- AI and Machine Learning are forcing most website owners to use automated tools and platforms.
- Only a few types of websites – like specialized niche websites or large corporate websites – will use human web designers because they have to, or they can afford to.
- Remaining web designers will use AI-based tools to increasingly create low-code platforms.
- Online search will be increasingly AI-driven, and SEO will be replaced by AEO – Answer Engine Optimization.
- Businesses looking for a relevant and affordable online presence will turn to web design automation, outsource to India or China, or blend the 2 options according to their budget and needs.
- Once AI tools are widely used in China and India – all web designed will be automated, with human designers only used for customized, expensive web design.
Having a strong online presence isn’t crucial for any business or organization. It’s basic. In the digital world, if you don’t have an engaging website, you won’t survive, never mind prosper. Especially if no one can find you.
However, designing a website often takes longer and costs way more than it should, especially for small businesses and non-profit organizations with limited resources. This is where web design automation comes in. So please, don’t tell everyone how scared you are of ChatGPT and AI. It’s your lifeline.
If you learn how to use it.
To see how automation is affecting web design, you need to know:
- what web design automation is,
- how it works, and
- its benefits and suitability for distinct types of websites.
Overview of the Web Design Industry in North America
By its nature, web design has become much more of a borderless industry than, say construction, so keep this in mind when reviewing the data below on the industry and the major players.
As of 2023, the industry is in a state of flux trying to adjust to the impact of AI and Machine Learning. However, the web design industry has always had to be dynamic and respond quickly to changes in the ecosystem, unlike the construction industry, for example.
Additionally, many software consultancies are predicting severe skilled tech worker shortages. Grid Dynamics predicted in 2022 that IT/Mobile and Web design is the 2nd most affected area after Data Analytics. They predict that nearly 1.5 million tech workers will be needed over the next few years. That means a looming shortage of the talent needed to produce top-quality websites. There are 2 solutions to this problem:
- Outsourcing to India and China
So, with this in mind, let’s focus on the main players in web design as of 2023:
|2.||Deloitte Digital||N/A||New York USA||9,000|
|3.||North Kingdom||$10,000+||Stockholm, Sweden||50 – 250|
|4.||22 Squared||$10,000+||Georgia, USA||350|
|5.||360i||$10,000+||New York, USA||1,000|
|6.||Grey Global Group||$10,000+||New York, USA||2,400|
|7.||Cramer-Krasselt||N/A||Ilinois, USA||500 – 1,000|
|8.||Tombras Group||N/A||Tennessee USA||300|
|10.||Conversant||N/A||California USA||1,000 – 5,000|
There are a few takeaways here:
- $10,000 is their minimum fee for building any website. Most clients likely pay a much larger sum. This is already prohibitive for many smaller businesses.
- They’re clustered in several regions: the Northeast, the Southeast, and the West Coast. Only one top web design company is in the middle of the country near Chicago, and one is in Sweden.
- Their employee work force varies. This means they’re hiring freelancers to supplement their regular design teams when large orders come in. And letting them go once the project is completed. As a result, you end up paying perhaps double or triple the rate that the same freelancers would charge on their own. Yes, there is the leverage in creativity and productivity that freelancers gain by working with an established team at a top agency, but at 3 times the cost this is far beyond many firms or organizations’ budgets.
Approximate Web Design Employment Numbers
|Country||Total employees||Percentage of total||Mean hourly wage US$|
|EU||3,000,000**||1.4%||$45 West vs. $35 East|
|Russia||800,000||1.1%||$5 – 8|
*The U.S. and Australian numbers are from their labor statistics bureaus and are narrowly defined and leave out other web developers that are not involved in non-design aspects of building a website. So total web developer numbers in both countries are in fact higher. Nonetheless, it does show that outsourcing web design is an entrenched strategy in the U.S. and possibly in Australia as well.
** Russian developers are included separately from our EU estimates.
What are the Main Objectives of the Web Design Industry?
- Convince clients that they provide value in the face of growing automation across the industry.
- Use AI-based tools to improve their productivity and keep their labor costs affordable to their clients.
- Outsource to cheaper countries while trying to maintain oversight of the design process to maintain their brand.
- If all else fails, become expert consultants advising clients on the process of building an effective website in the age of AI search.
How is the Industry Changing? What do you Need to Look Out for?
It’s now time to drill down into the basics of how web design is being automated and how the industry is trying to adapt to AI search.
What is Web Design Automation?
Web design automation means using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies to automate the website design process. Instead of relying on human designers to create a website from scratch, web design automation tools use pre-built templates and design elements to generate a website automatically. These tools can range from simple drag-and-drop builders to complex AI-assisted platforms that can customize a website based on user behavior and preferences.
Think of AI as if you had a network with around 175 billion parameters and clouds of servers doing statistical analysis based on terabits of data that your neural net has been trained on, all helping you decide the next word to write.
You would find a close-to-perfect – or reasonably good – word. And move on to the next one. Faster than any human could type.
Machine Learning, on the other hand, is how algorithms learn from and make predictions on data they are fed. And it’s burst out of its academic confines over the last few years to run amok through industry, finance, the military, and any area of the economy that depends on data.
How Does Web Design Automation Work?
The exact process of web design automation can vary depending on the tool/platform being used. However, in general, the process involves the following steps:
- Users choose and customize a template: The user selects a pre-built template based on what they need, such as a template for an e-commerce website, or one for a non-profit organization. Tools will increasingly allow for further customization, such as changing the color scheme or layout, as well as adjusting the user experience of customers as they navigate through more complex sites.
- Remember however, that users with average or basic tech skills can often get frustrated by tools or platforms that have features they find tough to figure out. The C-Panel in WordPress is a perfect example of that. As a result, AI will end up doing most of the choosing, anticipating our needs, and giving us options that we select.
- Review and publish: Once the client is satisfied with the design, they review it and publish it on the web. That’s assuming the client understands exactly what they need from their website and how to measure its effectiveness with their customers once they’ve published. And AI will increasingly guide and curate the site according to the client’s profile.
What are the Benefits of Using Web Design Automation?
The benefits to using web design automation are:
- Time and cost savings: By automating the design process instead of hiring designers or building a website from scratch, you can go from months to minutes and from thousands of dollars to a fraction of the cost.
- For example, Wix, a leading web design automation platform, offers a drag-and-drop interface that lets users create a professional-looking website in a matter of hours, with absolutely no coding experience. This platform also provides users with design suggestions powered by AI to help them create a website that looks great and functions well. This can include color palettes, image recommendations, and font choices.
- User experience (UX): Web design automation tools often come with built-in UX features, such as responsive design and mobile optimization, ensuring that the website is accessible and user-friendly across all devices.
- A useful example here involves AI chatbots. Powered by machine learning algorithms, these chatbots analyze user behavior and provide personalized recommendations based on the data. The results for website traffic are stunning. According to a study by Drift, companies that use chatbots for lead generation see a 67% increase in leads and a 39% reduction in lead generation costs.
- Scalability: Web design automation tools can easily scale to accommodate changes in website traffic or content, making them ideal for when your business starts to take off and you need to scale up, or lose out on the opportunity.
- SEO optimization: Most web design automation tools now come with built-in SEO features, such as keyword optimization and meta descriptions, helping to improve the website’s search engine rankings and visibility.
- However, in the coming era of AI search with AEO the new standard, these features will have to be redesigned to ensure that many websites don’t disappear when faced with the rigors of AI search.
- As an example, Shopify, a popular e-commerce platform, uses AI to help merchants design their online stores, optimize product pages, and automate marketing campaigns. So, merchants can create personalized shopping experiences for their customers, improve conversion rates, and increase sales. Whether this is building your own website or renting space at Shopify’s is an open question, however.
At the same time, SEO itself is being severely impacted by AI which leads to the following question.
Will AI Destroy Online Search and SEO?
Not right away. However, in an AI world, SEO might be a thing of the past within a few years. Or, put another way, it will mutate into AEO – Answer Engine Optimization – as has been recently suggested. AI search is analogous to voice search which depends on websites responses to its queries. In other words, AEO will depend on how well websites answer the queries from AI-generated search. It will now be a case of optimizing a site for this new type of search.
So, what is AEO?
AEO identifies what someone is searching for and answers using AI-driven Large Language Models. Rather than list thousands of websites that might answer your question, AI search tries to answer it directly and provide you with only a few focused links. That means that accurate and relevant answers are what rank highly on AEO. While some may insist that accuracy and relevance are the ultimate guide in classic SEO – we all know they often aren’t.
This also means that only those websites that use AEO to finetune – at first, in conjunction with SEO, and then eventually as a replacement for SEO – will survive in our coming AI age.
What will Web Design Look Like when Fully Automated?
For more than 20 years there has been a cat and mouse game between content providers and search engines – primarily Google – to try and gain an advantage over the algorithms used in search. As content providers adopt new tactics, Google changes the rules, and the game continues.
Now, however, it’s the search engines that are being forced to adapt to AI. Content providers, in turn, are caught between the benefits of AI-based tools and the uncertainty going forward regarding how a website will be able to rank well or whether that will even matter in an age of AI search.
Here are some likely outcomes:
- Large corporations like banks, Amazon, and Social Media giants will clearly survive because they have the capital to adapt and have large customer bases. They will combine AI tools and platforms with lean design teams that work quicker, faster, and cheaper.
- Smaller businesses in competitive industries will find it increasingly hard to stand out from endless AI-designed, near-perfect websites. They will also be facing AEO rankings that spit out far less results than search engines currently do.
- A possible solution might be to hand over all your personal data to your AI web design platform which will dig so deeply into who you are and what your business is about that it will offer solutions you would have never imagined. A little like having a robot for a therapist.
- Google might have to end up selling its terabytes of data back to business owners rather than just selling them the data on their customers – especially small business owners. Of course, Google has been doing something very similar for decades now, but the value proposition might be radically different in a few years. Could OpenAI make an offer for Alphabet – or at least a part of their empire – before the next decade starts?
Possible political and legal restraints of automation of this industry
There do not seem to be any major legal or political restraints to the automation of Web Design, aside from possible SEC reviews of any major purchases by AI companies of parts of the search industry.
- Cheaper and higher quality websites that are quick and easy to produce.
- More User-experience-friendly features on websites allowing customers to get the information more easily they need quickly and accurately.
- Near-perfect websites everywhere will look the same and websites may become commoditized – even more than they already are – with potential customers only having a few choices given to them by AEO
- Answer Engine Optimization – AEO – will mean the death of many small websites, especially for businesses that don’t have a local presence offline. This will be because AI search will offer far less results than today’s search engines offer.
- How AEO will rank websites is still unknown and customers may have a harder time finding a variety of websites to choose from than they do now.
- Web designers will be working for AI platforms or will be unemployed. A few talented and lucky ones will work on expensive, customized web design for exclusive clients.
In an AI Age, is Web Design Automation Suitable for All Types of Websites?
Highly customized websites with complex functionality may require the programming skills and expertise of a human designer in addition to the AI tools. The question is whether the tougher requirements of AEO can be met by automated web design. It may be that some level of human design guidance will be needed for niche websites and especially for large corporate websites.
However, for small businesses, non-profit organizations, and other simple websites, web design automation can be a fast and efficient way to create a professional-looking online presence. The question is how well the website ranks when most people use AI search and AEO dominates the digital landscape.
Can Web Design Automation Replace Human Designers?
While web design automation is and will continue to automate most aspects of the website design process, it will be a few years if ever before they completely replace human designers, especially for complex, specialized websites, as mentioned above. Human designers bring perspective and creativity to the design process that cannot be replicated by machines. At least not for the next couple of years.
What does Singularity in Artificial Intelligence Mean?
If AI reaches singularity – being able to creatively think and analyze on its own – then the only jobs left for web designers and developers will be working for AI-based platforms and tools. They’ll be in the back end, anonymous and increasingly invisible as they help fine-tune the algorithms. That is, until the platforms learn faster than they do and only require a small group of developers and designers to maintain them.
At the same time, one needs to remember that web design automation can also be a useful tool for designers, allowing them to streamline the design process and focus on more complex tasks. In other words, the designers best able to use AI and design AEO-relevant websites will be the ones who survive the next few years.
Furthermore, predicting the impact of AI on any area of the economy is a tricky business, and none trickier than web design and online search. You need to keep up weekly with new developments, while having the patience to try and find out what tools work for you and in what direction online search seems to be heading.