Why ‘web design’ is dead.
Like many fellow web designers, I started fresh out of University. Information technology was all the rage back in 2010 and I thought I’d ride the same wave as everyone in my vicinity.
It helped that I got my degree in Digital Enterprise Management, and it helped that I couldn’t get a job.
Yes, I graduated with honors and an advanced degree in the business & IT field, but I couldn’t even get as far as an interview for 4 months. Although this is nothing new for a lot of Millennials, it was profoundly depressing at the time.
After weeks of moping about my life, I decided to drop the job search for a bit and research other ways to ‘make a living’ (while I lived with my parents who provided everything).
I recalled building a few websites in my school years, including one for the Polish-Canadian Congress. I thought they turned out pretty decent for the time. One was in a prehistoric version of Wordpress, probably version 1-point-something. It felt like trying to hack and overwrite old accounting software.
Then I had the most amazing idea. Hey, I thought, why not provide web design services?
Little did I know, I was competing with 22 million other bedroom web design ‘companies.’ In fact, starting a web design company from home is probably the most unoriginal idea. I did not even think about who my target market was or why anyone would really want a website. The fact that businesses need websites didn’t even enter my head at the time.
I was jobless, broke and motivated. What did I have to lose? I posted some ads for ‘almost free’ web design on Kijiji, the Canadian version of Craig’s, and started building my portfolio.
Progress was slow. I was using early Drupal, followed by early Joomla, which, at the time, was way superior to early Wordpress (although Wordpress is the best choice for small businesses today — 2017, by far). But after a few projects, I started www.itecwebdesign.com.
Which back then looked like this:
The Big Mistakes
It wasn’t just the tacky logo, corny frog mascot and extremely random types of clients that made it a struggle. And it wasn’t just competing with cheap website builders and offshore freelancers. It was the whole premise.
Firstly, amateur web designers tend to just do what the client asks for. You want a 2-minute un-mutable intro? No problem. You want your navigation to scroll across the screen and then explode into a thousand pixels? Sure. You want a picture of your dog Fluffy on your company’s About page? Okay!
The big realization happened about 3 years into the gig: web design clients, ie. small businesses, don’t know what they want. They just know they want their website to generate leads. It’s our job to educate them on what works and what doesn’t. Business owners are not looking for “web design” — they are looking for marketing — web design just happens to be a part of that.
After this ‘incredible epiphany,’ I rebranded completely.
I dropped ‘web design’ from our name, URL and the main content on our website. The main focus was going to be web marketing for small businesses.
Our clients were not looking for websites, they were looking for marketing tools.
It’s extremely difficult to be a just a “web designer” or just a “web design company,” unless your main clients are marketing companies, marketing coordinators or business consultants who are directly managing your projects.
Not to mention, the web designer market is so incredibly saturated, I don’t think many of them realize how many ‘web design companies’ are on the last 60 million pages of Google.
And it makes sense. The web design industry has an extremely low barrier to entry. Any high school student can slap some content into a WP installation and call himself a web designer.
Anyone can create a website, but not anyone can make it work. It’s one thing set up a fancy website. It’s completely another thing to make money from it.
The sad truth is the vast majority of websites generate a negative ROI.
The Keyword is “Marketing”
So by now you may realize where I’m going with this. No doubt, there are successful web designers out there, but you’ll notice that most of them specialize in certain niches or types of web design.
If you’re providing web design services to small businesses, they need to have a strong marketing element, and they need to be a small part of a larger marketing plan. You have to provide the business not just with a website, but with a successful system it can use to get traffic, convert visitors, generate leads and maintain customer loyalty.
Otherwise, what we’re doing is just a hobby.