As we draw closer to the end of the year, now has never been a better time for planning ahead and looking at some of the technologies we can expect to make greater noise in the year to come.
Artificial intelligence has been on the radar for quite some time now and is billed to be a driving force in creating greater business efficiencies and tight customer relationships in the immediate future.
Typically AI is viewed through the lense of strict programming parameters; machine learning that requires a great deal of forethought and time to in order to mirror human creativity. In short, it’s hard, albeit impossible, for AI’s to show true, original creativity.
But while the odds may seem stacked against AI, this hasn’t prevented the creation of a number of programs that seek to replicate the role of the web designer in an effort to bring greater ease and efficiency to the end user (typically small businesses). So just what are these programs and how well do they fair going toe to toe with an actual web designer? We’ve put them through their paces and judged their performance.
Hitting the market after a successful crowdfunding campaign back in 2014, The Grid promotes simplistic, headache free web design that reads like the back of a box of cake mix: instead of just adding water, you just add content.
Handing the design reigns over to The Grid’s hardworking AI, ‘Molly’, users are given the guarantee that while Molly may be young and learning, she’s already designed hundreds of thousands of web pages and is continuously scouring design decisions for inspiration. Since coming online, Molly has been subject to great attention from many within the web community, and the voices have been mixed.
As an early entry into the ‘design by AI’ space, Molly is indeed a marvel and a step in an exciting direction, but it is really only a step at this stage, and not a giant leap. Molly’s capabilities are more or less limited to creating colour palettes and auto cropping images, and like most template driven design programs, the results are typically stocky and out of the box. Moreso, it’s difficult to implement any additional customisation to the design output; as a result, Molly may churn out a decent site quick, but it may not stand out in the crowd.
A newer entry to the design by AI pack, Firedrop proclaims that ‘web design has never been so easy’, and it’s got a fairly compelling case. Similar to The Grid’s mantra of ‘just add content’, Firedrop only requires users to supply content through a helpful chat bot called Sacha. Sacha asks users a series of questions about the site’s content, the design they would like and offers suggestions and recommendations as a result. The end result is about as close to working with a human web designer as possible by incorporating two way communication rather than simple drag and drop alone.
Unlike The Grid whereby users drop in a large amount of data and the underlying AI is left to make a fairly large amount of assumptions, Firedrop breaks down the process into a series of questions, restricting the room for error and generalisations about design decisions. The result according to CEO Marc Crouch is designs that are less ‘out there’ than The Grid, resulting in greater user satisfaction.
While there is indeed more room for control and customisation than the Grid, users should still be wary that Firedrop is working off preset design principles and as such – while it may be a powerful and efficient resource for small businesses (their target market), for those seeking a site that really stands out, it’s still best to team up with a professional web designer.
One of the newest AI entries is Huula, seems to have learnt from the downfalls of early entries in regards to limited customisation and templating, allowing users greater freedom to customise. So just how does Huula do this you ask? Through giving users access the design of any webpage online, editing directly over the top. The result is that users can piggyback off the designs of some of the hardest hitting sites out there with minimal need for coffee and panadol.
Signing up, users have the ability to select from a range of pre-installed sites that act as templates, or alternatively load up a web page of their choosing. When testing, we opted to load up a site of our choosing and began editing on top. While it is indeed powerful in making any web page a drawing board for your own creativity, there are again a number of limitations.
At present Huula is in MVP stage and users are warned to expect a few bumps in the journey at this point in time. Aside from this, while users can change a number of design elements including fonts, layout, background and border, as well as a range of other aesthetic tweaks, making modifications does feel a little clunky. Users can also drag and drop a number of widgets as well ranging from basic elements including smart images, links and grids as well as Google Maps, forms and videos, sections, layouts and menus, editing these as they go as well – but again this all feels very clunky.
Finally, the amount of creative freedom you get is capped by how much you are willing to spend per month. A free starter subscription will get you limited design editor access, 1 site download (whether from their library of sites or from the broader web), and technical support. Stepping up a tier to $3/month, you’ll get full editor access, 9 site downloads per month, 6 domain linkages and personal branding. Finally $49/month gets you much the same as the second tier offering, but with 120 site downloads per month and 80 custom domain linkages.
So should you go down the design by AI path?
It’s undeniable to say that AI in web design is becoming more and more powerful, and in the future it’ll be exciting to see just how much of an asset they could become. At present however, current offerings may be suitable for some (namely small business), but for larger brands seeking a truly unique product that will help cement their image online, accessing an AI for web design purposes would be more a risk than a blessing.
In terms of customisation and the ability to design with users best interest at heart, we’re placing our bets on working with a dedicated UX professional and web developer as the winner in the race towards an AI driven future (for the foreseeable future at least).
If you are interested in building a site that stands out, keeps your users front of mind and will put your brand on the front foot against competitors, get in touch with us about UX and UI Design or Web Development today – we’d be happy to put our intelligence to work.