September 4, 2023

South African Web Designers Struggle As AI Tools Drive Down Prices

Tools like ChatGPT, WordPress, and React have made creating a website easier than ever, opening the doors of web design to a broader audience.

However, this democratization of web design has presented opportunities and challenges, particularly for those who have long relied on it for their livelihood.

In South Africa, where web design was once a lucrative profession, AI-powered web design tools bring promise and uncertainty to professionals in the field, Rest of the World reports.

An oversaturated market

In 2018, web designers in South Africa could earn an average monthly salary of approximately 38,000 rand ($2,040), making it a highly sought-after career. However, on average, web designers now earn just over 12,000 rand ($643).

The emergence of AI-powered design tools has flooded the market with newcomers, driving down prices and leaving many seasoned professionals struggling to secure projects at reasonable rates.

Donald Bengu, a freelance web designer of five years, once earned up to 45,000 rand ($2,422) per month. He told Rest of the World that he now struggles to secure even two gigs a month, resulting in a monthly income of just 5,000 rand ($270).

“Getting web designer gigs is no longer as easy, and the market is now cheap due to AI,” he lamented.

Similarly, Sikhulile Dube, a Johannesburg-based freelance web designer with over a decade of experience, told  Rest of World, that “low prices being charged by new players are killing the market.”

As a result, Dube has expanded his client base beyond South Africa, seeking opportunities in countries like Ethiopia and Mozambique.

Embracing AI tools

Despite most (57%) web designers expressing concern about AI’s impact on their job security, 93% of web designers said they use AI tools in their work. Common uses include generating imagery and media assets (58%), designing entire web pages (50%), and experimenting with new design strategies (49%).

Thabiso Malatji, a 20-year-old self-taught web designer, told Rest of World he uses ChatGPT to code and create basic designs and is happy to charge low rates, 1,500 to 2,000 rand ($80.43–$107), for his services.

 “My services are cheap because I mostly use free tools online,” he said. “Gone are the days when people needed to pay a fortune for a website.”

Tatenda Chatukuta, an engineering talent acquisition manager, stressed the importance of staying updated with AI trends. “Learning new AI trends will increase chances of being employable [as a web designer],” she advised.

Samara Linton

Community Manager at POCIT | Co-editor of The Colour of Madness: Mental Health and Race in Technicolour (2022), and co-author of Diane Abbott: The Authorised Biography (2020)