Many professional and trade and sectors require qualifications and accreditations in order to operate, but web designers and developers don’t; we don’t even have a governing body.
Pretty much anyone with a computer and internet connection can start a web design or SEO agency, so shouldn’t we be regulated to protect our clients?
Before I start to answer this question, it would be worth noting that there are many different levels of web designer and developer. What I mean by this is that anyone can build their own website in minutes using online tools, with no specialist skills required, and at very little cost. At the other end of the spectrum you have large web agencies that build bespoke websites who have invested in an in-house team each with specialist skills sets such as frontend website design, backend web development, user experience (UX), search engine optimisation (SEO) and online marketing. Of course the majority of web designers fall in between these extremes, with the most common probably being WordPress developers who, arguably, often sit towards the lower end of this range.
Generally speaking you get what you pay for, and ‘building a website’ is a completely different task to ‘building a website that delivers results and gives the client a decent return on their investment’.
As a client however, it’s very difficult to tell what level any particular web design agency is at, it’s unlikely you’ll understand the differences in underlying technologies, and of course you fear that all agencies will tell you that their way is best. This is a really good case for a governing body and mandatory qualifications.
The main issue is that web technologies move so fast. What is considered good practice now is likely to be outdated within a year or two. If a student was to start a degree in web design, it’s probable that by the end of their third year, many of their first year modules would be obsolete.
An underlying foundation is always important, and this is what sets a bespoke developer aside from those who use templated systems (such as WordPress) but the specifics of website design, search engine optimisation, and the latest technologies can’t really be taught, and a decent web developer will continually be learning in order to keep their skills up to date.
A decent web developer will always be a student.
It’s also hard to judge websites accurately. A web designer can criticise someone else’s work, perhaps the design or SEO, but it’s hard to determine a website’s success without knowing the goals; these could be simple such as whether the website generates sales and makes the phone ring, but could equally be more subtle.
To explain this look at www.lingscars.com, which from first impressions is an awful website. The design is so ‘bad’ it is used as a reference in web design articles such as this, and therefore gets a lot of traffic and as a result is very successful. I’m unsure whether the ‘bad’ design was a deliberate publicity stunt, or a lucky mistake, but it’s clear that it has been utilised well and the website now has a fair bit of functionality, and a lot of thought has gone in to keeping the design ‘bad’. I just spent 10 minutes looking through it myself, something I’ve never done on a car leasing website…
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is another debatable subject. We often get clients who deliberately don’t want any SEO as it’s not part of their marketing strategy. It doesn’t mean we’ve done a bad job; just we’ve done what is right for the client. As a web design agency in Salisbury we don’t flier the locals’ doorsteps with leaflets, we have dismissed this in our marketing plan. So using the same argument people can do this with SEO.
So with this in mind, how could a governing body work? How could they deem websites are good without knowing the brief?
So if web designers don’t have qualifications, how are we able to recruit staff successfully?
I can’t talk for other website design agencies, but when we look for team members we have no interest in computer or web design qualifications. We always ask the applicant various questions about different areas to establish their proficiency in each. Once we’ve decided their skill set, and where they’ll potentially be placed in our company, we ask for examples of their work and will examine this in detail, i.e. does their code follow standards, how much initiative have they used, are they self-taught, and can they think on their feet.
Also it’s important for us that applicants have a strong interest in web design, and have their own ‘pet projects’ which means that they will have an interest in improving their skills and keeping up to date with technologies. This suggests to us that not only are their current skills up to par, but also they will continue to stay that way with time.
Unlike many other professions we believe that a good web designer is self-taught. This not only demonstrates a keen interest in the industry, but also is one of the most vital skills that a web designer or developer can have.
Qualifications are not as important as experience and the ability to learn
This hopefully clarifies why this profession is pretty much unregulated, but of course it doesn’t help clients when choosing a web agency.
Our advice would be to look at a web designer’s portfolio, visit their offices, ask for testimonials, and talk to them. Consider whether the web agency are asking you questions about your business and its goals, or skipping this vital step and providing you straight with a ‘solution’. Don’t be shy to ask questions, the majority of our customers probably know very little and that’s what we’re here for. Most important of all meet them in person and follow your instincts, it’s important to do business with someone that you like, and some that ‘gets you’.
It’s important to do business with someone that you like
A website can be a large investment, and is often a crucial part of your business, it’s imperative that you make the correct decision.
If you have any questions about websites, web technologies, other web agencies, marketing, or anything else discussed in this article then please do not hesitate in getting in touch.
We are Webbed Feet UK, we are a website design agency in Salisbury.