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Amateur Web Designers are not Professionals

The barriers to embarking on a web design/development career are pretty low. I once had a female friend email me her revelation that she would forthwith be selling herself as an SEO Expert, for example. Why? Because for some reason people think that there is a whole heap of easy money to be made in the web sector that I’m here to attest is rarely made outside of corporate work; often, it’s a slow death of pennies on the dollar and being underpitched by the amateurs.

My credentials. Well, I have TAFE Certificate 4s in Website Design and Website Administration, a Bachelor of Computing, and a Master of Business Administration with an extra specialisation in Journalism and Media Studies. Yes, the business degree is relevant because professional web design/development is fundamentally about solving business problems for your client. I’ve also worked on a bunch of web projects, both paid and gratis (ending in 2010) in the private and public sector and by invitation taught a semester to TAFE Design Diploma students in the subject of hand coding websites using Web Standards best practice.

Relevant units in my computing degree outside direct IT and programming skills were KXA156 Multimedia and Web Applications, KXA281 Advanced Web Development, BSA207 Web Management, BSA309 Multimedia Professional Placement, KXA358 Human-Computer Interaction, KXT307 Computer Networks, KXA355 Ubiquitous and Mobile Computing, KXT301 and KXT302 Software Engineering Project. I also did business electives like BMA251 Principles of Marketing and BSA102 Information Modelling and Infrastructures.

During my MBA (Master of Business Administration) and specialisation units the relevant subjects – ignoring strategic management, law for managers, ethics, finance, statistics, economics, organisational behaviour, etcetera – included BMA584 Marketing Management, BMA684 Electronic Marketing, BMA787 Entrepreneurship, HEJ504 Media Writing and HEJ606 Advanced Journalism. Beyond that I completed a postgraduate unit in Investigative Journalism with John Martinkus.

My particular web technologies expertise (experience and skillset) was in front end coding using web standards HTML/CSS, usability and accessibility. A lot of that job is keeping stride with cross compatibility of hardware/software combinations that the user is going to be employing. As a developer you cannot control their environment. Your customers are also likely to have disadvantages with vision, dexterity, or cognitive limitations. This involves domain expertise in accessibility challenges and solutions in the web environment, information management and a broad knowledge of user behaviour. Everybody interacts with any website in a specific and individual context. The most complex part of web development is the target market’s software (including their brain) and hardware (including their body) interface with your work. I repeat, you have no direct control of their environment.

Put that next to someone who has self-taught or taken the time to do a basic certification in the fine art of making a website appear on the computer screen. Nephews, cousins, friends-of-friends. People pitching $5 an hour in unrealistic forecasts that it’s just about inserting a couple of pictures, a background texture and a bit of random text and you’re a web designer/developer. And an industry that operates on spec work, free work and clients that more often than not do not understand the job that you are being employed to achieve.

Every day that I worked with web technologies I learned something. It’s a complicated area of overlapping expertise. Realise that people are unwilling to pay for services they don’t understand. This is exacerbated by the fact they don’t get the professional services they need because the web industry is systemically rife with self-taught coders who really only want to pump and dump (hopefully attractive) web pages for quick profit. There’s a mismatch – on the one hand the customer has a business problem they need solved by a professional; on the other, there’s a coder wanting to code something for money. Mostly, the coders aren’t content writers, business analysts, marketing gurus. They’re just coders.

And big questions need to be asked before even a line of code is written, beginning with: what is the marketing budget – ie. photography, web copy, specialist skills required including your wage; you need to design or describe the specific business problem to be solved and figure how to measure the success or failure of the strategy at specific points in time; you need to know who the web solution is targeted to invoke action upon and what that action should entail. The entire who, what, when, where, how and why of the web solution should be understood. And unfortunately it rarely, if ever, happens in that industry.

The alternative is a website. True. And your average punter will not be able to tell the difference between the one that solves the business problem or doesn’t solve one. Neither will the client. And if it’s just a website without strategy, objectives and an intention to compete as a part of an integrated marketing strategy, then I’ve pretty much lost interest. I’ve had seasoned web developers argue to my face that websites don’t need Return On Investment for the customer? I mean, come the fuck on, people? What?! Businesses should be donating cash for no return so you can make websites? That’s called a con. The entire idea of employing people is for them to make money for you… and you should be able to measure the profit they bring.

At that point web designers are making internet beach towels. And I made a lot of enemies in the industry pointing it out. But that’s where I see the difference between a web professional and a web amateur (even a paid web designer/developer incapable of seeing that difference). You see, it’s this whole dream of the easy career that draws everyone in there… the idea they can learn all that stuff in a step-through book and make a web page appear on the magic screen. The sons, cousins, friends-of-friends.

Is there a career out there for you in web design? Probably not. And if you think so, show me the money. Outside of a corporate gig it’s a hard slog to even make minimum wage. Because of the amateurs. It’s as simple as that.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark and I live in the Derwent Valley in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a mazer & a yeast farmer (making beer, fruit wine and mead as by-products of continuous improvement in my farming practices). I'm a photographer, although my film cameras are currently silent. I do not tolerate idiots. I do not tolerate bigotry. I do not tolerate excuses. Let's be clear, if you sit with my enemies you my are my enemy for life.

Blogger. Thinker. Brewer. Drinker. Life partner to the amazing and incredible Megan.

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