When I started off in this industry almost 20 years ago it was a very different place. To create a website you needed to know how to use a program like Microsoft Front-page or Dreamweaver. It was the dawn of the commercial internet and companies needed people with these skills to build their sites.
As the Internet has developed and matured so have the tools to build websites. As I write this today there are numerous, very good tools out there, many of which, require no knowledge of design of development and through which, you can build a good looking website. The question is therefore, is there still the need for web design agencies?
Now you might think this is kind of a weird thing for the owner of a web design agency to be questioning but I’m the first one to admit when its time to adapt and if something has had its time then I’ll always say, ‘thanks for the good times and move on’. I’d like to ruminate about the reasons there is still a place for good agencies. For ease, I’ve broken it down into a number of key areas:
If you need a good looking site, you can buy a theme off the shelf and be up and running within hours. However you need to question if this fits your businesses’ brand. Making a theme work for you is a skill and one I firmly believe lives with people who have an eye for design (by the way, thats not me!). If look and feel isn’t the be all and end all and you are relatively happy with a site that looks very similar to others out there then look no further than the likes of wordpress out the box or wix. They’ll do you proud. If however you want something thats truly yours then you’ll need someone who can design and that my friends is a special skill.
Robin who works for me and is my Head of Design at Optix has been a web designer for 13 years. His attention to brand and the detail he thinks about, makes him working, a delight to watch. He creates sites that look beautiful and perform well for our clients. A true bastion of his craft.
User Experience and Site Architecture
Bigger websites are complex beasts. If you only need a brochure site for your business and you’re not worried about the points I made over design then again, the self build tools should do you well. If however your site is more complex and requires deeper thought about the way that users navigate it and get to information, then again, planning for this is a skill possessed by far fewer people. In the web projects we build at Optix you’ll find the team putting together sitemaps, diving into past analytics to learn the paths of users and creating prototypes based on user requirements and stories. They will often prototype or wireframe websites before a designer puts mouse to mousemat. The difference between a site that generates leads and sales for your business and one that simply gives you a presence is often found in this stage. If all you need is a web presence then you needn’t worry about having someone on your team with these skills. If however you want your site to work for you then you need a professional eye to guide the project.
April-Rose at Optix has been working in Usability and User Experience for over 5 years. The care she takes around a project at the very start is fascinating. She’ll create mood boards, detailed sitemaps showing user workflows and wireframes which she walks the clients through before she sits down with the design team to help turn her ideas into reality. Sites have a real purpose to her. She’ll think about how she needs to guide the user through to an action. Without skills like this in a web project the room for mistakes and missed opportunities are huge. The sad thing is that most people would never find this out.
Search Engine Optimisation
Most sites these days, whether they are built with free tools or bespokely designed should be search engine friendly. This however is not the same as being optimised. To optimise a site requires people with expertise and with the competition that exists out there and is only getting tougher, reaching the top ten spots for something you want your business to be found for is an art. We don’t live in the world we did 10 years ago where you could get your sites to perform through clever technical manipulation, in today’s world content rules supreme but it still requires skills and expertise to ensure that you are aiming to get listed for the right searches and that you’re actually being found. It takes expertise to work out who are the sites you want to build relationships (and hopefully links) from. A site without this sort of guidance is unlikely to perform well, if at all.
Thomas, Head of Digital at Optix has worked in the search engine industry for over 11 years and on some of the UK’s biggest brands. There is nothing he doesn’t know about search and having his insight on our client’s projects is a key ingredient to the success of their overall projects. He also has a team of people who are just a passionate and specialise in almost every area of digital marketing. They all work together for the benefit of our clients projects. You don’t get that in smaller agencies or if you DIY.
Whilst the likes of wordpress, wix and shopify are amazing at what they do, they are not well suited to going off piste and creating truly bespoke experiences. Many of them have plugins that aim to perform the more bespoke functional requests of the people setting them up but the old phrase ‘square peg, round hole’ often raises its head here. Some web developers will work with off the shelf platforms to bespoke them and that is different, I’m not questioning that. I’m simply saying that if you want to do something a bit different – perhaps integrate with another system, either on or offline or create a user login system with bespoke functionality then you’re going to need the help of specialists.
Jack and Rich at Optix are so passionate about development. Always looking to push the boundaries both in front and back end development. They don’t want to work with over-bloated code from frameworks that do more than is necessary, they want to create bug free, exceptionally fast sites which are easy for our clients to use and update. Watching the care they take and how precise they are in this area of web development is something special and always makes me smile. I often watch what they can do in awe. I once used to be able to code a bit, this is a different gravy.
Finally web technology is not just used for marketing facing websites. At Optix we build just as many, if not more tools and platforms for our clients which allow their clients or users to do very bespoke things. This is not the domain of the website maker tool. Complex user login systems which perform actions beyond that of a normal website, complicated API integration with other websites, even some Apps are built using web technologies. These systems require specialists, there is no shortcut here.
As I read back over this article I once again realise the plethora of reasons that my industry is not yet finished and won’t be for many years. Yes the space has changed and yes more people than ever are able to put together their own sites but I hope you’ll have seen from the points above that there is still a very large gap between a website built in this way and one which has the expertise of all the people above involved from the beginning in it.
Would you build your own car? Would you design your own house? Would you wire your own electrics? The risks are obvious with these examples. The risk to taking shortcuts in web design are wasting budget and time on something that gets you no further forward than you were before. Almost every industry has the potential to DIY, however if you’re looking for something that is more than just a simple online presence then you must invest in professionals. Long live the web design agency 🙂
As a quick plug to my team, if you’re looking for an agency to help you with all the above then the guys at Optix would love to talk to you. Drop me a line if you want to chat.
Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/_leisa/