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Why Some Web Designers Are Feeling Forced into Change

In life, there are certain situations where you probably shouldn’t press your luck. For example, if you see a cobra taking a nap, don’t poke it with a stick. And if you run across a busy web designer, don’t force them to change their workflow. In either case, you won’t like the reaction you get.

The industry seems to be going against the grain on that last one. New tools are continually being introduced – which is great. However, with them comes an expectation that designers will race ahead and dive in headfirst.

Or, at least it feels that way. It seems like we’re being pressured from all sides to adopt the “next big thing”, lest we be left in the dust.

In my thoroughly unscientific observation, many web designers appear to be frustrated with the state of things. Today, we’ll talk about why that is and how taking a step back could be the solution.

Trusted Apps Are Switching Gears

Nowhere is the seismic shift more visible than with WordPress. The massively popular content management system has undergone significant changes in the past few years. The Gutenberg block editor and its related features make for an entirely different experience.

Virtually every aspect of building websites and creating content has shifted. Depending on who you ask, these changes are either infuriating or the dawn of a new era. Regardless, there has been a great amount of pressure for web designers to adapt.

Whether it’s the editor itself or the introduction of block-based themes/Full Site Editing (FSE), there appears to be a good bit of sentiment that these changes are being forced upon web professionals.

That being said, there are alternative ways to use and build with WordPress. The Classic Editor is still supported, and the traditional methods of theme creation will continue to work. No one can fully predict the future, but it seems reasonable that they’ll be around for a while.

So, why would anyone feel forced into using something they aren’t very excited about? I think a lot of it has to do with how these new features are presented.

In the case of WordPress, Gutenberg became the default editor. It was front and center, whether you wanted it or not. And if you want to go back to the old way, you’re required to install a plugin.

Intended or not, this type of action establishes a narrative for users. It says, “The new way is here, and we want you to start using it immediately.”

Directional road signs.

Outside Pressure from Big Tech

Pressure doesn’t just come from software makers. It even goes beyond our peers and clients (as if that weren’t enough). Sometimes it can come from outside parties that have a vested interest in what happens on the web.

Take, for example, the various initiatives that Google has implemented over the years. Whether it’s a tweak to their search algorithm, the demands of its Core Web Vitals metrics, or the push for publishers to adopt Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) – the company holds a lot of sway when it comes to how we build websites.

It’s easy to see how web designers might feel at the mercy of this and other tech-heavyweights. We naturally want our websites to perform well and be easily found in search engines. Thus, it’s on us to integrate their recommendations and preferences into our work.

And it makes sense that we’d gravitate towards the companion products and services these companies offer. If we’re trying to satisfy a particular requirement, it’s logical to use tools that live within that ecosystem. They give us the best chance to succeed, even if we’re not thrilled at the prospect of using them.

Again, there’s a feeling of being forced into this type of arrangement. It’s especially relevant in client work, where your job is to provide the best path for achieving their goals. Sure, there are alternatives. But there is also risk in going a different route.

A person visiting Google's website.

The Impact on Web Designers

What does this all mean for web designers? For one, it can lead to frustration. Among the root causes could be the great investment we make in these tools and technologies. A lot of effort goes into learning them, only to feel as though the rug is being pulled out from underneath.

There can also be a bit of uncertainty. When it comes to new features, things tend to evolve quickly. What counts as a best practice today might be very different tomorrow. The result is that designers are left wondering about the right time to make a move.

In addition, the disruptive nature of such changes tends to throw a monkey-wrench into the daily workflow. Whether it’s a new editing experience or a different coding language, it can be a struggle to get up to speed.

For some, the change is all too much. I’ve seen several instances of designers and developers leaving behind both tools and communities that they’ve contributed to.

One can make the argument that there will always be some level of attrition. And while that’s true, it’s also a negative when longtime contributors become disillusioned to the point of walking away.

That’s not to say everyone will come to this conclusion. However, it does speak to the issue.

A frustrated man.

Taking a Holistic View

The way we work isn’t just a professional concern. For many of us, it’s personal. We get attached to not only the tools we use but also to the routines we form along the way.

As such, some changes can be especially challenging. Add to that the prominent way new features or standards are thrust upon us and it’s no wonder there’s a sense of being forced to comply.

Yet it’s also worth taking a step back and looking at the situation holistically. Quite often, there are still options within the CMS, framework, or service provider you’re working with. They may require some additional action on your part, but they’re available nonetheless.

Unless there is a major security or functionality concern, it’s usually fine to stick with your current workflow. That “amazing” new way of doing things will still be there (or not) whenever you’re ready.

And that’s the great thing about being a web designer. No matter what changes, you have a say in how you work. That’s worth remembering as the web keeps on evolving.