6 Jan 2014 8 am eastern

It’s 2014. Is Web Design Dead?

IN A RECENT article on his website, Web Standards Killed the HTML Star, designer Jeff Croft laments the passing of the “HTML and CSS ‘guru’” as a viable long-term professional position and urges his fellow web design generalists to “diversify or die.”

The reason the Web Standards Movement mattered was that the browsers sucked. The stated goal of the Movement was to get browser makers on board with web standards such that all of our jobs as developers would be easier.

What we may not have realized is that once the browsers don’t suck, being an HTML and CSS “guru” isn’t really a very marketable skillset. 80% of what made us useful was the way we knew all the quirks and intracries of the browsers. Guess what? Those are all gone. And if they’re not, they will be in the very near future. Then what?

From my perspective, the web standards struggle consisted of two phases of persuasion: first we convinced browser makers that it was in their interest to support current HTML, CSS, and JavaScript specifications completely and accurately; then we evangelized the accessibility, findability, and portability benefits of lean semantic markup and progressive enhancement to our colleagues who made websites and their clients.

Evangelizing true compliance, not mastering workarounds for compliance failures, was always the point. Evangelizing was key. Browsers weren’t going to stay standards compliant if nobody made use of that compliance; likewise, W3C specifications weren’t going to advance unless designers seized hold of technologies like CSS to push type and layout on the web as far as they could go—and then complain that they didn’t go far enough.

It took a village of passionate browser engineers, designers, front-end developers, and generalists to bring us to the web we have today. Does the movement’s success mean that many of those who led it will become jobless, like Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution?

Jeff Croft is correct when he says “the goal of the Web Standards Movement was for it to not have to exist.” But we should take this a step further. The goal of the web standards movement was to remove needless complexity and absurdity from the process of creating websites so we could focus our attention where it should be: on design, content, and experience. Evangelizing standards to browser makers and our fellow designers was not a career path, and was never intended to be—any more than aiding a wounded buddy turns a soldier into a physician.

Interestingly, once web standards made the web safe for design, content, and experience, the web’s capabilities—and, thus, the work required to create certain kinds of websites—started becoming more and more complex. To help cut down on that complexity, some front-end developers began sharing chunks of code (from Eric Meyer’s CSS Reset to Mark Otto’s Bootstrap) which paradoxically set in motion another level of complexity: as Jeff Croft points out, familiarity with these and dozens of other tools is now expected of job applicants who could once get hired on nothing more than a solid understanding of HTML and CSS plus a little JavaScript.

HTML “gurudom” was never a career path for anyone, aside, maybe, from a couple of talented authors. Same thing with CSS trickery. Doing black magic with CSS3 can get you a slot on a web design conference stage, but it’s not a career path or proper goal for most web designers.

Fascinatingly, to me, anyway, while many of us prefer to concentrate on design, content, and experience, it continues to be necessary to remind our work comrades (or inform younguns) about web standards, accessibility, and progressive enhancement. When a site like Facebook stops functioning when a script forgets to load, that is a failure of education and understanding on the part of those who created the site; all of us have a stake in reaching out to our fellow developers to make sure that, in addition to the new fancy tricks they’ve mastered, they also learn the basics of web standards, without which our whole shared system implodes.

This doesn’t mean “go be an HTML guru.” It does mean cherish the lessons of the recent past, and share them with those who missed them (or missed the point). Wisdom is not a job, but it is always an asset.

Never fear, web design generalists: many companies and organizations require your services and always will—from universities still seeking “webmasters,” to startups seeking seasoned folks with multiple areas of understanding to direct and coordinate the activities of younger specialists. But if jack-of-all web work is feeling stale, now may be the time to up your game as a graphic designer, or experience designer, or front end developer. “Diversify or die” may be overstating things a bit. But “follow the path you love” will always be good advice.

Filed under: Standards, State of the Web, Web Design, Web Design History, Web Standards

94 Responses to “It’s 2014. Is Web Design Dead?”

  1. Jeremiah Williams said on

    Thanks for the great article. I have been there from the beginning and watched, as the concept of a website, became slowly more complex over the years. I built my first website on Netscape and at that time I had no clue about any design principles, and no one cared. Soon my job as a sole web designer was coming to a close and I knew it. The internet had me convinced that a website just wasn’t a one persons job anymore. So I stayed afloat with the hosting and maintenance fees. Recently, I have really dove deeply into all the things I have never knew about. Art, design, server-side and client side scripting. There are becoming a plethora of tools available out there for single handed web ninjas like myself. Bootstrap, Foundation, less, sass, and ruby to name a few. I am loving be a web designer more than ever these days because of the greater challenge, the greater the reward. Be well JZ.

  2. Michel said on

    Wisdom is not a job, but it is always an asset.

    —Very good point, Mr Zeldman! :-)

    I read your thoughts with great interest. ‘Been thinking something along the same lines, too, lately…

    A few years ago, we were “CSS gurus” and we knew how to deal with IE6 & Firefox 3.6 and Opera .something, we knew hundreds of browser quirks, we knew how to handcode HTML 4.01 or XHTML1.0 and CSS2.1… Today, one really cannot “handcode” anything with HTML5+CSS3 because the standards are moving (and chancging) all the time, you can’t do nothing without complex jQuery add-ons and most modern browsers render your designs perfectly (no need for quirk-knowledge, anymore…).

    But, we, web designers, we’re still needed. Yes, our jobs change, our knowledge changes (and adapts), but we’re still here and our skills are needed. :-)

    And it was a long way from pre-2000 till 2014… but a good one. I am happy I am here today — and can read your blog.

  3. Mich De L'orme said on

    It’s that time of year again already? Oh wait, it’s always that time of year to the hype engine… Nice to see you once again stand on the side of sanity in the battle against the doom n’ gloom crew. Every year it seems we get a new blast of ‘Is Dead’ and every year, us ‘old timers’ just keep on truckin’.

    IMHO web design skills will be in demand until the web is no longer coded. Yes we must always be cutting edge (learn about what is new), yes we must try to color inside the lines(code along the standard), yes we must master new techniques (keep learning). I, and my guess is you, learned the same basic conceptual lessons in grade-school. You have to keep learning or you fall behind.

  4. Ralph said on

    Indeed! The web moves too fast forward for my brain and knowledge to catch up. It’s not a one men job anymore and I do outsource a lot now… especially the complicated stuff or the tasks that were from the start not my strongest qualities. Being a web designer is being a little project manager these days that’s taking care that everybody gets what they need and on time, and to make sure they’re still on the right track and deliver on time.

  5. Sean said on

    just because someone owns photoshop, doesn’t make them a good designer. you will always need people with good skills in web design.

  6. Cesar Contreras said on

    Thank you for sharing this post, Jeffrey. It’s definitely a good idea for designers to learn the things that’ll expand their skill set. For instance, it wouldn’t hurt for graphic designer to learn code while developers learn the basics of design and typography, etc. Web design’s not dead. Versatility is key.

  7. ben said on

    We’re on about which narrow fields of endeavor are marketable on their own, and which are not…

    But I believe that misses the point. In this job, you don’t stop learning if you intend to be any good, and no good manager relies on people who are good at single, narrow things.

    My “site link” actually points to my GYOB-ish response to this piece (and Jeff Croft’s).

  8. Reuben said on

    Thanks for this post Zeldman.

    I think it’s progress, and sometimes progress feels more scary than it truly has to be. I remember when css was beginning to be used wide-spread and I had just gotten a handle on coding html in Notepad. Then comes css ZenGarden, to CMS’s like Joomla and Drupal, custom MySpace pages, etc. The point being it’s progress and while I’ll be the first to admit, sometimes for me as an ‘older dog’ the idea of learnin’ a bunch a’ new tricks may seem improbable, but it’s certainly not impossible. And often times it’s only a matter of learning small chunks of new things at a time, over time.

    No one should invalidate their own usefulness, especially all the folks who’ve stuck with this for what in web years is an eternity, we’ve got a lot to share, teach and pass on. I still hand-code much of my ish and I’m learnin’ some dope new stuff all the time. The last time I felt this degree of thrill and possibility with the web was when I first learned html in the late 90’s early 2000’s and it feels fresh again. My attitude has always been “Bring it on fluffa’s!”, I got this ’cause None of us are obsolete unless we decide to be. :)

    Later,

  9. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    I like your article, @ben. But I must gently take issue with one of your contentions:

    Both of these articles [mine and Jeff Croft's] ultimately conflate a generalist skillset with failure to achieve complete mastery of any platform in the web stack other than HTML and CSS, and completely ignore two facts…

    I can’t speak for Mr Croft, but I don’t believe my article does that. It doesn’t conflate a generalist role with lack of mastery, or view the generalist approach as a dead end. I wonder if you read the entire piece. For instance, this bit, from the end:

    Never fear, web design generalists: many companies and organizations require your services and always will—from universities still seeking “webmasters,” to startups seeking seasoned folks with multiple areas of understanding to direct and coordinate the activities of younger specialists.

    I could not get hired as a front-end designer in today’s market, but I am far from unemployable (or self-employable). The web needs generalists now more than ever, for reasons you articulated so convincingly in your piece.

    I suspect that the kind of “guru” Jeff Croft was describing—one who is a master of all the quirks of all the old browsers—was actually a front-end developer, and that said developer has now moved on to master Sass, Compass, and so on. In other words, the job he is describing isn’t dead, its required skill set has simply been updated.

    I do recognize that a lot of us who’ve been doing this for a while are starting to feel like we don’t understand or feel competent with all the new tools. And that this feeling has led some to question whether their career as they once defined it still makes sense. I believe those feelings are the source of Jeff Croft’s article and its somewhat gloomy tone. But in my experience, periods of self-doubt and exploration, however painful, are necessary to one’s continued growth and happiness.

  10. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    Andy Clarke has also written a response to this article:

    It’s 2014. Web Design Isn’t Dead

    In it, he states, “It’s easy to feel disheartened when it’s hinted that without knowing these, and other aspects of experience design, that simply ‘designing’ isn’t enough, or that designing something to be beautiful is somehow superficial.”

    I hope no one believes that design is easy, or that design isn’t enough! Keep this in mind from my today’s article (emphasis added):

    The goal of the web standards movement was to remove needless complexity and absurdity from the process of creating websites so we could focus our attention where it should be: on design, content, and experience.

  11. Alex said on

    Can you expand on this:

    “Diversify or die” is overstating things when the world needs generalists, too.

    Isn’t a generalists and someone who’s diversified one in the same?

  12. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    @Alex:

    I believe what Jeff Croft means is not “diversify” but “specialize” or die. (If I’m wrong, I hope he will correct me.) It’s not a position I agree with—the web needs generalists as well as specialists.

  13. ben said on

    Jeffrey, I haven’t yet added notes to reflect your feedback…

    I will admit to a bit of artistic license, because you are right to suggest that your reply does cover the same case as mine. However, I read both to begin with the assertion that the skillset of 1998–9 forms the most solid core of the present-day generalist’s skillset (albeit updated to include CSS3, perhaps DOM3, &c.), but I don’t think that’s universally true.

    As much to the point, I believe that specialization is poison, but I feel a bit like Don Quixote in saying so.

    I’ll be fixing it.

  14. ben said on

    By “both” immediately above I refer to this piece and Mr. Croft’s. Stupid sexy submit button.

  15. Jeff Croft said on

    > I could not get hired as a front-end designer in today’s market, but I am far from unemployable (or self-employable). The web needs generalists now more than ever, for reasons you articulated so convincingly in your piece.

    Absolutely. Mr. Zeldman is marketable not because he knows HTML and CSS, but because he has proven to be a brilliant businessman, a leading thinker on content and publishing, and an effective leader of people in our industry. THOSE are marketable skills.

    > I suspect that the kind of “guru” Jeff Croft was describing—one who is a master of all the quirks of all the old browsers—was actually a front-end developer, and that said developer has now moved on to master Sass, Compass, and so on. In other words, the job he is describing isn’t dead, its required skill set has simply been updated.

    Correct, except that I personally know several who never did move on to “Sass, Compass, and so on” and are now struggling with their place in the market.

    I don’t want to name names, but as examples: I know someone who works for a large institution in Seattle, and has for years. When he was hired, he was on top of the HTML and CSS game, and that was what was needed to get himself a job. Now, years later, his job hasn’t really required him to stay up to date, so he’s fallen behind. Possibly *because* it hasn’t required him to stay up to date, he’s bored and looking for a new job — and realizing he may need to polish up on some more current skills before he can get the job he wants.

    Similarly, I know someone who runs her own shop, and has for years. Five or six years ago, her HTML and CSS gurudom was getting her great work with big name, Fortune 500 clients who had large budgets. Today, she’s helping small local businesses at *much* lower rates.

    > I believe what Jeff Croft means is not “diversify” but “specialize” or die. (If I’m wrong, I hope he will correct me.) It’s not a position I agree with—the web needs generalists as well as specialists.

    Sorry, Z, you do have me wrong, here. I absolutely meant “diversify,” not “specialize.” I’m not a specialist, myself. I once was an HTML and CSS guru. Now, I do work from branding to content strategy to interaction design to graphic design to front-end development to backend development to interior design.

    There are two ways to stay marketable: either specialize, or diversify. Both are valid career paths. What is NOT a valid career path is thinking the skills you learned five or six years ago are sufficient to compete in today’s market.

    Both of the folks I mentioned above rested on their laurels a bit, content at being an expert in HTML and CSS — and both are now finding themselves unsure where to go next. They’re recognizing what they have is no longer enough, but they’re not quite sure what to do about it.

    My suggestion to them is *diversify*: add design to the mix. Add serious programming. Add management skills. Become a great writer. Pick up *something* that will always be a thing.

    HTML and CSS won’t always be a thing. But programming will be. Management will be. Design will be. That’s why Malarkey is absolutely right when he says, “‘Making it pretty’ is a skill we can be proud of and one that’s going to be in demand long after the latest fashionable framework is forgotten.” What *you’re* skill that’s going to be in demand long after the fashionable framework is forgotten?

  16. Micah said on

    I believe all of you gurus have good points. My personal experience in looking for market rate type jobs, even to develop something for myself or others as a freelancer for a decent pay day, requires closer to what Jeff said.

    I rarely see front end dev jobs where people ask for Interactive Developer who doesn’t know javascript, even if they do exist. Most jobs I’ve come across require good or expert level javascript knowledge amongst all the different frameworks and tools available.

    Designer jobs I’ve seen are similar, where companies say knowing good front end dev is either required or preferred. It’s crazy.

    I am closing in on a crossroad where unless I truly start learning OOP, javascript, and more back end concepts on the front end for these various MV* frameworks, my type of job is going to be like looking for gold in a mountain: most people have been there to dig out that gold and turn it into personal wealth in other ways.

  17. Hans said on

    …”it continues to be necessary to remind our work comrades (or inform younguns) about web standards, accessibility, and progressive enhancement”

    I would add: user testing
    Many new HTML5, responsive or adaptive sites are like Flash sites 10 years ago. (lessons from the past) Again too much focus on pure technological trickery, needless complexity and even absurdity. Maybe ‘web standard’ trickery or complexity, but not applied with real users in mind. Many ‘cutting edge’ sites are still build by and unconsciously for web experts.
    Conducting real user is a web standard. Generalist are very well suited to do just that. Lots of work to be done here.

    Let us also not forget that a majority of sites are still in an awful state when it comes even to those basic web standards. It’s not all about fancy looking startups sites and sexy apps for early adopters. There are still many table based sites with broken HTML and lousy CSS files. Lots of work left for every type of web designer.

    Not knowing every latest trick of the trade is sometimes an advantage. You might end up with something ‘simply’ beautiful instead of something awfully complex.

  18. Steve Hil said on

    I am not a web designer. My expertise is in design for print. I take it that a web designer designs so that the surfer can scuba dive into the unseen without getting lost or entangled in layers, and can nav back to the surface with relative ease. I do a lot of surfing and am frankly appalled at the lack of ‘design’ as outlined above. There have been only two sites that I have met in my travels that made me say Yes , that is for me – De Zeen being one of them. I suspect my love for it was based on my love of De Stijl – that it echoed. Sorry Bletchley has just started cheers

  19. Scott Trotter said on

    The single most important skill in any tech-related job or profession, is the ability to learn new skills.

    Regardless of whether it’s platform architectures, programming and markup languages, class libraries, data formats, network topologies, engineering methodologies, design and development tools, and on and on, all of these tools and technologies change over time, and all of the gurus who practice them are short-lived. It’s rare for any skill to be in-demand for more than a decade, so adapt or become irrelevant.

  20. The Changing Web | David A. Kennedy said on

    […] Jeffrey Zeldman in It’s 2014. Is Web Design Dead?, a response to Jeff Croft’s Web Standards Killed the HTML […]

  21. John Locke said on

    I’m glad that you, Andrew Clarke, and Ben have written responses to the claim that the bell is tolling for those people who know HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Mastering all the different skills involved with making websites takes dedication and time, and I believe there will always be a place for those with a good grasp of design theory and basic website building skills.

    The two concepts that I see being pushed are that one must pursue an entirely siloed career path: learning everything there is to know about one particular aspect of web design, without a deep understanding of how that contribution fits into the rest of a design team or a website. These voices would tell us that there is no value in being a generalist, that if you are a so-called jack-of-all-trades, then you are a master of none. What this section of our community does not realize is that there is indeed a very high demand for people with diverse skills, and many teams have people who do multiple jobs.

    There is a whole other part of the web community that seems to obsess over knowing every new tool – Backbone, Grunt, Angular, Sass, Git, Bootstrap, Foundation, WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Node, Rails, whew! If THIS isn’t advocating for generalism, I’m not sure what is.

    I think it’s important to understand human psychology, color theory, composition, typography, front end development, basic UI, basic UX, maybe some back end.

    Will there be people who are expert level back-end coders? YES. Will there be people who are masters with JavaScript? Certainly. Will there be a place for people who primarily do visual design and not much more? I don’t think that will ever die out.

    There is a place for extreme siloed knowledge, but most people are going to be closer to a generalist, and I think that is actually a good thing.

  22. Scott Richardson said on

    Nice post Zeldman. With tools such as Muse and of course the upcoming Macaw, generalised front end coding is becoming a little less important for a specific audience. However I do feel that for the most part, truly unique, tailor made custom, hand coded web sites are required – especially when the UX and UI is highly tied into the client’s brand and online goals (as it should be). A template, or a framework with their preset grids and CSS really don’t hold up when your UI and design calls for something more unique.

    I see a lot of low end, very small to small business sites going the route of Word Press, Squarespace, or Wix. Others will use Muse or Macaw to churn out simple sites. But the bigger sites will likely be custom. Now, I am speaking completely anecdotally. ALL of my studio’s web sites are custom built, and we’re booked up with work constantly. Our clients appreciate the fact that we tailor make our sites to fit with the client’s goals, rather than retrofitting around some predefined system.

    Personally, I came from a graphic design and UI design background, and out of necessity, learned to write front end code, and then eventually back end code. Thankfully this leaves me in the fortunate position of being able to cover the full spectrum of ‘web design’ chores and I can move to where the cash is as needed. I often see experts of a specific occupation within the web industry, such as front-end coders, or photoshop designers snicker at the idea of people moving between positions, but I think it is really rewarding and enriching being exposed to all sites of web site design AND development. I think it is perfectly ok for a graphic designer to delve into PHP/MySQL. If it pikes their interest then they could become experts in that AS WELL as design. And on topic, it gives them avenues to go down when one side dries up.

  23. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    Jeff Croft said:

    There are two ways to stay marketable: either specialize, or diversify. Both are valid career paths. What is NOT a valid career path is thinking the skills you learned five or six years ago are sufficient to compete in today’s market.

    Agreed, absolutely! But I’d content that that has always been true in this web design game. The moment you stop obsessively learning new skills, you lose value as a specialist, although you may gain value as a director/manager if you develop other skills, such as strategic and people skills.

    Okay, sure, there was a brief period of a few years where, having mastered HTML, CSS, and a little JavaScript gave you tremendous value as an employee, and you didn’t need to keep rapidly learning new things. But that little period of time was an anomaly!

    I started designing websites in 1995. One of my partners on the Batman Forever website (1995) left the ad agency where we had created the site and became a creative director on the strength of that site’s quality and reputation. Two years later I was hanging out with him at his new job, talking to him about an exciting new technology called CSS that IE3 was beginning to support. Once I realized he wasn’t following what I was saying, I started talking about HTML. Again, there was a disconnect.

    When we created Batman Forever, this friend had known way more about HTML and the web than I did. But somehow, in two years as a creative director, he had lost his web development hand skills. Don’t get me wrong: he had great value as a creative director, and is still an active and important player in this community. But in two years of directing people, he had lost the ability to code.

    That’s normal in this business. It should come as no surprise.

    I guess if you entered the field at the beginning of the golden age of web standards, it might be surprising to realize that the technology, which was once stagnant, has gotten moving again—and that you need to move with it if you want to remain a coder.

    From that 1997 interaction with my friend, I determined to keep my hand skills as long as I could. And through, say, 2005, I would put have put myself up against anybody out there as a front-end coder, not only as a designer. Today, of course, I work with people who are better than me in practically every area in which I once excelled.

    Since I’m not competing for the jobs of the developers I work with, I’m not threatened when they talk about platforms and tools I will probably never use. But it does make me feel a little nostalgic for the days when anyone could make a website. And if I were competing for the same jobs as these folks, I would be scared.

    But fear can be a great motivator. Sometimes we have to be afraid before we can allow ourselves to learn new things and have new experiences. Although some folks are reading your essay as gloom and doom, I see it more as a call to action.

    By the way, since around 2005, A List Apart has consciously been about *all* the skills that go into making great websites, not just standards-based skills. Many paths are available. Anyone who wants to can stay active in this industry.

  24. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    @Jeff Croft: Also, thanks for explaining what you meant by “diversify or die.” Boy, did I have you wrong there! I think, although it’s a less juicy sound bite, what I would say is, “Keep learning, whether that means getting back up to speed as a front-end specialist, or acquiring the strategic and interpersonal skills that can make you a valuable team member in a generalist capacity.” (Like I said, as a sound bite, it stinks.)

  25. Ville Vartiainen said on

    I must say that I don’t fully understand the assertion that the days are numbered for people who know how to plan, write and optimise semantic, lean, mean HTML and CSS.

    I totally agree that you cannot rest on your laurels, and need to keep learning. But this has always been the case. I took a break once for 8 months and felt totally lost once I came back to work. I had to pull myself up by the bootstraps and get back in the game.

    A few years ago I was coasting and getting a little jaded at work. But then I saw Ethan Marcotte speak at FOWD on London and everything changed. I came back to work with news of how all our sites were now going to be built responsively. It was a steep learning curve, but it was a refreshing tonic that once again made me revise my skills and assumptions about how best to put together the HTML and CSS for websites.

    I also agree that it is best if you also know how to put together some decent JS, as this is integral to modern User Interfaces and User Experiences. But I put it to you that most Front End Developers are not amazing JS coders. I’m not.

    We also have to be aware of accessibility, user experience, content strategy…but we always had to have these in mind when coding.

    Everyone cannot be good at everything.

    Okay some people can but they are in the minority (and are awesome). Have you ever tried to get a backend developer to write some great HTML or CSS? It’s easy right? Wrong. In the same way, I don’t plan to become more adept at PHP/MSQL than knowing enough to tweak the user interface code to get the best results.

    So much of the discussions that I follow atm are about the need to optimise, to be accessible, to make interfaces work on any viewport. Surely most of this is down to the poor old dudes who can write intelligent, well structured, optimised, magical CSS and HTML (and yes JS) to deliver a great User Experience?

    Yes browsers suck much less now (but most that are in use still suck alot). But having to deal with that less has now been replaced by the need to code excellent, lightweight, responsive sights that are beautiful.
    I don’t know of any automated process to replace the HTML/CSS craftsman, and I’m not sure when web design died.

    Remember, with killer writing and good HTML/CSS you can still make an awesome site, without going overboard with complex/shifting interfaces.

  26. .@zeldman’s response to yesterday’s ‘diversify or… | pork-CHOP tweets said on

    […] .@zeldman‘s response to yesterday’s ‘diversify or die’ article: cherish & share lessons of the recent past. zeldman.com/2014/01/06/its… […]

  27. Adam Parks said on

    Jeff (Croft): There are two ways to stay marketable: either specialize, or diversify. Both are valid career paths. What is NOT a valid career path is thinking the skills you learned five or six years ago are sufficient to compete in today’s market.

    Jeff (Zeldman): Agreed, absolutely! But I’d content that that has always been true in this web design game.

    And I’d contend that has always been true in any career ever. It just changes a little faster in web design/development because it’s so young. And because things just change faster these days in general.

    The problems of the HTML/CSS Gurus that Mr. Croft is talking about are not problems endemic to our industry. They are problems endemic to people who get too comfortable in their current position. Making yourself more valuable takes work and is a never-ending pursuit.

  28. Emma Davis said on

    My answer: No web design is not dead.

    Would you say architecture is dead just because we now have pretty good ‘blueprints’ available to build well structured, solid and environmentally friendly buildings (what else do we need)? I think not.

    Just the same as all design industries move forward, we may have to adapt, improve and possibly focus our skills but web design will always be required as the industry, other designers, even ourselves, move forward, evolve and push the current boundaries to see how far we can really go with this medium.

  29. Geoff said on

    Being a webmaster at a school district this hits way too close to home. That stale feeling is only getting worse and I’ve been feeling the need to up my game. I appreciate these words of encouragement to pursue a new path.

  30. Jeff Croft said on

    > The problems of the HTML/CSS Gurus that Mr. Croft is talking about are not problems endemic to our industry. They are problems endemic to people who get too comfortable in their current position. Making yourself more valuable takes work and is a never-ending pursuit.

    Totally agree with this. When I wrote my post, I certainly didn’t think I wasn’t writing anything revolutionary or controversial. Just an observation that, from my personal experience — as an employee, as someone who interviews folks for positions, and as a friend to others in this industry — those who took that Web Standards education and sat on their laurels are now finding themselves struggling in the job market.

  31. Danny Hotea said on

    Broad-brushing the thing with a mark of “death” smacks of calamitous journalism. The web has ever evened the playing field by allowing anyone to gain a valuable skill then help someone in need of that specific skill. The all-or-nothing stuff is just nonsense. A lot of folks know this, already.

  32. Daniel Schuzsmith said on

    I still blame Apple, they’ve made design look too easy. Now everyone is a designer. ;)

    Kidding aside. Before I was an entrepreneur I was a “generalist”. Before I was a “generalist” the industry called me a “web designer”. Before I was a “web designer” I was called a “webmaster”. Before I was a “webmaster” I was a student.

    I wanted to one day have my own design studio. So about 12 years ago I set out to learn everything I could about EVERY aspect of the design business: project management, web design, coding, biz dev/sales, operations, hr, and even client services *gasp*.

    I worked for great shops like Chopping Block, Barbarian Group, Cuban Council, and about 5 others before making my own shop Mark & Phil (http://markandphil.com).

    And what did I learn from all of this?

    Titles will always change but progression in one’s profession truly comes from paying attention and learning. Whether your 50 or 15, thats what the end result and the building behind websites are essentially all about, learning.

    If one of my former employers or co-workers were to visit our offices and watch our staff for a week, they’d see little pieces of what they remember in our process, office setup, and the work we produce. I took away a little bit of something from each shop I was at.

    Code is code. But what you do with it and how that final product makes you feel is everything.

    Keep on coding my friends.

  33. Brendon Brown said on

    On one side, I agree with you, Jeffrey. Our chosen path is one of constant education and skill upkeep.

    On the other side, companies of late have decided that one individual with a highly-diversified skill set should be able to solve their every web-related problem. Their job listings require dominance of a litany of every thinkable language save Sanskrit, plus they want highly-creative types who would not give a fart to code PHP or Ruby, but could build a site so beautiful it could make your in-laws cry giant tears of unimpeded joy.

    Every person in our industry will invariably lean more towards either 100001010101s or rainbows and unicorns, and we need to educate employers that only a team composed of both sides of brain, diversified as they must be in skills that pertain to their field and area of competence, will deliver adequately the packaged solution their are seeking.

  34. John Ivanoff said on

    This discussion can happen in any industry. “Modular Buildings Killed the Framing Carpenter.”
    A company will stay with their technology until it can no longer be competitive because of it. Then it will refresh it’s technologies. There are still COBOL programs out there running on mainframes or have been virtualized. That was an amazing project to witness. The difficult part is deciding which trend to follow. I have left some jobs because I wasn’t growing. Luckily I like to learn and build so this is a wonderful career for me.

  35. The Differences Between Web Designers and Web Developers said on

    […] with those roles are changing. Here I offer my take on the whole thing, and it appears I’m not alone in my […]

  36. It’s 2014. Is Web Design Dead? – Je... said on

    […] IN A RECENT article on his website, Web Standards Killed the HTML Star, designer Jeff Croft laments the passing of the “HTML and CSS ‘guru’” as a viable long-term professional position and urges his fellow web design generalists to “diversify or die.”  […]

  37. Paul Macey said on

    Just wanted to say great article. I particularly relate to the web generalist category. Through my personal experience I find that generalisation has made me much more approachable about different job opportunities and career paths. When I started in web development, the migration from tables had already started in earnest, and the vast majority of information on the internet extolled the virtues of clean, compliant code. Fortunately it put me in good stead to build upon a solid foundation of standards-appreciative knowledge.

    For me the idea of compliancy with a set of industry standards made me appreciate how to read documentation to select the correct approach for every solution I’ve been asked to put into place. I sincerely believe that endlessly refreshing the W3C Validator in the learning stage made me adopt a perfectionist attitude toward my career’s work. Even though the practicalities of the standards may no longer be relevant with modern browsers, I think this is a skill and mindset that every fledgling developer / designer needs to adapt to their own workflow, therefore very much crucial.

    As an aside, how interesting that a post concerning the various standards group should coincide to when the MPAA officially joins the W3C, the implications of which, if this articles motive is correct, should hopefully be negligible. However, if the standards are still relevant, is it simply that the metaphorical goalposts of the standards organisations are shifting toward a more commercial outcome?

    Thanks again for a great article.

    Paul

    Interesting that th

  38. Mark Simchock said on

    Call it whatever you want.

    Tools are just a means to an ends.

    Given the Wild West nature of the internet beast it’s unlikely they will be static any time soon.

    At the end of the day you’re a problem solver. Either you embrace that or you do not. The “manufacturing process” will never be flawless so be prepared to adjust and evolve as required.

    p.s. fwiw, how about an article / rant on job posting that list the kitchen sink (i.e., nearly every skill / technology on the planet)? Perhaps what’s needed now isn’t standards for the technology, but standards for those who use it?

  39. instapaper unread: It’s 2014. Is Web Design Dead? – Jeffrey Zeldman Presents The Daily Report « rob zand said on
  40. Helping clients as a web generalist | Web Work Garage said on

    […] A friendly little debate about the death of web design came up based on a post by Jeff Croft and a response by Jeffrey Zeldman. […]

  41. Mike said on

    An interesting read. However, I completely and utterly disagree. When you say “80% of what made us useful was the way we knew all the quirks and intracries of the browsers. Guess what? Those are all gone. And if they’re not, they will be in the very near future.” I laughed heartily to myself. 80% of the time I take to complete a web project is usually taken up with browser testing — with older versions of IE being the main culprits.

    I would love to live in the bubble inhabited by many designers who push for new techniques to be used. Hell, I use them whenever I can. But, and it’s a massive but, IE 7 and 8 are not dying as quickly as many would hope. Recently I started work on a project, and decided to use Foundation, mainly for its mobile first ethic. Great, I thought. The early versions of the site scaled beautifully, effortlessly changing responsively for the variety of screens I tried them on. Then came IE 8.

    Little did I know that Foundation stopped supporting IE < 9. My client would love to use different browsers, but the money is simply not there to upgrade and update their machines. This a similar case across so many projects I've worked on over the last couple of years. So many people are forced to still use IE 8, even IE 7, that yes, my job does still revolve around knowing quirks and intricacies of browsers.

    So please, try if you can to step out of the HTML 5 framworked bubble from time to time — the reality is a bit less ordered and perfect than you think.

  42. Ben said on

    Yawn.

  43. Luisa said on

    I learned to build websites in 1997. Then I became a ‘generalist’, I did everything: webmaster, content manager, e-commerce manager, web merchandiser. I launched corporate websites for Levi Strauss and Purina in my home country and in a couple of others. I have a marketing degree but for every job I’ve had I’ve become the default web person. Now I have to manage my employer’s FB even though I don’t use FB myself, so I guess that makes me a social media community manager of some sort.

    In 2013 I wanted to go back to front-end coding and I was immediately overwhelmed. I had been working on the web for years but I had fallen way behind on my coding skills.

    In this decade, for someone who wants to start as a front-end developer, there is no clear path, it’s a project-by-project adventure.

    It helps very much to read about the industry, to understand all concepts, but the pressure to learn everything is too much.

    Personally I really don’t know where I should focus.
    My learning adventure has been full of ups and downs and yet, I don’t understand why every day I bump into websites that are horrible, cluttered and unreadable. I wind up using Instapaper for everything to strip all unnecessary content… where is web design?

    A couple of months ago I thought I should learn HTML5 very well. Then I thought, no actually I should really learn how to build a responsive grid. Then, should I specialize on WP or should I explore Perch? Should I use a Framework? And each day spent trying to make those decisions, it seems I fall behind.

    This piece is fascinating and the comments are real eye-openers.

  44. J. Klein said on

    The job was never just HTML, it was always to create the best solution for the customer, that my friend will never fall out of place in today’s market.

    as a side note, the quirks are still here, just not as browsers only as devices. the more we grow the more we will complicate simple stuff and the “simplifier” will always be in demand.

    99% of web users are not web creators and we tend to forget that rather quickly.

  45. Martin said on

    I think you’re missing the point. A lot of web designers do a lot more than code – SEO and website usability being two major areas.

    Even as browsers converge there will still be a need for other skills. Most weekend bodgers could not design a marketing website if their lives depended on it.

  46. The truth about learning web development : Variable Skies said on

    […] This morning Jeffrey Zeldman published a very interesting article. Actually it was a response to Jeff Croft, web designer, about web development skills. At least that’s how I summarize the discussion. The article has a more dramatic title: Is Web Design Dead? […]

  47. Visual Communications » It’s 2014. Is Web Design Dead? – Jeffrey Zeldman Presents The Daily Report | Your DCTC News Source : Dakota County Technical College said on

    […] It’s 2014. Is Web Design Dead? – Jeffrey Zeldman Presents The Daily Report. […]

  48. Dennis said on

    I agree with this article Jeffrey.
    Btw, you know who I am. ;)

  49. Charlie said on

    I don’t know bout y’all but the first bullets on my resume: in-line styling, forms and tables. Seriously, the web design world’s slogan should be “professionally develop or perish.” I know people who got out when CSS for layout became a thing (faux columns? gasp!). If you want a comfy job where you can rest on your laurels, web design and development is absolutely not for you.

  50. Rosario Carrillo said on

    I feel it is going to become an all video presentation in the future due to the complexity of the code, staffing (etc) and the need to “get it out there fast.” Before my web work I started as an art director at an affiliate station. Thinking back, my web work resembles all of the TV work I had to accomplish daily for video.

    All things appear to go full circle…what’s next?

  51. Leonardo Costa said on

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this. As I am learning HTML and CSS today I couldn’t help questioning myself if I was too late to dive into that kind of knowledge.

    But reading this article made me remember that the designer’s goal should be to streamline communication, whether the tool is a nib, a typesetting, a computer diagramming software or HTML.

  52. Lisa Wilkins said on

    Its 2014. The term ‘guru’ is dead.

    Quiet possibly the impetus to diversify stems from the need for a profitable bottom line.

  53. Lisa Wilkins said on

    Quiet possibily…HA! *Quite

  54. Jeff Croft said on

    > I laughed heartily to myself. 80% of the time I take to complete a web project is usually taken up with browser testing — with older versions of IE being the main culprits.

    You’re making my point, sir. Older versions of IE are the culprit? How much longer do you expect to support them? If older browsers are 80% of your work, and we know that eventually we phase out support of older browsers, then 80% of your job is destined to go away in the near future.

    What then?

  55. Gus Bird said on

    I’m constantly irritated reading iBooks/Kindle with all the layout stuff that breaks. It’s like someone decided to take all the problems associated with the early web and apply them to the new print. Sometimes it even seems like a step back from PDF. But on the flip side I’m always shocked these days when I pick up a device I haven’t used before and a website displays in the intended way (some thanks to JZ for that).

    Never stop learning is a given – but one needs a core foundation. Some kind of base to build and learn on. A good C programmer probably won’t sweat a little PHP, utilizing a solid skill set they already have in place. But there are really good PHP people who are completely in the dark with CSS (much less CSS3). Should that individual be/get really excited about SASS or LESS?

    Put a lot of effort into Drupal and the “WordPress clients” will start calling up with work. Maybe it’s cool, but does all this pre processor, increased work-flow stuff really make sense long-term? Are a bunch of jumping, resizing images/content/elements the real meaning of Responsive? The question is always where to put your time – finding those gems (no pun intended) that will enhance your skill set beyond next month is the real headache.

  56. In defense of web standards said on

    […] Jeffrey Zeldman in a strong defense of web standards: […]

  57. Arianna Decosta said on

    I don’t think so website design is dead or in future it is gonna dead. Hundred’s of website is developing day by day and they need the best designer to make a good layout for their website so that their website banners could look so colorful and eye-catching to attract more visitors or for website marketing.

  58. Salil said on

    The size of fonts on this blog is a good argument for why web designers are still needed.

  59. Mike said on

    >You’re making my point, sir. Older versions of IE are the culprit? How much longer do you expect to support them? If older browsers are 80% of your work, and we know that eventually we phase out support of older browsers, then 80% of your job is destined to go away in the near future.

    What then?

    Hmm, let me think…more time for more projects, more work, more time to look for more work, generally more time to be a designer. Sorry if I won’t fall at the majesty of the church of Zeldman, but web designers will always be needed.

  60. The Dirt: Hacker Schools with Dave Levine | Fresh Tilled Soil said on

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  61. Stefano Danieli said on

    Good
    “The goal of the web standards movement was to remove needless complexity and absurdity from the process of creating websites so we could focus our attention where it should be: on design, content, and experience”

    OK :
    1)Kill the Integralism used by some web designers who wants to evangelize the web.
    1) Kill accessibility laws in some Country and HTML5 : they are both incompatible.

  62. Ilcho Vuchkov said on

    Every web designer and developer must be always on track… and keep moving…

  63. Web Design | websitedevelopmentmadeeasy said on

    […] It's 2014. Is Web Design Dead? – Jeffrey Zeldman Presents The … – Never fear, web design generalists: many companies and organizations require your services and always will—from universities still seeking “webmasters,” to startups seeking seasoned folks with multiple areas of … […]

  64. It’s 2014. Is Web Design Dead? | Betteridge’s Law said on

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  65. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    @Mike: You should read my article.

  66. Bookmarks for January 2014 | maratz.com said on

    […] It’s 2014. Is Web Design Dead? — on passing of the “HTML and CSS ‘guru’” as a viable long-term professional position. […]

  67. Roman Serebryakov said on

    Good article, also good reply to the ‘Diversify or Die.’ It does confuse me a little when Jeffrey and some people in the comments start mixing and twisting the front-end development with web design. There are only a handful of Designers who can also do Front-end development really well.

    And I mean, you need to be a really good designer with really good web development skills. For example, taking Bootstrap, Boilerplate or another ‘framework’ , switching logos, adding different colors and even typography is not a good design and it cannot be a good design, so I would not consider that person a Web Designer, more of a front-end developer who thinks and calls himself a designer. I see more and more generic looking designs that do responsive, adaptive, but are not anything unique when it comes to layout and overall Design.

    There was an open discussion of the Responsive Design one day with Ethan Marcotte and people were submitting questions about the trends and the concept of mobile-friendly sites. My comment to him was that as a Designer, I see more websites start looking the same and there is no big innovation or creativity in the layouts, most websites now offer the similar structure and ‘boxy’ feel, too simplistic. So, to me those people ar enot good designers, thye might have spent more time developing and making lean back-end but the user interface is very basic. Again, as an example, I would give Ethan Marcotte as a front-end ‘guru’ but not as a Web Designer ‘guru’. Hope it makes sense :)

  68. FOUC vs. Progressive Enhancement | Go Make Things said on

    […] his recent post on web standards and progressive enhancement, Zeldman […]

  69. Alexandre de Campos said on

    thanks for this article. I believe that every designer should expand their skill sets to development areas.
    By my own experience, learning to code HTML/HTML5, CSS/CSS3 and javascript gave me a much deep understanding of what could i done in therms of interfaces functionalities and capabilities.
    User expectation gained a role new level, as i started to understand how to improve and enhance my web sites and applications and learned more about html/css and web architecture.
    You see, we cant say web design is dead, as mister zeldman states there is still much field for old school web designers (webgurus) to act, we can say that designers role and web developers role are changing, with the same intensity as browser develop.
    We can call today web desinger unicorn, ripping interfaces with his hybrid skills(Grapich Designer + Information Architect + front end developer), someone who can turn a problem into a viable solution, someone that you know exist but you really never seen :).
    Thats the line im following for the future, and i really think designers should consider learning how to code right away!

  70. Don Ulrich said on

    This came to my attention. Thought this was timely.
    There is the other end of this scale which seems to drive the public image of expectation and skills in the workplace. What are the skills you really need? Do you chase the relevant CMS, trends, and frameworks with a working knowledge or do you employ core competencies and relative methodological practice which allow you to evaluate the aforementioned and apply them to the target?

    All of the above is not merely ‘wisdom’. I think that the gurus have an edge. They practice applied engineering by nature and are better equipped at this thought process. Just learn the ongoing tool set folks. The actual skills used to develop are a constant born from the nature of your practice….but I digress heh here is the article.

    The Magpie Developer
    http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2008/01/the-magpie-developer.html

  71. Web Design and development said on

    Very inspiring article for Designer… Being a Web Designing and Development company ourselves, we also provide some attractive,innovative websites You can view a few of our Web Services Here

  72. It’s 2014. Is Web Design Dead? – Jeffrey Zeldman Presents The Daily Report « Aude Morisset said on

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  73. HELVETICA said on

    CAN YOU USE A BIGGER FONT SIZE?
    I CANT READ IT ON MY 23″ MONITOR

    That’s what will make die the web

  74. Joel Prz said on

    A former Flash Developer, I’m now reluctant to specialize in a specific area. I suppose you could say I’m specializing in Javascript, but I wouldn’t hitch my wagon, for example, to a particular framework.
    I’m currently employed as a ‘web designer’ where–naturally–most of my work is client-side scripting. In my world, people would have to first understand what web design is before they could take note of its passing.

  75. LeadGenix said on

    The web is evolving and so must we. Its been that way since the beginning of the web. As designers we must constantly be learning the new frameworks and codes. I think its kind of fun to see it evolve and be a part of it.

  76. Edward Chung said on

    You speak my mind! I do think that becoming a full-stack web developer with skills in UI/UX, SEO, front-end, back-end, web design, … is the future when the web becomes more and more sophisticated. Great article!

  77. “Is Web Design Dead?” Article | ART 342 - Interactive Media II said on
  78. Charli @ Ricemedia said on

    It’s the nature of the industry that means people’s job roles will have to adapt and evolve – requiring them to learn new skills and new technologies. But I do agree that ‘Diversify or Die’ might be a little dramatic – the skills of the HTML/CSS guru will still come in handy for years to come.

  79. Russell Brown said on

    This wasn’t what I expected it to be from the article title and that’s always nice. Thanks Mr Zeldman. As a ‘young gun’ I’m acutely aware of the previous battles fought to get the web into a state where a dunce like me can pick up web development. Yes it’s getting more complex to do more complex things but it’s never been easier to write simple, standards compliant code that works across all browsers and that’s awesome.

  80. Martin Hoggard said on

    Everywhere changes happen and it is more so in webs technology. Those who sail with the changes can only sustain in this world.

  81. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    @Russel Brown: Thank you for your kind words and all the best in your work and career! :)

  82. Web design Midlands said on

    Hello, I simply want to say your blog is surprising. The clarity in your post is simply spectacular.

  83. Your Secret To Successful Web Design » Reputation Marketing Ltd said on

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  84. Lesenswert: Januar 2014 | produktbezogen.de said on

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  85. Siamo nel 2014. Il web design è morto? | Laboratorio CSS said on

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  86. Rakesh sharma said on

    Designing is totally a matter of talent, creativity and once imagination. As long as good talented people are available designing will never die. Technology may replicate things or created based on an already saved program. But human beings are needed when you need creativity.

  87. Craig said on

    Or, stop listening to idiots like Zeldman and others and do the job that’s required, working on everything and either not paving new grounds because of client and budget, or paving new grounds because of client and budget.

    Really, stop listening to these guys as the word of christ already, they’re not.

  88. Traininginstitutegurgaon said on

    I’m doing the apprenticeship now, and I can attest to its value – it’s worth every dollar. I’m doing some very challenging (for a beginner) stuff, and when I figure it out on my own, it’s great, and when I need some help,
    I just jump on the online chat or talk it over with my mentor. It’s been great.

  89. Why Your HTML And CSS Mastery Are Not Enough - Vanseo Design said on

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  90. FMR said on

    I agree with @Mike above in regards to companies not updating their browsers. Few of my clients are Fortune 500 companies and these companies are still using IE 7 and IE8! Can you believe that!? Event these big corporates do not want to invest in upgrading their machines. So I feel it will be a while till we can get rid of these older IE versions. Also, In regards to your comment “80% of what made us useful was the way we knew all the quirks and intracries of the browsers”, I totally disagree. Being a front end and back end developer for almost 10 years I have come across so many backend developers that cannot grasp (or do not want to grasp) the knowledge for front end technologies. At the same time there is so much more to learn within front end technologies. So the conclusion is: “No one is taking our jobs away!”

  91. It's 2014. Is Web Design Dead? – Jeffrey ... said on

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  92. It's 2014. Is Web Design Dead? – Jeffrey ... said on

    […] Never fear, web design generalists: many companies and organizations require your services and always will—from universities still seeking “webmasters,” to startups seeking seasoned folks with multiple areas of …  […]

  93. Web Design New York said on

    Great article, however we believe that eventually websites will die out and be replaced by its equivalent, the “app site” which will be easily accessible via a index search of all categories, a bit like the app store. But, this is still a long way to go before websites are completely kicked off the net! :-)

  94. Ben said on

    The idea that “web design is dead” seems like it couldn’t be further from the truth, really. Web design has gotten lots more complex, but I feel like it’s really coming into its own as a form of design, and even… art?

    I have no idea why anyone would bemoan browser standards. Yes, it’s eliminated some of the junk heap of knowledge that was required to dodge inconsistencies — but for the purpose of getting rid of mindless troubleshooting in favor of focusing on creating better, more creative websites.

    HTML/CSS may not be a complete career by themselves, but as a web developer who works with clients who are not always entirely non-tech savvy, I can still say that I would guess at least 80% of people aren’t confident in HTML, and 95% don’t know a thing about CSS. It’s not that these things are hard, and browser standards make them easier, but for people who don’t work at building websites for a job, they’re still very intimidating. Teaching a client to wrap headings in relevant tags — possible, if they’re interested and willing to experiment… but teaching a client how to handle floats and positioning in CSS — forget it. Not to say that to be a truly competent web designer a person should only learn these things, but I would say that these skills are not beyond scarcity yet:

    To illustrate: I currently live in a small town of approximately 10,000 people. There are a few “web design” firms, but I know of only two other people working at any of them who I’d be willing to say were truly competent at HTML/CSS. Dreamweaver/pre-made WordPress themes, Wix, etc. accounted for all of the other “web designers.” I know this because we often pick up clients who dropped their previous company when the company revealed that they were incapable of making any changes to sites that weren’t just settings built into whatever template they were using, were only familiar with Dreamweaver (no code at all) etc.

    If anything, the end of small-scale web design agencies is more likely to come in the form of highly-customizable but easy to use templates that potential clients are able to use themselves. That being said though, and with respect to my above anecdote, I think that web design (hence the “design”) is primarily a creative position, and if you hire a web designer, you should be hiring for their ability to use knowledge, design and analytical skills to create a site that best suits your goals and message. This comes primarily with experience. I believe there are a select few business owners who can truly “do it themselves” as far as website is concerned. It’s like building a house, really. Anybody CAN learn to do it, but the result of professional construction is such that it’s still worth paying for.

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