The death of the web design agency
Oliver Lindberg

I ran a Silicon Valley web agency from 2008–2014. We ended up doubling staff, clients, revenue and profits nearly each year until I sold and from my outside perspective the business continues to grow.

In the early days (‘08), even in the Great Recession, it was a lot of manual work like cross-browser testing, bullet-proof JavaScript, etc. I remember clients being excited about even the smallest features like multi-file uploads because web apps were so new. Anything that worked quickly and reliably was impressive. Everyone was exploring new design trends at that time too so the design process was wild and exciting.

By the end of my time there (’14) we shifted to higher-level skill sets like marketing, a deeper design phase and API integrations. I also remember clients trying to be more involved in the process as web apps were more ubiquitous at that point, so they felt more comfortable discussing details and having opinions about user experience. The wow factor with development was also gone as clients would more often want to follow “best practices” and replicate features and UX patterns from other web apps that users were already comfortable with. Designs also became more formulaic with clients wanting a tad of wow, but usually in the form of photography rather than layout or UX.

Maintenance was always consistent for us. Even with nice, simple WordPress sites, clients would find outsourcing updates easier than adding it to someone’s job description.

So, in those 6 years, the type of work changed and the types of clients changed. In my opinion though, 80% of small businesses can now get by with a simple SquareSpace or WordPress site. The other 20% want a hip brand and that’s where an agency can not only help but is needed in my opinion. Fortunately, for us, most of those 20% are located in Silicon Valley.

But when a tool like WordPress or SquareSpace comes out for mobile or web app development, combined with the massive influx of code-literate people to the workforce, I think development timelines and costs will plummet and that will mark the true end of the web agency, with branding and marketing agencies simply having a few designers and coders on the team.

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