said of the various frameworks out there. Choose a well-established UI package, for example, and you’ll have a proven set of key elements that make up a website’s interface. It’s then a matter of customizing or extending these items to fit our needs.

Likewise, a JavaScript framework can often simplify the process of building an application or applying special effects. Their built-in functionality again means that there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

And the tools we use also play a part. Modern apps such as Figma and Sketch allow us to create a functioning UI and more easily transfer it to HTML and CSS. In fact, we can use them to build entire design systems that will serve us well throughout a project’s entire lifespan.

A woman using a laptop computer.

A Natural Evolution

Over the past two decades, the web has transformed from its bespoke Wild West roots to something that more closely resembles a consumer marketplace. This is the result of both a lot of experimentation on the part of developers and the emergence of corporate influencers such as Google, Facebook and Automattic.

While we can argue about how much influence corporations should have over the industry, it would be hard to say that innovation has slowed down. However, much of the new ideas come in the form of how to tie in with or improve existing platforms and tools.

In that sense, we’re not seeing anyone try to become the next Google as much as developing new ways to make better use of its tools.

This all makes it a good time to be a web designer. We no longer spend hours wondering just how we’re going to accomplish something because we have better resources at our disposal. That means we can focus instead on perfecting the experience and simply getting things done.

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