If governments can do it, then so can agencies

Developing for the web has completely changed, but digital marketing & advertising world risks being left behind


Web development as a practice is a relatively young one — fewer than 20 years old — a mere mayfly compared to other professions. Even in that time, it has transformed rapidly several times over. Today we’re lucky enough to be living in a boom era, where apps and websites can bloom in days.

This is not just an inevitable consequence of time. There is no Moore’s Law writ large, that web development was bound to get faster over time. Instead it is the fortunate result of several improvements coinciding, intentionally or not:

  • An explosion in well-written, reliable open-source frameworks, both frontend and backend
  • Agile and iterative methodologies becoming more prevalent in software development
  • Convergence in standards and a vast improvement in browser performance and compatibility
  • High-quality data analytics allowing for near-real-time testing and experimentation
  • The growth in rapid deployment and scaling of hosting (usually virtual servers)

One great example of how these new technologies and practices intersect is the rise of the UK Government Digital Service. Their flagship gov.uk site, iteratively-designed, (partly) open-source, standards-led and data-rich, won a D&AD Black Pencil this year. They, and their approach are transforming in their own way how government IT works.

If governments can do it, then so can agencies. Yet all too often you can see that marketing & advertising still sticks to tradition — an over-reliance on waterfall, the sanctity of The Brief, the Big Idea ruling supreme, and shying from experimentation or iteration. Some agencies are trying it differently, but we’re still very much in a minority.

In my writing here, I’ll be trying to tackle the disruption an agile, social, open-source model of web development brings to the digital marketing & advertising world, and what the industry needs to do to change and meet these challenges.

Update: Part 1 is now up: The GDS Design Principles for Agencies