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AI tools are killing web design jobs in South Africa

AI tools are killing web design jobs in South Africa

Donald Bengu started freelancing as a website designer in 2018, right after graduating college. By 2022, he had a booming career, with constant gigs through gig work platform Fiverr. His clients included small businesses and large corporations across South Africa, and he earned up to 45,000 rand (around $2,422) per month.

But by early 2023, the tide began to turn. Bengu saw a noticeable decline in the availability of new projects — a stark contrast to his previous thriving workload. Now, he gets barely two new gigs a month, and makes around 5,000 rand ($270). Bengu blames the rise of artificial intelligence tools for his plight.

“Getting web designer gigs is no longer as easy, and the market is now cheap due to AI,” he told Rest of World. “The job market for web designers in South Africa is very fickle. With the introduction of AI … web designers [are] racing to the bottom with their prices.” He is now looking for full-time jobs where he can use his skills to earn a steady income.

South African web designers told Rest of World they are struggling to find work and earn enough as free AI tools are replacing their skills. According to Bengu and others, anyone can become a web designer by using free services like ChatGPT, WordPress and React, leading to an overcrowded market. They now find it hard to ask for reasonable rates for their work. 

“The web design market has become unstable,” Sikhulile Dube, a Johannesburg-based freelance web designer, told Rest of World. Dube has worked on projects through platforms like Indeed and Fiverr for the past 12 years. “Professionals like myself have more to offer in terms of quality. Low prices being charged by new players are killing the market,” he said. He has now been looking for clients beyond South Africa, including countries like Ethiopia and Mozambique, to stay afloat.

Five years ago, web designing was one of the hottest jobs in South Africa, with plentiful opportunities that paid high salaries, according to Jupiter Punungwe, tech researcher at Discovery, a South African financial services company. “Being just a web designer is no longer enough, and you find that new designers can easily create basic websites by using free AI tools,” Punungwe told Rest of World. “Bigger businesses now require full-stack developers familiar with front-end, back-end, and middle-wave web development.” 

The average monthly salary for web designers in South Africa was around 38,000 rand ($2,040) in 2018. Freelance work is now drying up and few local companies want to hire full-time web developers, Tatenda Chatukuta, engineering talent acquisition manager at recruitment agency Takora, told Rest of World. Salaries for web designers in the country have also dropped to a little over 12,000 rand ($643). “Learning new AI trends will increase chances of being employable [as a web designer],” she said.

While more experienced web designers see AI as a threat, others have benefited from the new technology.

Thabiso Malatji, a 20-year-old self-taught web designer from Pretoria, started doing freelance work in January. He told Rest of World he uses ChatGPT to code and create basic designs, and is happy to charge low rates to get work. “My services are cheap because I mostly use free tools online,” Malatji said. “Gone are the days when people needed to pay a fortune for a website.” He learned how to build websites through YouTube tutorials, and works on WordPress. Making an entire website costs him next to nothing, Malatji said. He charges 1,500–2,000 rand ($80.43–$107) for his services, which also covers the costs of domain registration and basic web hosting. 

Web designers risk becoming obsolete if they do not upskill, Scott Wentworth, online marketing analyst and strategist, told Rest of World

“The future of web designing in South Africa is at an equilibrium stage where going forward, web designers should evolve to avoid becoming obsolete,” Wentworth said. “While AI makes web designing easier, there is no substitute for human touch. Web designers should get geared [up] for the future of using AI.”

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