Over the last ten years, we’ve seen many trends come and go in the world of design and (intelligent) tech. These trends have been seen through the downfall of Skeuomorphism, the introduction of Flat Design, the upcoming of VR and — most importantly — the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Another significant change in the digital world is the upcoming market of the easy-to-build web platforms (website builders) that will undoubtedly become and replace the web agencies of the 21st century.
I’m referring here to SaaS (Software As A Service) platforms like Wix, Squarespace, Semplice, Shopify and for the more creative-capable, Webflow.
When we look at the highly increased demand for websites in the last 5 to 10 years, the growth of these easy-to-build web platforms is a logical one.
Small and medium-sized business (SMB) want to have an online representation of their business, and when looking at it from the consumers perspective, this makes a lot of sense (A 2016 study by Clutch found that almost half of the small businesses surveyed did not have a website).
Today, consumers expect and demand restaurants to have a website with a visible menu and contact details, or even better, a full reservation system.
The same goes for small store owners. Consumers expect to be able to order their products online, or at least view a gallery of items and have access to an email address that they can directly contact.
The easy-to-build web platforms mentioned above take smart advantage of this high demand to provide SMBs with high-quality templates, web hosting and around-the-clock support for a small price. Supply meets demand.
The inevitable next step towards serving the SMBs and answering their digital demand is — besides having a strong and UX-focussed platform — the implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The Grid and Wix ADI
In the last couple of years, we’ve seen multiple AI-focussed website builders trying to establish a substantial user base. Examples are The Grid, FireDrop and Wix ADI.
When looking more closely at The Grid, we see that a talented team of designers and developers launched a successful Kickstarter in 2014. The Grid’s focus point was on building a smart platform that would automatically create websites through AI, based on the goals and the content of the user.
Its Kickstarter campaign generated a lot of media attention that shook the design and tech world. Well-known tech blogs (Mashable, Wired) started writing about its impact on the B2B and B2C market, and designers shared their worries in regards to job security.
Jerry Yang, one of The Grid’s top early investors, described the AI-driven service as the following: “The Grid’s cloud-based artificial intelligence will reinvent web design by eliminating the mundane, time-consuming parts of web development and creating elegant websites in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost.”
It all sounded too good to be true, and in the end, the saying became the truth.
They launched the platform in 2016 that wasn’t ready. It was full of glitches and bugs, the websites weren’t aesthetically pleasing, and it seemed like there was no support team behind the platform. The Grid never managed to recover from this negative attention, and a lot of people lost their money.
On the other hand, there is Wix ADI. ADI stands for Artificial Design Intelligence and is a much better step in the direction of AI-driven website builders. It was launched in 2016 and works together with the website builder Wix to present the user with multiple AI-driven features.
The implementation of AI
The implementation of AI to the earlier mentioned website builders will bring a significant impact on the general goals that you set for your website, whether it is increasing the conversion numbers, improving the number of visitors or decreasing the number of bounce rates.
For example, AI can control the analytics of your site and make adjustments or share improvements, and send them directly to the inbox of the user. With one click, the changes can be made, and the expected impact can be seen directly on the website and in the increased revenue (if that’s one of the set goals).
Another example is how AI will be able to automatically run A/B experiments on your site. Effectively, a list of improvements will be proposed which could benefit the goals that you set for your website.
To get an accurate idea of what AI can do for established website builders (Squarespace) and how it can take others to the next level (Wix ADI), we should also look at the following core design principles that create the basis for any website.
Firstly, let’s look at how the following AI-driven features will impact the layout principle:
– A dynamic modular component system that will automatically select the best components (headers, logo bars, navigation) based on the choices the user makes when selecting components he or she prefers.
– A content and industry-based layout generator which will automatically show multiple layout variants based on the set or uploaded content and industry.
– An analysis and implementation of well-known websites, which will give the user the option to choose from different layouts based on websites they like.
– An automated responsive mode, that will adapt the web design to a tablet and a mobile variant, or the other way around when the user decides to start with a mobile-first design.
– An auto-generate feature that will provide the user with 100s of alternative variants to a preferred or chosen template.
Secondly, let’s look at how the following AI-driven features will impact the colour principle:
– A colour analysis feature based on emotions that can advise the user-specific colour sets associated with the way they want to communicate and be perceived as their brand or address a specific target group.
– A readability and scannability feature that will assist the user if the text is still readable and rich in contrast when he or she decides to use certain colour combinations.
– An accessibility analysis that will help the user meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines of their website.
– A colour blindness filter that will assist the user when choosing certain colours or when addressing a certain target group (10% of the US population is colour blind to a certain degree).
– An option to keep a check on the interactive elements to make sure that the website is user-friendly and can easily be navigated on.
– A colour pairing feature that automatically generates colour combinations that fit the set goals for the website, but also keeps the above points in check.
Lastly, let’s look at how the following AI-driven features will impact the typography principle:
– An ideal font-size and line-height analyser that can assist the user when choosing font-sizes for titles, subtitles or body copy with the goal of increasing readability.
– An ideal paragraph width analyser that will assist the user with the perfect amount of words on one line, to increase readability and visual weight.
– A tool that will measure the emotional impact that type classifications will have on the goals and the target group the user sets.
– A maximum header length analyser that will help the user keep his or her title and subtitle copy short and sweet while ensuring scannability.
– A copy “overload” warning when a page contains too much (body) copy.
– A font pairing feature that automatically generates font combinations that fit the set goals for the website, but also keeps the above points in check.
Implications for agencies and designers
The introduction of AI-powered website builders, including the features mentioned above, will also have an inevitable impact on the small to medium-sized web agencies.
Firstly, because agencies will have to rethink their business model in regards to what product they sell for which price. Nowadays, it has never been easier and cheaper for SMBs to create a good looking website, without spending thousands of dollars or diving into a relatively complex tool like WordPress. With the implementation of AI, this gap between agencies and AI-driven website builders will only increase in size.
Secondly, because agencies will need to adjust their recruitment strategies to hire more specific roles that fit the unique and customised solutions agencies should offer instead.
Simultaneously, this shift in how SMBs create their sites will also impact the role of the full-time visual designer within small to medium-sized agencies. After determining main branding elements like logo, colour and typography, most SMBs will be able to do the majority of the work themselves and will have access to quick support services from earlier mentioned platforms and against a much lower price.
However, the role of the user experience specialist will gain in demand. The need for true user-centred design, with a focus on intensive collaborations with the brand, will grow. This focus, combined with skills like quality research, iterative design, emotional design, persuasive copywriting, wireframing and prototyping, habit-forming knowledge, etc. will become hard to replace by platforms such as Squarespace or Wix (ADI). Now and in the near future.
As John Maeda, an authority in the world of design said: “In each decade, I have looked to acquire the skills that can keep myself ahead of the machine. I know it to be an impossible task, but I also don’t give up easily. I guess I’m more of a warrior than a worrier. And I’m excited about the challenges that are coming to design.”
Based on what we’ve seen in the last 5 to 10 years, the near future tells us that Artificial Intelligence will play a critical role in all easy-to-use web platforms.
But, how will AI-driven website builders truly change the world?
Firstly, by making AI the hottest topic in tech and creating a buzz that will trigger interest which will lead to demand. This has already been initiated by established brands sharing their stories on AI. For example, Google made AI the cornerstone of their last I/O conference on the 8th of May and Ginni Rometty (CEO) from IBM said in the New York Times that “Artificial Intelligence is the opportunity of our time, and skills are the issue of our time. 100 percent of jobs will be augmented by AI”.
Secondly, because AI-driven website builders will change the needs of the target group by giving them the possibility to create an aesthetically pleasing and — more importantly — a conversion optimised website that fits the target group, reaches the set goals and answers to the demand of their consumers.
And lastly, because AI can empower website builders with a product for SMBs that is unmatched in price and data-based optimisations when compared to other solutions like the use of agencies or freelancers.
The implementation of AI in website builders will undoubtedly restructure the way we currently think about serving digital products for SMBs, and the features mentioned above are just the beginning.
I’m convinced that more companies will start sharing their AI stories soon, and it will be a matter of months/years until companies like Semplice and Squarespace will announce their newly AI-powered platforms.