The Tradesman Designer

26 February 2016 #Thoughts

The following is in response to Sarah Parmenter’s The Elephant In The Room.

This blog post went viral yesterday and I haven’t been able to shake it since. I did leave a comment on the blog post yesterday (which received some agreeing replies) but wanted to expand my thoughts here.

Sarah is an incredibly talented designer and feels as if website design work is drying up. Seeing an outpouring of agreement on Twitter yesterday from Sarah’s peers made me question if I’m simply out of touch – or simply not a part of the crowd.

Top designers such as Sarah and her peers are incredible at their work. They”ve been inspirational to me for as long as I’ve been doing this for a living. They”ve also felt like looking through a window to a completely foreign world.

The blog post mentions conference speakers. Design conferences are something I’ve given up attending as it feels like watching the top 1% of designers discussing issues that are in no way relatable to my tiny corner of the earth.

Following the website design community sometimes feels like if your website design doesn’t include user research and tests on 1000 browsers and devices and doesn’t include the latest technology and isn’t cloud hosted and the UI’s not on the front page of Dribbble – you’re doing it wrong.

Most dangerous is the idea this gives young designers that much of the available work in their area is beneath them. What a dangerous idea!

From Mike Rapp commenting on this same blog post:

And that means it is not physically possible for small shops or freelancers to do that work, because we all know there is no such thing as a $7K website. A $7K website is actually a $15K website, done at half price.


There is such thing as a $7k website. They’re desired by the businesses in-between Fortune 500 companies and people-with-no-money. They’re called small businesses. They exist. They are not beneath all designers.

I’m speaking from experience when I tell you, you can carve out a sustainable living creating websites for small businesses.

I see designers talk about WordPress and Squarespace as threats to their way of life. They’re tools. They’re getting better.

Should my mechanic feel threatened because I can buy a wrench? I don’t want to fix my car. I don’t have the time or the inclination. I want to pay a professional.

Many small businesses have this attitude towards their website. No, they don’t want to hear your world-changing design ideas and latest trends in code. They want you to solve a problem; they need a better website. Can you solve that problem?

The tools for people to create their own websites exist but are beyond most people’s ability to do professionally. I’ve setup websites for clients on Squarespace for a fee. Templates aren’t perfect. Not a good fit everyone. Won’t replace custom websites. But they do get (very) small businesses online with a professional looking website.

I’m also very up-front about this in initial meetings. “This is a tool that you could use yourself…” is how the conversation usually starts “…but I will do a better job than you in a tenth of the time”.

As these tools get better I find the idea of hand-coding many websites 5-10 years from now more ridiculous. Designers can decide to feel smug about these sorts of tools forever and be truly out of a job eventually, or get on board.

Much as I’d like to pitch a completely bespoke designed and developed website every time a customer comes in the door, it’s not always feasible. Their budget might not allow it. Their likely return on investment might not justify it.

I’m looking forward to simpler tools to get more small businesses online with better websites.

Treat website design like a job. Like a trade.

There is work for you to do.

If you aspire to be one of the super-awesome top 1% of website designers, go for it. Otherwise, know that there are small businesses that will pay you for your time to do quality work.

There will always be a market for professionals.

There is also change afoot in the industry. Maybe that scares the crowd and the agencies that became accustomed to being paid huge sums for larger projects than they do now. Name an industry that hasn’t been upended in the last decade by the internet or mobile devices. Website design at the top end is just having its turn.

I love what I do for a job. That’s a privilege. I’ve also come to terms that as a designer I’m never going to change the world. Or likely ever work for a Fortune 100 company (or have one as a client). But I can carve out an honest living creating websites.

And I’m at peace with that.