Web Design Isn’t Just About Artistry

Aug 25 2014 by Casey Ark | 10 Comments

Remember when web designers used to be total nerds?

Back in the early 2000s, web design was a technical skill; just getting a site to function was considered an achievement in and of itself, and things like interface design, usability, and UX largely fell by the wayside.

But times have changed. In the past few years, something magical has happened: Web designers have stopped being just nerds, and have started becoming artisans.

We don’t talk about tech specs much anymore, we talk about "handcrafted code" and "beautiful UIs". We describe ourselves as "code poets" and "design ninjas", and it’s perfectly acceptable to many of our clients.

It’s gotten to the point where we sound a lot more like old-world craftsmen than web nerds, and let me tell you, it’s a wonderful feeling.

But sometimes I wonder: Is our newfound sense of artisanship really helping our clients?

After all, we sell products to businesses that are focused on profitability, not necessarily artistry.

In my experience, acting in this manner is bad for clients and for us web designers. When you try to sell a website as if it were a handcrafted artisanal item, a few things happen immediately.

You create a disconnect between what your clients need, and what you plan to provide

Some business owners care about design. All business owners care about profit.

We may think of our work as pieces of art, but to most business owners, their websites exist as functional tools for achieving certain goals (bring in new customers, drive up company profits, increase brand awareness, etc.).

So when we try to position our products as if they were handcrafted artworks, this creates a fundamental disconnect between what our clients need, and what we will actually provide.

This might not seem like much, but having the ability to understand your clients’ goals is the most crucial part of landing new projects. And when they’re talking about the bottom line, and you’re talking about beauty, your clients can easily start feeling confused.

You lose out on your most profitable clients

When you focus on artistry, you gain clients that appreciate artistry, but you also manage to lose out on the holy grail of clients in our industry: Medium-sized businesses. You’ve probably encountered a few of them. They’re generally mid-stage companies who are profit-focused, need quite a bit of web work done, and are more than happy to keep coming back to you with project after project over the course of several years. Why? Quite simply because they’ve found that your services are making them more money.

When you’re able to provide services centered on achieving your clients’ business objectives, they’ll naturally be compelled to keep working with you.

You limit the types of services you can provide

Artisan web designers and developers are generally pigeonholed into being design- or code-focused, which means the "big three" services: Web design, graphic design, and web development. That trifecta covers quite a bit of ground, but can be limiting.

Some of the most lucrative services in the web design business go beyond designing and coding (UX consultancy, usability research, market research, conversion rate optimization, and online marketing being just a few). These services can be the lifeblood of a web design business, yet, as an artisan, it’s incredibly difficult to get these other types of work because your clients view you strictly as a design or code person.

I’m not saying that web designers aren’t artisans. The things we make take incredible skill. Our creations are expected to be beautiful and functional. But if you’re billing yourself as an artisan, make sure that it’s not to your detriment.

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About the Author

Casey Ark is the founder of Plato Web Design, a custom web design agency located in Harrisburg, PA. He’s also a newspaper columnist. Casey has over 9 years of experience in web design, development and print design.

10 Comments

Luke Pettway

August 25th, 2014

This is such an excellent post. People tend to only focus on the bits and pieces of a website instead of the overall strategy as a whole and the true intended purpose of the digital product they are creating.

I’m slowly training the team I work with as well as the company as a whole to think about the big picture and to always have some sort of goal in mind when we make changes, or when the client requests changes. This has already had a HUGE impact in our conversion rates and how customers are with clients websites.

It started with the emails we were sending for our clients. A lot of them were overloaded with content, and really text heavy, sometimes not even linking to the sites. I made it a point to focus more on the purpose of the newsletters, cutting the fight, and having goals such as event signups in mind, and now many of our campaigns have as high as 50% click through rates.

We should all make it a priority to think about the user and their goals in mind. The next web should be highly user-centric.

Sebhelyesfarku

August 25th, 2014

“code poets”? “design ninjas”? Really? ‘kinhell…

Jay

August 25th, 2014

There used to be a time when creating a website meant actually designing something. Now it has come to mean making something that is responsive above all else. This is unfortunate, because the majority of sites are beginning to look pretty much the same. Squares or flat color with an icon in the middle and some text.
I think that the mobile device revolution has made more work for developers at the cost of good design. Although, everyone is using starter templates like Foundation or Bootstrap or WordPress responsive WordPress templates and not really thinking about the design and marketing aspect of what should really go on a website. It actually makes me sad as a designer.

Bhavia

August 26th, 2014

It is very obvious that designers will tend to showcase their artistic capabilities, but their main focus should be client satisfaction.
You are successful as a designer if you are able to meet client expectations even after including your artistry and innovative ideas.

Jason

August 30th, 2014

Luke what does your comment have to do with be artistic in web development? I agree with Jay that web development is turning out look very consistant with each site created and most companies probably think that if you cannot find a good theme you should just steal someone else’s design because good artist borrow great artists steal. Thanks for the post, it is really remarkable that website development has evolved with more opportunity for creativity with design.

RusseWeb

September 1st, 2014

Actually, I think, a good web designer should know a bit about every digital field in order to create something not only beautiful but PROFITABLE for a client.
For sure he should have at least basic knowledge about UX design, SEO basics and better know front-end developement basics.

Thanks for a nice article !

sunil vashist

September 1st, 2014

This is a great article. People actually limit the type of services that they can provide and hardly explore anything beyond designing and coding . Web designers are the artisans and therefore must look towards the overall strategy of any website .

FinleyC

September 2nd, 2014

I couldn’t agree more, the issue is now and has always being balancing style with substance. You find people who make technically impressive but totally unusable. Now with the growth of responsive design, they are becoming highly usable but sparse and unimpressive!

Corbin

September 3rd, 2014

Say what you will about the safe corporate sites being a bit boring or “templatey”. They work for a reason. Corporations and business professionals don’t need all the bells and whistles. Just a clean, useable site. There’s a time and place to get artsy, but not all clients are cut from the same clothe. Audience and client personality determine that. Great post!

Meganeil

September 7th, 2014

Design and Programming are two different things. But if you’re a web designer, you should know about both. A plain site without the visual impact effect is just like: ill navigate at other site. But the whole combo php,mysql,html, jquery, css, for example, requires a lot of study and investigation. And what about Photoshop, Illustrator, Fireworks, Audio edition, Video edition? (ill not make a list of all the software tools you can use XD) Design ninja is so far from all this knowledge, i think we are Web Gods, and we still need to learn a lot. p.d.: sorry about my poor english (another thing you need to learn XD)

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