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The Web Industry Needs A Form Of Quality Certification

Michelin Guide for the web

'Guide Michelin' is French for Michelin Guide

As much as I love the web and it’s open nature there’s something about it that’s been frustrating me for quite a while now: it’s complete lack of standards and quality control. Call it arrogance, call it hubris, even call it insecurity if you want to, but what I think the web world needs now above all else is an impartial, trustworthy and recognisable form of quality certification. It’s about time we had our own Michelin star rating.

You might be sneer at that suggestion, thinking it a pompous and self-serving thing to say and, hell, you’d probably be right. I’d love some critic to come along and stamp a star or rosette on our work so we can show off how awesome we are and hike our prices up in the process. But then wouldn’t you? And isn’t that the entire point of any sort of meritocracy? First rate work should be recognised and rewarded in kind, a perfect balance of quality and price, all providing a variety of options and choice to the consumer and client.

The problem with recommendations and portfolios

We already have a degree of options for potential clients available, of course, all relying on reputation, recommendation and testimonial. A lot of the best agencies out there have made it to where they are today based on the fact that they are good and, I suppose, there’s something quite poetic and Darwinian about it all. However, this approach of fighting your way to the top and building up a portfolio and client list in order to prove yourself is fundamentally flawed.

The problem is that testimonials and recommendations are biased and easy to come by. Any company that’s still in business could easily whip up a dozen or so testimonials to showcase so, ultimately, they’re not a very accurate representation of real quality. Plus, the client is also usually a layman in the web field (hence their need to hire someone else in the first place) so, if we’re being pedantic about it, they’re not even really fit to judge. It would take a proper experienced designer, developer or marketeer to make that call.

the only answer to providing a reassurance of quality can come in the form of impartial certification

Likewise, establishing a portfolio of previous work to prove oneself is a very common mechanic for web companies but, again, it’s flawed in the sense that it just shows who you’ve worked with, not the quality of the work. It leads to the very understandable, yet completely irrational, thinking of “you’ve worked with Brand X so you must be good enough to work with me” instead of being an unbiased measurement of skill and can lead to an unjustifiable Emperor’s New Clothes upwards spiral of success begetting success.

So if we concede that client’s can’t really tell the difference between good and bad, especially on a technical or design level, and that big lists of examples of previous projects usually just show off one’s ability to win work rather than deliver top rate solutions, then the only answer to providing a reassurance of quality can come in the form of impartial certification created specifically for the web.

Let’s look to restaurants

Personally, I’ve always felt that the web industry holds a lot of common ground with restaurants and food. Anyone can cook, anyone can buy the utensils, but that doesn’t make them skilled or capable enough to produce truly wonderful meals. The same goes for the web and with its low barrier to entry and serviced based industry, it’s very difficult for anyone to actually know what level of quality the work they’ve commissioned will be until it’s too late to change ones mind. It’s about time we had an impartial body of experienced judges who evaluated and certified companies based on their level of skill and expertise because, right now, it’s very hard to know.

The food industry has Michelin stars and AA rosettes. They’ve been around for decades and represent a certain level of quality. Consumers know what level of standards to expect before they even set food in the door, providing a degree of reassurance before they’ve even spent any money. And we’re only talking hundreds here, not the several thousand people would shell out for a web site. Indeed, when you look at some of the money involved in large sites, it seems almost backwards that we don’t have any authority on quality in the industry.

I think it’s about time we moved out of the dark ages of relying purely on trust or faith, especially in a sector that’s growing every year and changing the world we live in. The web desperately needs a form of recognised quality certification. It needs a way for agencies to prove their skill and worth without having to jump through hundreds of hoops and it needs a way for clients to feel reassured and protected in what they’re purchasing.

Until then, we’re going to keep seeing a lot of overpriced mediocrity flooding our browsers.

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Author: Gordon McLachlan

Gordon is uncomfortably good looking.

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  1. Pete November 21, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    I’d sign up for a certification. The restaurant analogy was really well put.

    • Gordon November 21, 2011 at 6:08 pm

      Thanks :) I think/hope it will come in time. It would reassure a lot of clients plus help convey worth and value better.

  2. The VMCA November 23, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Thought provoking.

    I wish I could say more at this stage, but I’m still mulling it over.

    I suppose my concerns would simply be who would be appointed to “award” the “Michelin” stars, and could we trust an authority to be impartial and reward those who are truly deserving?

    It makes me think of the academy awards, and how those could be perceived as biased by some. Something like Avatar is completely ground breaking and changes the way we view the cinematic experience forever, and yet it misses out on an Oscar because of an apparent political agenda. (I’m not saying that The Hurt Locker wasn’t deserving, just that it wasn’t ground breaking).

    Tricky one.

    • Gordon November 23, 2011 at 11:01 pm

      Yeah, it’s a tough one. I don’t know a huge amount about the Michelin star system so maybe there’s politics involved in that too. I suppose we just have to trust that the judges are experienced and honest. Also, there are already award ceremonies for the web but it seems different to the idea of an experienced individual actually rating work. I suppose the main difference, at least in my mind, is that any sort of rating would have to involve a thorough examination of the development practices and principles behind the site.

  3. [...] 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 [...]

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