Is WordPress Killing Web Design?

During the 2010 SXSW Interactive Festival designers debated whether or not WordPress is killing web design. The idea is that WordPress and other CMS are constraining designers to think outside the box and turning them into lazy designers. I was quite pleased to hear that no one on the panel agreed with this statement. Brendan Dawes, one of the panel members pointed out that WordPress is simply a tool that manipulates data. Said in another way, Gina Bolton confirmed what I believe, which is that WordPress is highly customizable and can be made to do whatever you want.

One of my latest project consisted of converting a design provided by Mizu Creative into a WordPress site for Paul Sangha. The site included a photo gallery which required jQuery animation, a few different templates, random background images and flash on the home page. I’m very proud of this work, but more importantly, by the fact that it looks nothing like a WordPress site.

I’ve worked with many graphic designers in the past and when asked about constraints, my only suggestions is to keep the width of the canvas to 960px. This constraint is only there to ensure that the site will look good on most browsers, but even this is debatable and will depend on the target audience.

The Paul Sangha website is a great example which demonstrates that designers should not be constrained by the CMS.

10 comments:

  1. Well, there are two problems here.

    1) Democratization of web development has lead many people to simply install WP and a default theme for their sites. Not everyone has the ability to code a custom theme so yes, in this instance, WordPress is killing web design (or empowering people to rely on templates).

    2) WordPress is one available tool to build one kind of websites. If we always design for an ‘easy’ wordpress build, forever will we have two column designs.

    2.5) There are tons of sites that are WP when you peak under the hood, but would never know it when looking at the design. A sign of a good designer and developer.

  2. I agree with you Christine. Frankly, WP simply takes pieces of a web site and chunks them up. How one puts them together is completely open to creativity.

    I’d have to take Steve above to task a bit, in that democratizing the implementation of a blog/site to those who can’t design doesn’t kill design at all. It allows those who want to, to have a site – nothing more.

    I do not believe that WP is only about one kind of website, because it’s very easy to use WP as a basic CMS and either suppress the blog functionality or utilize it in a different way. As Christine said, WP provides functionality, but how you present the data that is output is entirely up to you as a designer.

    I agree with point 2.5 above, but it seems to contradict 2, so I’m not sure how they co-exist.

  3. It’s not WordPress that’s killing Web Design it’s Lazy designers.

    Learn to code!
    There’s no reason why Designers shouldn’t know more about code.

    And on the flipside, there’s no reason why Developers shouldn’t know more about design.

    WordPress’ easy of use and customization are strengths not weaknesses. To blame the CMS for a site not looking good is to not take responsibility for learning how to use the tools of the interaction design landscape.

    There, I’ve said enough

  4. Thanks for the comments guys. I’m glad to see that we’re in agreement. Even though you point out a problem in point 1) Steve, I don’t think that the people installing a WP default call themselves designers. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting a quick and dirty, no fuss website and using one of the many themes out there.

    When working with designers, I usually tell them to design whatever they want, and I’ll figure out a way to make it work.

  5. @Haig – right on. Completely agree.

    @James – It is the fact that anyone can throw up a site in 5 minutes (mysite.wordpress.org) is creating the impression that WP is making designers lazy. (not entirely incorrect, but perhaps an incomplete impression). There are still tons of great design and development work being done on the platform.

  6. In my early days as a web designer I found a bit of wisdom really early on. “Work your projects out on paper first”. Quite honestly, it took me a couple years – if not more – to adopt this as common practice. I was still learning and wanted to do everything on the computer. In the cases were this practice is followed, WordPress or any other application should not be a factor. The process of visual design can separated 100%… it just rarely is.

  7. Good point Michael. Starting on paper is always a good idea. I do find this step quite difficult. I should take your advice and try to spend more time there.

  8. I agree with Michael Fields 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.

  9. I think the title may need tweaking because for me the culprit takes many shapes and forms. Sometimes it’s WordPress and other times it is online CMS tools geared towards letting people easily post up their work like Cargo Collective, Behance, Krop Hosted Portfolios, etc. From my vantage point there are less people focussing on the creativity and concept of their personal portfolios (myself included) because these quicker routes to getting work online exist and are popular and stifle unique possibilities. Fewer people are experimenting and pushing the creative envelope on their personal sites.

  10. Worpdress is a kickstart but without ability you can’t do much with it. You need to be able to pull things apart and build WP plugins to make anything special – all programming.

    I work with people who use WordPress as a shorcut to build things in days that would otherwise take weeks.

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