Looking out for the little guy


I am not a web designer.

I market myself as a web designer, because that’s what my clients think they want. In fact, what they want is a person who makes websites.

That’s what I am. I’m a person who makes websites. And apps too, if you’re feeling adventurous. I’m a UX designer, a UI designer, a front-end developer, a back-end developer, a hosting provider, a sysadmin, a copywriter and a marketer.

I’ve done all of the above individually, for different companies at different times, and also I’ve done all of them at the same time for a single client as part of a larger package, which I will refer to as “a website”.

Primarily, I work in front-end development. But to any client outside of “the web”, this means nothing. They don’t care about day rates, the tools I use, or the maintainability of my code; they want to give me a brief, and when the website is live, hand over a cheque for a pre-agreed amount.

There is much talk in the web community about the latest responsive trends, scalability tools and performance optimisations that should be used on the web; and much berating of those who shy away from them. This criticism is often short-sighted. Granted, the above are all important aspects in the building of a website, but they also cost money; money that the average client simply doesn’t have. But why should a lack of budget deny a client from receiving a website that employs good design principles?

The answer is in the base elements of the design; the layout and typography. Dan Donald talks about this at length in his great talk Flux and Flexibility. A well designed website could be as simple as a single column layout, with a good typographic base. Inherently responsive, a design such as this could easily catapult a small business into the modern era of web design, for very little cost.

But instead of this, too many designers concentrate on adding embellishments that add nothing more than zeroes to the price of the site. They may be eye catching, and no doubt will appeal to the client, but by placing these front and centre in mockups and prototypes, when it comes the time to remove features in order to fit a project within budget, these are the features which the client will want to keep.

But there are many aspects of web design that clients might not fully understand; responsiveness, performance optimisation, maintainability, accessibility. Why would any client choose these as features of their website, when the fancy lick of paint that masks them looks so appealing?

The answer is progressive enhancement. Not in the development sense, but in the process through which the website is designed and built. When creating mockups and agreeing quotes, start with that simple, single column layout. Explain that although such a design may not be the most modern, or the most eye catching, it is functional and inclusive across all devices, connection speeds and ability levels. Explain that embellishments cost extra, and add to a simple base, rather than removing features from an over-ambitious mockup.

If we were all to work in this way, the even the smallest of budgets could allow access to well designed, well implemented sites. Clients would not be disappointed when their users complain of lack of support for their device, or inaccessibility.

And why shouldn’t they be allowed access to good design? People laugh at clients who come to them with budgets in the range of hundreds, rather than thousands; but this is unnecessary. A website can be built in a couple of hours. It won’t win any awards, but if built properly and populated with the right content, it will be functional, and more than likely meet the clients needs.

So think about this the next time a small, local business comes to you for a quote. Spend the time to talk to them, and remember that whilst a simple website built in a couple of hours might not be up to your usual standard of work, it might just be the best thing that’s ever happened to that particular business.

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