Dan Mall’s recent post struck a chord with me when I read it. The whole post is worth reading, but in an effort to avoid quoting the entire thing, I’ll simply share his opening statement:

This past week, I finished making a small website for a family member’s business. I had an idea I liked for a subtle header animation. As I sat down to do it, I couldn’t justify how that animation would make the site any better at its job — attracting potential clients — than the static, non-animated version would.

It got me thinking: could I justify an animation for any website’s header? Can anyone justify an animation for a website’s header? A quick glance at the latest Awwwards Site of the Day nominees shows that lots of modern sites have animations in the header. But it is worth the effort to make?

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past few weeks. Dan acknowledges in his post that, of course, web design has changed a lot. These days, as he says, ​“we live in a world where a Kardashian or a Youtuber can launch a product or even an industry with a tweet or an Instagram post, a role previously dominated by The Website.”

I think there’s another change that happened: websites got a whole heckuva lot easier to make. If a designer’s primary job was to live at the intersection of art and commerce, that job has been eradicated at the low end by shrinking budgets and easy-to-use website builders like Wix and Squarespace.

The remaining websites are either vanity projects for large organizations (designed to attract attention and brand cachet), or they are designed as business tools for whom conversion is their primary purpose. If conversion is the primary purpose, there is less space for design. As Conversion Rate Experts says:

Some people ask why they shouldn’t optimize for function and aesthetics. Even if their visitors are perfectly happy with the current appearance of the website, what’s the harm in being beautiful regardless?

It’s like asking ​“What’s the harm in giving Usain Bolt an egg and spoon to carry while he runs?” They don’t realize that beauty, like an egg and spoon, tends to slow progress to a crawl.

If I’m being very cynical about my own work, I think Amazon has proved that web design is more important than ever, but beauty is less important than it’s ever been.

That doesn’t mean making something beautiful is irrelevant. I’m working on a highly-polished website for a non-profit right now. Their design has a lot of attention-catching elements (several are mentioned on this list), and even relies on a motif. That being said, the non-profit sector is a space where cohesive design goes a long way to generating goodwill from potential donors.

I don’t entirely know where I’m going with this, but I do know that web design is still a young field. I think the jury is out on whether or not good design can have a negative impact on conversion, which is really what people pay for. (If you spend a bunch of money on a site, but get no return on that investment, you are probably not getting what you pay for.)

That all being said, I think the days of being in this for the art — like a modern-day Andy Warhol — are mostly behind us. All that matters is the conversion rate. Usually, we aren’t hired to make art. I too hunt for those jobs, but I increasingly feel like a hungry lion in the jungle craving a penguin.