The future of web design doesn’t involve computers at all

Building a website is no easy task. When I sat down to create a site to show off my writing, it took hours of digging around online to find a template that looked similar enough to what I wanted, and hours more to personalize it. Half the time, I wanted to alter some piece of the site’s design but no amount of frantic searching helped me build the site I had imagined.


An app called Universe aims to change all that. It helps you build an endlessly customizable site in just a few minutes, all from your phone. Since the app launched in March 2017, more than 150,000 sites have been created on its platform. And after finishing the prestigious accelerator Y Combinator earlier this year, Universe is beginning to roll out a “pro” subscription service, where subscribers can use their own domain names, get analytics for their sites, and remove the startup’s bottom-of-the-page branding for less than $15 per month (the startup is still testing prices).

[Image: courtesy Universe]

Why would you want to build a website from your phone in the first place? It seems almost counterintuitive because most of us think that building a piece of the internet is necessarily complex. Universe’s founder Joe Cohen believes that since we’ve reached a point where the majority of web browsing occurs on a smartphone, the next step is for web design to take place on the phone itself.

You could argue that tons of online content is already generated on phones–just look at how much people post on social media. Despite the incredible amount of creativity that goes into creating social media content, Cohen thinks platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter ultimately limit creativity because users are confined to a format defined by corporate behemoths–the image, the post, the 280 words. Imagine if that creativity was given free reign on actual websites, like a visual version of the early aughts’ largely textual blogosphere. “What if we made really powerful tools within the same [mobile-first] paradigm that gave people way more control than they can get on Instagram and Snapchat?” Cohen says. “With Universe, you’re making a website, this is your presence, it’s your home on the internet. It’s not a grid curated by Instagram–it’s your design.”

Cohen designed Universe to be a simple, app-based website builder that complements, or even supersedes, social media. It’s the single place where you really can decide exactly how everything looks, and where you can aggregate all the platforms where you live online into one single URL–which conveniently fits in your Instagram bio. And hidden within this seemingly simple app is a vision for an entirely new paradigm in web design.

[Image: courtesy Universe]