Web designers are bad for web design

I’ve just read a blog post by Christine Cawthorne in which she states that web design cannot be done in isolation. Christine argues for ‘creating a great web design team’ filled with specialists in areas like UX, IA, research and content. And she’s absolutely spot on. So why aren’t all websites being made by these superteams? Two things: money and web designers.

“We don’t have the budget for a copy writer”

If a business wants to make money from its website then it must be treated as an investment. That means getting people involved who can actually help you achieve whatever it is you need the website for. I recently heard this joke: “A good copywriter is the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit”. Amusing and true as a poorly written website can make you look like a punchline. But it’s not just the content; without all the elements in place your site just won’t work. If you really don’t have the budget for everything you should cut the visual design. Seriously it’s the bit that’s least likely to do anything for you on its own. A basic looking site which loads quickly and is easy to use will do more for you than the inverse. But obviously it’s still less than ideal.

Web designer is not a job title

The second reason that clients are often lumbered with a woeful online presence is that there are people called web designers. ‘Web designer’ is not a job title and we need to stop using it. Because really, what does a web designer actually do? A successful website requires business strategy, content creation, information architecture, user research, graphic design, front and back-end development, SEO, ongoing maintenance, accessibility work and probably several other things that have slipped my mind. Too often when someone says they’re a web designer what they really mean is that they’re a graphic designer with some CSS skills. Or they’re a front-end developer with a copy of Photoshop. So why do we say it? Sometimes it’s for simplicity, other times it’s because we genuinely are working on a web design project singlehandedly. I’ve worked on solo projects plenty of times in the past and it’s not the best way to create great work. Even if you do possess all the skills how long is that project going to take with one person doing everything? The reality is that corners are cut in terms of time and quality to provide a product which fits within a budget that’s been stretched too thinly.

Superteam unite!

We need to take Christine’s advice and start teaming up. We need to stop taking on projects we’re not qualified to do just because we’re scared that we need the money. Doing so is at best naïve and at worst it’s downright dishonest. So figure out what you can do and what you can’t do and start looking for people with complementary skills. Get into the habit of explaining to potential clients that if they want a return on investment they need to pick the best team for the job, not the cheapest quote that comes through the door.

So what am I going to call myself next time someone asks ‘what do you do?’ The closest thing is probably UX designer with IA tendencies. They might not know what UX or IA are and that’s great! If they’re interested they have a perfect opportunity to ask me what I mean. Tell someone you’re a web designer and they’ll probably respond with something along the lines of ‘that must be fun’, at which point you mumble your agreement and shuffle off to a dark corner. In fact, how about dropping the job title altogether. ‘What do I do? Well, I help businesses to make more money from their websites.’ Or how about this ‘I help organisations increase customer satisfaction by creating highly usable interfaces.’ A bit wordy I’ll grant you, but then I’m not a copy writer.