It’s 2012 and the technological age is in full swing. Every person and his dog wants to take advantage of the Internet and the glorious opportunities that it presents us with. Unfortunately, what this means is that far too many people are branding themselves as “web designers”. Because there are no barriers to entry into the web design industry, this has resulted in a saturated market.
This is the story of how I entered the web design industry and, despite it being so overcrowded, how I made a success of my small design studio. Without trying to sound like a pompous primate, I would like to help further the web design industry by letting you in on, or reminding you of, three of the lessons that have kept me afloat in this competitive industry – lessons I had to learn the hard way.
Starting Out As a Web Design Wannabe
Picture this: A 15-year-old pale-skinned, pimple-faced teenager who believes he can accomplish anything. Through family connections, our brace-faced young hero gets the opportunity to design a website for a local school. He has no prior web design experience but is confident that his supreme skill in Space Invaders could translate into a great looking website!
As you have probably guessed by now, that naive young boy was, I’m ashamed to say, me. And that exemplary piece of art you see above was our first ever website.
Now you’re probably wondering how I went from that monstrosity to running an even remotely successful design studio. The truth is we didn’t. At least not immediately. It took a number of years and one sudden realisation before we could ever hope to succeed in an industry where practically everybody was better and more established than us.
Our sudden Realisation
After embarrassingly having decided that our first website was pretty darn awesome, and quite a bit of fun to create, my business partner – another spotty teenager – and I, decided we could totally start our own web design business. We were going to be millionaires!
For a few years after starting said web design business, we picked up the odd client (“relative” would probably me more apt) who was on a low budget and we thought we were doing rather well. We had discovered the magic of Content Management Systems and started creating terrific template-based websites. We didn’t care that they looked exactly like 431 other websites on the Internet. Nobody would ever know!
It wasn’t until a few years ago that we sat back and it dawned on us that we really weren’t making any impact on the market whatsoever. Our websites were mediocre. We had no real purpose. We were yet another boring “web design business” trying to take advantage of the technological age and consumer naivety.
Fortunately I tend to be a rather stubborn person. If I hadn’t given up after our first attempt at a website, I definitely wasn’t going to throw in the towel now. This prompted me to take a long hard look at what we were doing and why we weren’t doing well at all.
3 Key Lessons Learned
What followed was a period of intense self-examination. We closed up shop for around 6 months while we analysed everything we had done until that point and compared it with what the designers who were better than us were doing. We also did some research into other web designers who weren’t doing as well as they had hoped for.
Over time, we realised that we had made some critical errors in our initial endeavours into the web design world. We needed to adjust or we were going to have to shut down shop for good.
These are the things that we found successful web design agencies were doing around the world that we weren’t:
1. Stay Up To Date With Technologies and Trends
This is something I cannot stress enough. The number of self-acclaimed web designers (including ourselves) who were still designing websites using old coding techniques and technologies was astonishing.
It is vital that you keep abreast of the latest trends and technologies which are emerging in your industry. If not out of passion for your work, surely out of a need to survive? Mostly you will find that the news in your industry can really be quite exciting. I’m known by my friends to be able to rattle on for hours about the latest design and marketing trends. Do they care about what I have to say? Probably not. But your clients will.
With web design, the generally accepted practices change frequently. Browser architecture and support is updated almost daily. (Yes Mozilla, thank you for the 17th new version of Firefox this month.) You need to be adapting to this change.