Have you ever started writing a blog intending to write about one thing but then found yourself veering off-piste? Well, this blog started out as a post about how the Photoshopping of website photographs was something that makes a critical (professional) difference in web design. But, soon after I started, the words web design professional began to crawl and make me uncomfortable. In a world of web design professionals, I feel it's time to ask the open question: what makes what web designers do professional? ðŸ§¨
So I must first openly confess to writing this blog whilst carrying and attempting to offload more than a little beef ðŸ„ - there's a phrase I see plastered across the Web that has crawled under my skin and keeps on making me itch:
professional web design. Mostly, I see the phrase in association with the DIY online website building platforms such as those you see advertised on the TV. I could walk into Wickes and buy powertools for a DIY project but this doesn't mean that the results I'd achieve would be 'professional'. How many of us know what professional web design actually looks like?
As I lay back on the blog therapy couch, close my eyes and begin oversharing and outpouring, I have but one idea in my head - that you only need one thing to be a web design professional and that's the ability to generate an invoice. My dictionary offers the following definition of professional:
engaged in a profession or engaging in as a profession or means of livelihood. So, anyone can call themselves a professional so long as they can sell their services, provide the service and generate an invoice for same. So no. This is the wrong question
What does it mean to be professional?
Yes. That's it. That's the question, right there. There's a difference between calling yourself a professional and being professional. When it comes to being professional the yardstick isn't so much what you do but what your Customers expect - and I think you can express that expectation best with four words:
Let's take a look at each one of these as it applies to the professional commerce in general and not just that of web design.
Fairness - did the value of the service bought balance with the price paid and leave neither the buyer or seller feeling shortchanged or left out-of-pocket?
Honesty - did what was specified and sold do all that was promised it could and, perhaps most importantly, was it what was needed?
Quality - was the service provided with a degree of excellence that, at the very least, matches the price and the specification?
Standards - can the service provided be measured and compared to a widely accepted ideal or benchmark?
Does this breakdown match your own view of the notion of a professional? I'd really love to hear your own thoughts. To me, it now appears that what it means to be a professional is to ensure that your buyer understands exactly what they'll be getting when they trade their money for your goods and/or services. Being professional is all about setting expectations and, where expectation doesn't match what's on offer, education.
There is an absolutely wonderful phrase used by a Customer of ours to describe keen amateurs who muscle their way into a profession by letting their buyers think that being a professional is about carrying tech and looking flash.
'All the gear and no idea'
In truth, you don't need any special kit to build a website and so the cost of setting-up in business as a web design professional is insanely low, therefore, it follows that the cost of staying in business as a web professional is high. The investment a professional web designer makes is that of time. Time spent listening, time spent learning, time spent sharing, time spent leading and, mostly, time spent getting it right.
Here's a GIF animation I produced (the one that was originally going to be the focus of this blog before I veered off-piste) that shows the difference a 'pro' wants to make. The photograph was an iPhone snap taken by Howard Pease of a house extension he'd designed. Howard supplies all his own architecture photographs - the photo at the top of this blog page shows another before and after Photoshop photograph in which a rubbish bin, a signpost and a pedestrian have been carefully removed. My job would have been far easier (less professional) if I'd just uploaded the photos that Howard gave me but Howard's expectation was that his new website would look so good that he'd generate more new business enquiries. Thanks to Photoshop, it's within my capability to make these photos right but, more importantly, it's inline with our ideals and what Howard's come to expect from the benchmark set over the years.
Howard's new website is clean, crisp and the result of all we've both learned during a business relationship stretching-back over 12 years. A fuller exploration of this fourth generation website and the extension that was built onto it during the COVID-19 lockdown can be read by following the link to The Art of Search blog. The website extension was built to fight for more Google visibility. The SEO necessitated the insertion of many more words onto each page of Howard's clean website - a heavily pictoral website that he didn't want to see diluted by too many words. The build of this extension called for changes in thinking and approach by both client and web professional. Now that the clean, responsive website's been relaunched and as it awaits Google's blessing, I've had the opportunity to look back to the lengthy (sometimes heated) discussions Howard and I held to review and adapt how we do what we do.
The process of writing this blog appears to have been part of that project review process and, after thinking out loud, the conclusion I've arrived at is that the what the client got from their web design professional wasn't Photoshop but time. What I got was the realisation that, all too often, we listen to clients telling us what they want but that's wrong place to start out from. From today I have made the decision to start each project of by asking clients to:
It's clear to me the value that an architect brings to the design process. There are instances where a homeowner starts-out by saying they want an extension to their home but, through a consultative process in which the architect explores the needs and the lifestyle of the family, they end-up demolishing their house and starting again.
Being a web design professional isn't about selling web design off a price list; being a web design professional is about selling time and sharing knowledge in order to build something with integrity. Selling web design is a process of alignment. Don't tell a design professional what you think they should do, tell them what you expect and what you know - put yourself in context. Talk to me. I'm listening.