Is the small Web Design firm dying?

SparkFlash

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Feb 15, 2013
356
127
Michigan
I have been making web sites for about 16 years and have seen the web design need grow dramatically (back in early 2000), and recently nose dive. In our current age of the template selling sites(themeforest, etc), cheap template providing monthly sites (Wix, squarespace, etc), and the cheap monthly offering of things like Photoshop that used to be really expensive, you have to ask yourself... Is the small web design firm client base dying?

Maybe just the Mom and Pops? I know the large corporations, and such are still using high end web design firms but now a days anyone knows a 16 year old with Photoshop and some free time. Its too easy to build your own site too. As you see new sites pop up everything is starting to look the same with these templates, but no one really cares. Heck, the large majority of small web design "firms" popping up are using templates themselves. How ironic to have a web designer not design their own site... (I am guilty of this for clients too due to them knowing about cheap templates and wanting them as a base to save $)

What are you all seeing? Am I just crazy? I feel like maybe the developers are more in demand now.
 

grahamperrin

macrumors 601
Jun 8, 2007
4,946
641
… everything is starting to look the same with these templates, but no one really cares …
You're not alone, I care about the sameness.

With or without templates: the most recent fad of sameness seems to revolve around annoyingly large images and a necessity to scroll much more than in the past.

A 2011 capture of an Apple page: http://web.archive.org/web/20110307083412/http://www.apple.com/uk/iphone/business/profiles/rehabcare/ – with my browser full screen, I can read its content in less than two pages.

The same page in 2015, five pages: http://web.archive.org/web/20151123182054/https://www.apple.com/uk/iphone/business/profiles/rehabcare/

I have a hunch that the large images fad began with Medium …
 

olup

macrumors 6502
Oct 11, 2011
377
37
I have been making web sites for about 16 years and have seen the web design need grow dramatically (back in early 2000), and recently nose dive. In our current age of the template selling sites(themeforest, etc), cheap template providing monthly sites (Wix, squarespace, etc), and the cheap monthly offering of things like Photoshop that used to be really expensive, you have to ask yourself... Is the small web design firm client base dying?

Maybe just the Mom and Pops? I know the large corporations, and such are still using high end web design firms but now a days anyone knows a 16 year old with Photoshop and some free time. Its too easy to build your own site too. As you see new sites pop up everything is starting to look the same with these templates, but no one really cares. Heck, the large majority of small web design "firms" popping up are using templates themselves. How ironic to have a web designer not design their own site... (I am guilty of this for clients too due to them knowing about cheap templates and wanting them as a base to save $)

What are you all seeing? Am I just crazy? I feel like maybe the developers are more in demand now.
The cheapskates will and can go get their squarespace/free Wordpress templates, but there will still be demand for good web design. It's important to focus on thing that those places haven't caught on/or will never be able to catch on.
Here's an interesting article regarding that topic: https://medium.com/net-magazine/the-death-of-the-web-design-agency-a79dd531bee2#.6mymdufmq
 
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JamieLion

macrumors newbie
Apr 22, 2016
14
9
Hello,

I think the the tools have changed but the market is still there. I know a bunch of teenagers / computer science students making pretty good money off of building sites for small clients ontop on square space and the like. They just don't have develop them anymore.

The smaller agencies are getting caught in the middle as more and more companies in-house their website and software development. In the UK, its very easy to get an apprentice with digital skills in and make producing a decent website their first task.

Jamie + Lion
 

lucidmedia

macrumors 6502a
Oct 13, 2008
702
37
Wellington, New Zealand
It is not just the small shops. In the past few years, many digital agencies have been bought up and transformed into in-house shops. The focus on product has made it hard for independent shops to survive.

As a designer, I don't see template / bootstrap use as competition, any site that can be made with a template was not an interesting / lucrative project to work on in the first place. I do think these have made the web a far more boring place, but the homogenization of the web has been happening for years.
 
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precogincog

macrumors newbie
Mar 22, 2016
23
55
You're not alone, I care about the sameness.

With or without templates: the most recent fad of sameness seems to revolve around annoyingly large images and a necessity to scroll much more than in the past.
The large scrolling image thing just needs to die. I think they are really easy to build and maintain and look nice (because big images), but I suspect the functionality and usability are actually lower than a well-designed reactive site.

I think what I've been seeing is that easy things have gotten easier WRT to using word-press, templates, build-your-own, etc., which should be easier, but the web is the interface and API-layer to EVERYTHING, so the demand has really just moved to doing integrations both well and aesthetically, which is still hard.
 

steveash

macrumors 6502
Aug 7, 2008
496
212
UK
I think the market for selling creative services to small businesses in general has dried up. There are just too many low cost off-the-shelf options. There is probably still good money to be made for those willing to source templates, stock images and cheap logos as a low cost package and then charge a monthly fee for maintenance and hosting. Not much creative satisfaction there though.
 
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RogerWilco

macrumors 6502a
Jul 29, 2011
722
1,167
This may be hard to understand for anyone living in a bubble city like San Jose or Denver, but in most of the USA small businesses have been strangled and left for dead. Over the past decade overhead costs have increased dramatically while our pricing power has been zilch. Some of our large customers now demand regular price "improvements" and boldly announce their standard payment terms are net 60, take it or leave it.

In this crappy business environment there is no extra money for outside services like web development.
 

satchmo

macrumors 68020
Aug 6, 2008
2,283
2,107
Canada
Website design has become a commodity.
Template-driven sites are mostly due to content.
Let's face it, 90% of small businesses don't need a hugely complex website.
Maybe 6-10 pages at the most (same for designer portfolios).

Plus people's attention spans have dwindled. They just want to quickly see that you're legit and professional.
And small businesses can achieve that with an off the shelf template.
 

SparkFlash

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Feb 15, 2013
356
127
Michigan
I understand all the above. Thats why I am asking the question. I know I personally walked away from the industry. I wasn't big enough to take large clients, and the rest were nowhere to be found.
 

MikeTheVike

macrumors regular
Aug 8, 2009
133
1
Doesn't appear to be dying in the midwest for the small company I work for. I think even with things like SquareSpace, it requires a certain level of time dedicated to learning the system and most small businesses don't have that time. We build all our sites using a CMS and I'd say 90% of our clients still pay us to make updates even though they can do it themselves through the CMS. For reference, we are a 6 person company that also does other stuff for companies besides digital, so we don't rely on digital work. But I would say the bulk of our income is from that. We also don't really do any sites under $10k anymore. Maybe the market for those sites under $10k is drying up.
 
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SparkFlash

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Feb 15, 2013
356
127
Michigan
Yeah Mike. I think thats the range of "small" I was referring to. Companies that are usually at most $5k. I am in the midwest as well.
 

ejb190

macrumors 65816
I work for a state agency and happen to be the web coordinator for my division. This means I edit the content and submit work tickets for Communications to implement. Kind of a clumsy way to do web design, but it works. The worst part of it is the Governor's Office dictates the templates and look! So every 4 years or so we get to trash everything and start all over!

Communications showed me some statistics on our web pages. We were quickly approaching over 50% traffic from mobile devices. So we were instructed to make things mobile friendly. More intergrated web maps and widgets, fewer .pdf and .doc attachments. Shorten click paths. Get to the point (no rambling text).

I bring this up because I have a serious question. How hard is it really to design a site that is good on both desktop and mobile environments? Do the template type systems assist in this? Is this a skill that designers are falling behind on?
 
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olup

macrumors 6502
Oct 11, 2011
377
37
I work for a state agency and happen to be the web coordinator for my division. This means I edit the content and submit work tickets for Communications to implement. Kind of a clumsy way to do web design, but it works. The worst part of it is the Governor's Office dictates the templates and look! So every 4 years or so we get to trash everything and start all over!

Communications showed me some statistics on our web pages. We were quickly approaching over 50% traffic from mobile devices. So we were instructed to make things mobile friendly. More intergrated web maps and widgets, fewer .pdf and .doc attachments. Shorten click paths. Get to the point (no rambling text).

I bring this up because I have a serious question. How hard is it really to design a site that is good on both desktop and mobile environments? Do the template type systems assist in this? Is this a skill that designers are falling behind on?
per se it's not impossible. The issue is that that there a plenty of unknown factors that come into play: what device the user is browsing on, the connection speed, if any... These things need to be taken into account before any designing really starts and that's the most challenging part.
 
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H1Supreme

macrumors newbie
Oct 31, 2016
26
35
What are you all seeing? Am I just crazy? I feel like maybe the developers are more in demand now.
Developers are definitely much more in demand. But, the "designer" job has morphed into the Front End Developer for all intents and purposes. So, I don't think companies are posting job opening for designers like they used to. But even the Front End Developer position is fragmenting and diluting into a big catch all.

I started out a Graphic Designer, but taught myself programming in my spare time (years and years of spare time). Now, I work as a full time developer. A large part of the tooling for creating web apps are legit programming endeavors. In the past you could know a HTML and some CSS, with a little copy & paste jQuery -- and bam your a front end dev.

That will simply not fly now. So, the designer position is in a weird place now. You can't copy & paste your way through an Angular 2 (or whatever.js framework you choose) website. Sound application design needs to be in place. Not aesthetic design, but software design. And, well, developers aren't always great with visual design.

Which, ultimately leads to a lot of samey looking sites that are based on Bootstrap UI components or whatever. And, leads to a lot of designers who didn't learn any dev skills without work. But, I'll take the samey looking sites tbh. Visual frameworks like Bootstrap and Kraken are a god send. Scales perfect on phones, tablets, everything right out of the box. Tackles ******** like centering div's with ease. Love it. But, I do miss sites that had a bit more character.
 
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SparkFlash

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Feb 15, 2013
356
127
Michigan
How hard is it really to design a site that is good on both desktop and mobile environments? Do the template type systems assist in this? Is this a skill that designers are falling behind on?
Not hard at all. But this is a prime example that needs collaboration between developer and designer. If its one person then that makes it easier.

Most mobile sites now are simply responsive layout/designs. Ones that as the page gets smaller simply adjust to the size.
 

Tozovac

macrumors 68000
Jun 12, 2014
1,520
1,543
You're not alone, I care about the sameness.

With or without templates: the most recent fad of sameness seems to revolve around annoyingly large images and a necessity to scroll much more than in the past.
I detest all the wasted space and additional work needed to view today's typical websites. Perhaps the absolute worst example of a supposed improvement is apple's community user forum. Actually, they recurring theme of making things more same and much more difficult and less fun to use has seemed to be apple's new thing starting in 2013 with iOS 7. Pretty maddening actually and I keep waiting for this to jump the shark and return to something more like 2012 and prior.
 

Jimmyss

macrumors member
Feb 11, 2017
73
13
I think too much competition in web design business. It creates problem for small web design firm. But if a firm provide quality design it can survive.
 

8281

macrumors 6502
Dec 15, 2010
463
559
I work at a nonprofit in the midwest and I moved us over to Squarespace when I started four years ago. Hiring a design firm to develop a site for us just wouldn't add enough value to justify the cost. I think there's still a market for businesses that need more sophisticated functionality. We don't, so with just some HTML, CSS, and design knowledge I could make the templates work for us.

The nice part is that Squarespace does offer a developer platform if we did ever want to develop a more customized site.

And to answer some questions above, they do build mobile support into the template. If you start adding your own code, it's up to you to make sure it still functions on mobile though.
 

SparkFlash

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Feb 15, 2013
356
127
Michigan
I work at a nonprofit in the midwest and I moved us over to Squarespace when I started four years ago. Hiring a design firm to develop a site for us just wouldn't add enough value to justify the cost. I think there's still a market for businesses that need more sophisticated functionality. We don't, so with just some HTML, CSS, and design knowledge I could make the templates work for us.

The nice part is that Squarespace does offer a developer platform if we did ever want to develop a more customized site.

And to answer some questions above, they do build mobile support into the template. If you start adding your own code, it's up to you to make sure it still functions on mobile though.
This makes total sense and is definitely what I have been seeing in this area. The younger generation too knows all too well how this stuff works enough to do it on their own. Glad squarespace works for you guys!
 

cktai

macrumors newbie
Feb 19, 2017
24
3
you are probably right about web design business now. but where will web designer go then? become a developer?


Website design has become a commodity.
Template-driven sites are mostly due to content.
Let's face it, 90% of small businesses don't need a hugely complex website.
Maybe 6-10 pages at the most (same for designer portfolios).

Plus people's attention spans have dwindled. They just want to quickly see that you're legit and professional.
And small businesses can achieve that with an off the shelf template.
 

Strider64

macrumors 6502a
Dec 1, 2015
744
2,571
Suburb of Detroit
I gave up web design making me any money 3 to 4 years ago. I got tired people saying "Well, I can just get such and such to do it for $50.00", plus they insist on me to use a template or Wordpress.
 

DiamonDecoden

macrumors 6502
May 26, 2011
454
161
Texas
Yes, template do help. Where do web designer go? They work for larger company that rely on a working website.
Perhaps freelance web designers are not as lucrative as in the past but freelancing is really, really hard.

One big issue facing freelancers from my own experience: where do you find quality clients? How to make the profits sustainable in the long run? Unless you have a good amount of well paying clientele, it is hard... but I guess any small business it is very, VERY difficult to start. You'll have to hustle a LOT.