If I meet another person who tells me it’s easy to build a web site, I think I’ll scream. Usually they’ll point me to their latest creation, a dated site that stands testament to their ability to work in the industry, usually accompanied by a rather large W3C XHTML valid logo at the bottom of the screen. They’ll then proceed to tell me how, with the aid of modern technologies such as Dreamweaver and Microsoft FrontPage, there is no need to learn dying arts such as web programming. Finally, they’ll then end up scoffing at how anyone paying more than five hundred bucks for a web site is an idiot.
And yet, on the rare occasions that I meet people such as these, I nod, my mouth smiling politely as I resist the urge to tell them that there’s actually a lot of work involved in creating a truly beneficial and creative product and, although quickly whipping up a WordPress site with a stock template is great for the right client, by ignoring and downplaying the skill and talent required to create genuinely valuable sites, they are devaluing the industry for everyone.
I suppose I just find it rather strange that when compared to many other professions out there – anything from accountants to lawyers to architects and plumbers – web development must be one of the few industries in the world that doesn’t have any type of barrier to entry. You don’t need to study, you don’t need to obtain a degree certificate, you don’t even need experience – just grab a copy of Web Design For Dummies and you can be out there competing for business by offering rock bottom prices.
“How much for a web site?! My wife/cousin/friend/dog could make you one for free.”
We’ve all been there, we’ve all been in a situation at some point in our lives where a potential client has gasped at a proposed quote with such shock and horror that you’d think you’d just drop kicked their newborn out the kitchen window. After a few moments of awkward silence, eventually they politely and smugly shake their head and explain how they could easily find someone else to do it cheaper.
It’s a lost cause and, although one could strive in vain to describe the importance of engaging and professional design, elegant and meaningful copy, well-built and maintained code and the obvious merits of proper SEO, it would simply be a lot easier to hold up a certificate that proved ones qualifications. At the very least, standardised certification would weed out those who lack even the tiniest bit of skill or genuine interest in the web, increasing and enhancing the public’s opinion about the professionalism of the industry as a whole.
standardised certification would weed out those who lack even the tiniest bit of skill or genuine interest in the web
And that’s what it’s all about, building up trust and recognition in the eyes of clients, users and visitors. It’s about educating people into understanding that the web industry offers a vastly varying degree of solutions, each with their own merits, and that not all solutions are equal or appropriate for everyone. Just because the immediate technical barriers for setting up a basic web site are now lower than ever, it doesn’t mean that the the knowledge required to generate real, tangible results through bringing together all of the extra, harder to quantify factors is any easier to master or less valuable. Indeed, there are a lot of subtle (and tremendously powerful) benefits that can only be achieved through skill, knowledge and experience.
Raising the barrier for entry into the industry would not only raise the base quality of offerings out there but also give clients a reassurance of value, quality and trust. After all, you wouldn’t use a lawyer who didn’t have a degree or commission an accountant without checking they were probably qualified – why should the web industry be any different?
Opportunity for everyone
I’m not a web snob (really) and by no means do I begrudge the open nature of the web industry. In fact, one of the most beautiful things about the Internet is that it gives anyone and everyone the opportunity to thrive, prosper and contribute to it. I’ve met dozens of excellent designers and developers who have no relevant academic training and are, essentially, self-taught in their chosen field, living testaments to the benefits of not having any standardised barrier into the industry.
Just like the idolised American Dream, the web currently offers opportunity for everyone regardless of background, wealth, education or upbringing. You don’t need to spend seven years in medical school or lawyer school or accountancy school or whatever school to gain a piece of paper that qualifies and demonstrates your ability to make great web products. Indeed, we probably wouldn’t be where we are today if wasn’t for untrained and inexperienced people with the passion and spirit to pioneer the way forward.
So yes, in many ways it would be a shame to lose such a beautiful aspect of the industry and I must confess that it’s a major argument against any sort of required qualification. However, the problem isn’t just the odd incapable person who fancies themselves as a web designer or developer but also the clients who believe the easily accessible nature of the Internet should immediately mean lower prices and less of a need for experienced suppliers.
The basic inability for clients to determine value
Perhaps the most fundamental issue is the fact that often potential clients are simply unable to recognise and appreciate the value that experienced and talented web designers, developers, freelancers and agencies can bring to the table. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with just knocking up a quick site for someone and I’m certainly not advocating that web development becomes a industry belonging only to the elite. The issue though is when clients and end users can’t see past the initial monetary value, unable to grasp why, if someone they know can produce a web site for a few hundred dollars or pounds, would they fork out thousands for the ‘same’ thing?
questioning why one supplier can deliver the ‘same’ product so much cheaper is a fundamental aspect often neglected by those who commission projects
This mentality doesn’t just apply to the little guys either and I’ve born witness to plenty of large, respectable and wealthy companies and establishments reject proposals and tender responses based solely on price and opt in favor of cheaper solutions instead. Of course, price is a tricky topic but if one accepts that essentially a company (or freelancer) needs to earn a certain rate per day to survive, one can determine the time spent on different facets of a site or application. Questioning why one supplier can deliver the ‘same’ product so much cheaper is a fundamental aspect often neglected by those who commission projects – is to due to more advanced technology, more streamlined procedures, more experience or in actuality because less time has been budgeted? Suffice to say, I feel quite saddened when well respected agencies lose out on tenders due to price and then I check the client’s site three months later to find it an utter, horrid, dysfunctional mess.
Overall, theses issues stem from the fact that web development is an industry filled with tiny nuances that can be difficult for a client to appreciate and comprehend. The differences between creating an average project and a hugely successful one can be tremendously subtle and thus the client has no ability to make an informed judgement when faced with dozes of proposals. Standardised certification born out of a higher barrier to entry into the industry would certainly help with this by ensuring a base level of immutable quality.
Survival of the fittest
Of course you would have a perfectly valid point by arguing that a globally recognised barrier for entry is merely an excuse for poor persuasion and sales techniques and that the industry should boil down to survival of the fittest. Those that work in it should be able to demonstrate their skill and knowledge and the advantages and benefits that they can bring to a client without the need for certification or a degree qualification to back them up.
This is how the web industry exists at the moment and often agencies prove themselves through their list of clientele and previous work, an effective technique that, in theory, separates the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’ (even though a prestigious client list doesn’t necessarily always translate into quality offerings). And indeed any new web developer or company could work hard to make a name for themselves through outstanding creativity and quality and perhaps there is something just and logical about that.
The major downside, however, occurs when clients value price the most and thus pick the cheapest (and possibly unqualified) supplier without recognising the difference. This not an unusual occurrence and can result in clients being landed with sub-par products because their chosen supplier wasn’t qualified enough to deliver the quality or results they promised at the cost they specified. Ultimately, this inability for clients to determine value not only makes it harder for truly talented people to compete but lowers the overall quality of work we see residing on the web today.
Time for standardised certification?
At the end of the day, although it may sound like I’m all for the introduction of a standardised barrier to entry into the industry, I’m happy to throw my hands up in the air and confess that I really don’t know what the perfect answer is. For every inexperienced, uninterested, disingenuous web developer out there that forces down prices, there is shining example of individual self-taught excellence that just wouldn’t exist if a standardised qualification was required to even begin taking part.
Maybe a web ‘qualification’ would be the perfect solution to raising the base quality of work around the web or maybe the system is fine the way it is we and just need to suck it up and accept that the industry is always going to be competitive in that regard. Or perhaps the answer lies in another direction and we should champion the introduction of an ‘official’ ratings guide, such as the Michelin star system for restaurants, that works to give clients an expected and globally recognised measurement of quality.