AI and web design. Yes, AI is going to eat your website for lunch.

An AI image of a robot finding a needle in a haystack

The ideal website is one with perfect findability. It has no navigation, no search and no sitemap. Users get exactly what they want first time.

That's what AI will do.

Very soon an AI embedded on your site will give users just what they're looking for after a few text or voice prompts. 

I expect AI interfaces to get so good they will dominate how ordinary people find and engage with your content. Needle in a haystack? No problem.

Importantly, users are unlikely to treat AI-delivered information in the same way as search results. They will expect and assume that whatever it provides is correct and that everything they need is included.

For many, this new interface will be your website. No need to trawl through vast, confusing megamenus or landing pages with cryptic links anymore.

That's why AI is going to eat your website for lunch.

What's the biggest complaint on most websites?

"Why is it so hard to find anything on this f*****g website?!"

Findability. Even after decades of work and endless redesigns! most sites remain crushingly bad at this most basic aspect of delivery.

Sure, we web folk put our heart and souls into UX (usually in extremely straitened circumstances), but at best our solutions are barely tolerated and at worst they're actively hated.

Design doesn't get better - it just gets less bad.

That's why huge information-dense websites (typical in government) could really benefit from AI.

Let's look at an example.

How AI will eat your website

Suppose I wanted to find out how to visit an inmate in Portlaoise prison in Ireland.

I could to go to the Irish Prisons website - - and look for what I need using navigation or search. Or maybe not, based on results below!

(Note: I don't actually need to visit a prison inmate. I chose Irish Prisons as a good example of an information-dense website.)

A screengrab of search results from the irish prison service website

Alternatively, I could start my search in Google where it (sometimes) presents rich-results pulled directly from the website. That gives a sense of what's coming with AI.

A screengrab of search results from Google about Irish prison service website

But AI is already doing better.

Recently I set up a trial of Microsoft's ChatGPT-powered Copilot Studio which I pointed at the prisons website and then entered the same query as above. It returns quite a detailed description.

A screengrab of Microsoft's ChatGPT-powered Copilot Studio

And Google Bard does a similar job.

A screengrab of results from Google Bard about the Irish prison service

The AI search engine Perplexity returns similar results, but also includes 'related' items which appear both relevant and useful.

This really starts to show the power of AI for uncovering content and filling in the user journey. Done right, this will make it much easier for users to find what they need.

The poor state of content design on many government websites means they don't link to all the information a user needs. They pass the burden to the user to figure out what to do next.

Inevitably this results in an incomplete picture - leading to errors, complaints and wasted time for everyone.

A screengrab of results from Perplexity search engine

A screengrab of results from Perplexity search engine

The future is content (again)

The trajectory is clear.

AI can both find what users need and serve the content directly to them. An obvious effect is that many users will change their behaviour and may never look at your 'web pages' again.

Web teams will need to pivot to address this change.

UX won't be needed as much time for findability anymore. The emphasis can shift to producing high-quality, semantic content that can be served in a structured and coherent way.

Of course, it's still early days and AI has a lot of issues to overcome. Further, the current chat-dominated interfaces do not work well for people with literacy issues.

Additionally, I expect many existing findability patterns to remain. They'll always be a need for traditional navigation to support exploratory behaviour.

But jump ahead a few years to ChatGPT 5 or 6. Imagine their capability.

Remember, users don't give a damn about your website

This reminds us that a website is not an end in itself - it's a means to an end.

Yes, people want the information and services that are on your website. But the website itself? Forget it.

Your users don't give a damn about your website. Why would they? Most websites are painful.

If our users can get what they need any other way, we'll never see them again.

AI may be just what they're looking for.

Update: 25 March 2024

Some interesting reading on the extent to which Gen-AI will replace web designs from Nielsen Norman Group: Generative UI and Outcome-Oriented Design.

Labels: ,