For many professional web developers, web designers, IT workers, and digital marketers, recent breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have taken vaguely sinister undertones.
In early September 2022, some of the latent fears of humans being put out of work by machines resurged when an artificial intelligence program called Midjourney generated a winning art piece at the Colorado State Fair’s fine arts competition.
As with previous AI breakthroughs, this raised more fears among web designers and digital marketers. In website building, visual art has often been considered the one thing machines couldn’t do convincingly.
Or is it?
In the past decade, we’ve seen AI and ML tools that could build your site, write your content for you, and even optimize it for search engines. Being able to create convincing visuals or graphic design may be impressive, but so are all those other AI-enhanced capabilities.
So why aren’t we all (yet) out of a job?
1) Current Generation AI Tools Still Need Human Input
The most obvious issue is, for all the impressive results brought by AI and ML tools, these still need humans to decide the inputs. Without guidance, it’s next to impossible for these tools to make something convincing. This is still true for websites.
For websites to succeed, the visuals need to flow well, the content has to be engaging and relevant, and the site needs to be fast, secure, and visible to search engines. Each of those areas has a staggering number of fine details to consider, and almost all of these have to be a judgment call based on the preferences of an intended audience.
Does that sound like something an average local business owner can manage? Probably not, especially if they are taking care of several other important things. Having AI tools won’t absolve them or their teams of the need to consider any of those decisions. At least, not yet.
2) Current AI Capabilities Are Largely Hyped
A lot of content relies on fears of inadequacy to drive interest. In fact, almost every other product pitch is premised on that idea. This is especially true of tech publications that want to gather clicks and businesses that want to sell you their AI and ML-enhanced products.
The fact is, while impressive, current-generation AI and ML tools are highly unlikely to completely remove humans from the equation for the reasons we mentioned in the previous point.
For example, contemporary AI-driven content generation and website creation tools are not that much better compared to how they were a decade ago. To use them in anything other than a novelty website, you will almost certainly need humans to tweak what they produce.
That’s not to say advanced automation technologies won’t have an effect. They already have.
AI has already created shifts in low-level, labor-intensive jobs. In the Philippines, so-called tier one or initial customer support jobs have already been partly phased out by AI. Yet, this trend is already being offset by the creation of jobs that directly support and develop AI technologies.
While there are few direct comparisons in web design and development, it’s probably only the most repetitive roles that will be affected, if at all. Without additional breakthroughs in how AI and ML fundamentally work, we are not likely to see human roles completely replaced or upended.
3) Most Businesses Can’t Meet the Data Requirements for High-Level AI and ML
AI is not magic. It can only act on the data that is available to it.
To function correctly, AI and ML tools need clean, well-structured datasets that are free from biases and human errors. This is much tougher to arrange than it seems.
If you have ever dealt with typical business databases, you will immediately see where the problem is. Human-managed datasets are almost always littered with errors, duplicate entries, and biases.
This is broadly true of today’s databases and especially true if the organization managing the database has not seriously invested in the integrity of their data. Data integrity issues have already led to disturbing things such as “racist robots” and self-driving cars identifying people yet still crashing into them.
In terms of web design and development, most businesses relying only on contemporary AI tools will need to leverage a tremendous amount of marketing data just to get something close to what an experienced human team relying on intuition could. And if that human team understands how to leverage data properly, the results are not even going to be close.
Unless they have properly wrangled the potential of big data, most businesses in need of a website should probably turn to reputable human designers, not fancy AI tools.
4) Most Organizations Still Don’t Get It
Perhaps the biggest barrier to wider AI and ML adoption in web design is that decision-makers at most businesses don’t understand the case uses and implications of contemporary automation capabilities.
As with any breakthrough tool, some may expect near-magical capabilities from AI while others will be dismissive based on a skewed idea of how things work. It doesn’t help that a lot of content out there is purposefully hyping or downplaying AI capabilities to promote different self-serving agendas.
While this unfamiliarity will change with time, it may be several years before most business owners get wise to the proper application of automation tools and begin to use them in a productive way.
5) Human Clients Can Be Very Picky
As it is, the results of AI web design tools are not good enough for many ecommerce businesses that want a unique high-performance website, especially without the guidance of knowledgeable designers, developers, and content creators. The results of AI alone will almost certainly be inadequate for clients who understand the basic purpose of an ecommerce site.
Even though the results are often better than what absolute beginners could manage, AI tools are not yet a viable substitute for human web designers and developers who are serious about their craft.
Will AI Ever Replace Human Web Designers?
If you have ever used AI and ML web design and content creation apps before, you will find that nearly all of them are best used as automation tools and not as actual substitutes for human creators. The same is still broadly true for currently-hyped AI web design tools.
Right now, the best way to use AI and ML in web design is to automate repetitive basic tasks that require low cognitive workloads. These tools are not yet a reliable way to replace UX judgment calls made by experienced humans in almost every area of web design. Neither could they be relied on to create truly unique and useful websites that convert users, at least, not on their own.
The fact is, so long as a website has a human audience, you will need other humans to connect with them. This is true whether you’re talking about web design, content, or the general user experience. Until AI finally approximates human sentience and intuition at a cost that every business could afford, there will continue to be a role for humans in web design.
In any case, the yearly improvements in artificial intelligence and machine learning should be a wake-up call for professional web designers, developers, and content creators. We should all be focusing on creating value, not on creating more work, or hitting metrics we don’t fully understand. While AI still falls short of science fiction, who’s to say it won’t exceed it in the coming years?