The death of the web design agency
Oliver Lindberg

I agree here. The agency isn’t dead, it’s just evolving. And it’s happening for a few reasons, among them: technology, accountability, and value.

As the article mentioned, for the agencies that thrive, you’ll see it’s not just a one-and-done situation.

If you look back at the print world, traditionally, agencies would sell a client on a nice, glossy brochure. They’d print 100,000 copies and then they’d move on from that. Their work was done. Onto the next job, maybe for the same client or maybe someone else.

When the web came around, they took those same processes and applied them to the web. Make a website, charge 6 figures, rinse and repeat. I think we’re finally seeing the tail end of that.

That’s outdated thinking, especially these days as we’re no longer content with “static” websites.

And ultimately your content might live on more than one device.

The next big carrot was agencies sold clients on content mangement systems that let you update the content after it was setup. Technology has gotten better; the simple CMS that used to cost 6 figures can be created over a weekend.

Nowadays, to get the most for your dollar, you need constant updates. After the agency builds you an awesome website, how fast does it go to shit—meaning hardly updated since launch?

Clients of all sizes are after more accountability for every dollar they spend. With print, you can’t track much. On the web, there’s at least some accountability. Why would anyone spend $100k on something that has dubious value?

When the web came into fashion, that was the pitch but how many clients were actually calling out the agency when they didn’t delivery on their promises?

Website design used to be seen as this complex process of code, art and technology. That actually hasn’t changed but people’s mindsets have and technology has gotten better.

What’s happening is the technology is “good enough” that smaller clients believe they can do it themselves. The middle-of-the-run client that used to depend on a small agency can now DIY as well. The things that are worth paying for are not design, it’s more complex programming you can’t simple buy off-the-shelf.

You see lots of designers/agencies promising some form of ROI in their scope of work these days.

It also used to be design was the it factor. It still can be, but you can’t have good design without good content. Sadly, the latter is taking a back seat to the former. And things like the AWWW awards are still rewarding pretty over kick-ass content. This needs to change.

And ironically, people don’t seem to actually value web content. Publishers are having trouble selling web subscriptions, probably because they’re simply taking what they wrote for print and stuffing it on a web page. And people’s general mentality of “if it’s on the web, it’s available for the taking and thus worthless.”

Combine that with responsive website design which changed a lot of mindsets to a flat, boring sites. And that’s probably partially due to a lack of technology. How do you art direct 6 different image sizes? It’s freakin’ hard.

Consequently, apps were the next big thing because you can finally get paid for your work. Apps must be valuable right? Nope, we’re seeing the bubble burst there as well.

I think we’re going to see more art direction back on the web as the tools get better. And people realize that good content is worth paying for, whether an agency provides it or some freelancer.

At least I hope so…

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