The Problem With the Web Design Industry

A few weeks ago my manager called me into his office and explained to me the latest phase of re-organization happening in the large American corporation that employs me: currently, nearly 22,000 employees. With the new org chart comes a new position created to alleviate some of the pressure our department has been going through these past nine months, with long hours and high levels of stress. The position is complimentary to mine. This is good, because someone else can take over the responsibilities I carry that don’t fit my skill set very well. I am an Interactive Designer, at least that’s my job title. I design and develop the front end to a high-volume ecommerce web site. This new person’s skills would be the skills I am not good at: namely illustration and exceptional graphic design skills, but not necessarily an exceptional understanding of HTML and how the web works.

So, my boss asks me to keep my eyes open for anyone I’d like to recommend for the position. I gladly agreed, knowing that anyone I recommend is leagues and leagues ahead of those brought in by the Human Resources department, who clearly doesn’t understand this new industry we’re in, and are not able to get past the embellishments many people put on their resumes these days pertaining to the Internet. Just because you have PageMill and Photoshop doesn’t make you a “web designer.”

I’ve been hunting for about three weeks now, looking at every URL attached to postings in every industry mailing list I belong to. What I’m finding is complete crap. Utter junk. Web sites created by these “web designers” who are clearly missing the vitally important design skills necessary. I’m finding dark text on dark backgrounds, bevelled buttons, obscenely slow pages, broken code, non-compliant HTML, and even the dreaded blink tag. If I see the HTML Writer’s Guild badge, I move on. I have yet to find even one suitable candidate for the position we’re trying to fill. Not one.

I even asked around on some of the same mailing lists to see if anyone was even looking for a full-time position within a major corporation. What I received was about 50 requests from these “web designers” who would gladly design our site for us for “unbelievably low rates.” I received only two responses from people actually looking. Two! One from a student in Croatia and another from a guy in Brazil with his own web design company.

Now that I reflect on this problem I see an obvious cycle. History does repeat itelf you know. Here, let me explain. In the mid 1980’s professionals in the graphic design industry were seeing an extraordinary amount of their business being lost to people who had bought a new-fangled Macintosh computer and a software program called Aldus PageMaker. The seasoned design shop knew that they would have to keep up with the times, and did so, simply as a way not to lose any more business. The problem was, so many people were trying to get into the graphic design industry, that prices were being cut and some really bad design was being produced. Remember all those awful newsletters and brochures with 12 different typefaces, full-page halftone graduations, and horrible clip-art? Ugly as sin.

Well, the same thing’s happening to the web design industry. It’s gotten to a point where the people who are doing the good work don’t even call themselves “web designers” anymore. They’re a “new media studio” or “Internet design shop” but never ever a “web design shop.” The term has become almost like a bad word among the top studios, places like and Vivid Studios.

I’m hoping and praying and have my fingers crossed very tightly that the industry will shake out.That these “web designers” polluting our market will fold up their card tables and pirated software and go onto the next big money-making scheme, leaving us to do our work the way we know how without having to worry about the 15 year-old kid down the street stealing our clients.

With that said, I’m still looking for an exceptional designer who wants to cut their teeth working for the online division of a major American corporation. If you feel that you’re that person, send me your site URL and resume.

“Web designers” need not apply.

Posted by Cameron Barrett at August 10, 1998 11:59 PM