For some years now I’ve been repeating the same message, that web design is primarily about content. Less about graphic design and coding – more about marketing.
However, that is not entirely true. It’s only half the story. It tends to downplay the value of graphic design and coding skills, which are still essential for any successful website. So, here is what I have concluded.
There are now two very different types of web designer
As I’ve thought about this more carefully, I’ve realised there are now two types of web designer. The first kind, I will call “marketing focused” web designers. The second type are “product focused” web designers.
So, let me explain. Let’s compare designing and building a website with another type of design – interior design. If you are going to re-design your living room, for example, most people will go to a shop and look at a selection of wallpapers, choose one they like and then hang it on the walls.
Likewise with paint, carpet and furniture etc. You go to a shop, find what you like, buy it and install it in the room.
Now, someone who is very wealthy might get their wallpaper, carpet and furniture custom designed and handmade. It would cost a lot more but why not, if they can afford it? But for the ordinary person, getting every item of furnishing hand designed and handmade just doesn’t make sense.
Exactly the same principle applies to web design
Back in 2004, when I started in web design, most websites were still hand-designed and hand-built. And clients paid a high price for the basic website – even before any content had been added. In fact, after charging them such a high price for the website, there was usually not much money left to start paying for content as well, so we tended to just use whatever the client had written, put it on the site and hope for the best.
Today, it’s totally different. A web designer can select from a huge range of ready-built WordPress themes, which are highly professional. When it comes to e-commerce sites, there are services such as Big Commerce, Shopify and others that provide a fully functional website and shopping cart, “out of the box” for a monthly fee. You just have to add products and content, link it to payment gateway (no coding required these days) and you are in business.
So here’s how I see it today
For a “marketing focused” web designer, the sensible option is to select from a range of ready-built themes, plugins, third-party services etc that will provide all the design and functionality you need. It’s just like going shopping for wallpaper, carpet, furniture etc when designing your living room.
There’s still a certain element of design involved, in picking the right products for that particular situation. But you are not having to individually design and build every item.
But somebody still has to design and build the products
This is why web design has been dividing into two distinct camps. For the marketing focused web designer (like me) we still need somebody with the skill and creativity to build the specialised products and services we require. We need world class graphic designers who are on the cutting edge, to come up with designs for WordPress themes. We need world class coders to convert these designs into functioning websites with perfectly written code.
We need innovative people to design and build new shopping cart software and all kinds of other software and web-based services that we use.
These are what I call the “product based” web designers. This is becoming a highly specialised field in its own right. These people are the geeks and “techies” on whom the web industry relies for innovation and product creation.
In the past, in my one-eyed “marketing focused” approach to web design, I have tended to overlook and downplay the role of the highly skilled product designers.
Web designers need to choose which camp they are in
My view is that unless a web designer is world class at graphics, or coding, or some other innovative field of web development, it’s better to leave that to the genuine experts. Just like if you are going to redesign your living room, why would you design and build your own furniture (unless you are a highly skilled craftsman yourself)? You would normally leave it to the genuine experts to design and build the furniture. You would just go and choose the right pieces for your particular needs (a certain eye for design is still needed there) and buy them ready-made.
So having, summed up my view of the two types of web designer heading into 2015 and beyond, in the third and final part of series (coming soon) I will wrap it all up and make some further predictions.