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.