Why would you hire a web designer/graphic designer?
May 20, 2014 6:49 PM   Subscribe

With the availability of affordable, easy-to-use website builders like Weebly, customizable blog sites like Wordpress/Blogger, and graphic editors like PicMonkey, what are some of the reasons you would hire someone to do the designing or building for you?

I'm a self-taught graphic designer with a bit of web design experience and I've been thinking about trying freelance designing full-time. But I worry a bit.

The only clients I've ever had were people who were very inexperienced with computers. They hired me because the idea of setting up a site, even using a simple builder like Weebly, was incredibly intimidating and confusing to them. But I would like to think they are in the minority of the customer pool?

I'm wondering why clients would pay a lot of money to have someone build a simple site for them when there are a lot of web apps they could use? I know a site builder won't build anything super sophisticated and complex, but most people don't seem to need that.

Do these people just not have time? Are there a lot more computer un-savvy people out there than I thought?

I guess my real question is why do people hire designers and what do they expect out of them that they can't get from an site builder or design app?

posted by joyeuxamelie to Work & Money (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Also! I don't mean to imply that graphic designers are somehow replaceable by apps or programs!! So, please don't take offense, fellow designers~

I guess I'm just trying to get into the head of the average customer and see what compels them to hire a designer.

I've always been someone who would rather figure out how to do things myself and try and try until I learn how to do it right, so the idea of hiring someone to do it for me is not something I'm used to. (At least with things that CAN be learned with a bit of dedication).
posted by joyeuxamelie at 6:51 PM on May 20, 2014

Having people do things they really don't have the skillset for just leads to half baked projects where the end result feels amateurish. It takes a lot of know how to make something look professional. It's more cost (and time efficient) to hire out than add some project to someone's list who really is better off doing whatever their actual job this is.

We've tried doing our own stuff at my job and the concluusion is it takes forever because we have a lot of other responsibilities, it has an amateur look to it because none of us have that skillset, and we would have saved time and money by just hiring someone else.
posted by Aranquis at 6:56 PM on May 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Tech companies have huge needs for good designers. You're right, there's a big dip in need for people who just need a CMS / simple site. However, beyond that, if you're writing your own platforms, you need people who can solve user experience problems and build delightful user interfaces.

Companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc hire teams of designers to solve these problems. Some of the designers are more on the product side, answering questions like "What features will we provide so users benefit the most?". Others think about: "How will the users interact with our service?" Others answer: "How can we make this make sense and be intuitive?" Others design the pixels to be beautiful. (Obviously, there's overlap here.) These sorts of things can't easily be solved with cookie-cutter site builders.
posted by andrewconner at 6:57 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Why would anyone hire a web designer" is kind of a strange question, and not particularly answerable.

You're probably thinking about it the wrong way: instead of trying to find gaps to fill for the "average" consumer, figure out what you're really good at and go find the customers who need someone really good at that thing.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:02 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think there is a wide range of reasons, and endless combinations of them. I'm assuming you mean small-business type clients. Maybe rephrase the question - why do some people use designers or tailors when you can buy clothes off the shelf? It's a wide range of reasons - the more you think about it, the more examples and reasons you notice.

You've listed a few big ones, but also:
- Some people don't trust that they have enough fashion / style / technical sense, so they want someone else with chops to make those choices for them, so they can have confidence in the results because they have confidence in that process.
- Some people want to know that their site is unique.
- Some people don't want to be bogged down in details and want it taken care of
- Some people want someone they can just call when there is a problem
- Some people want it done quickly.
- Some people just don't find an off-the-shelf solution that feels quite right.
- Some people don't want to do what the amateurs do. Dress for the job you want, not the one you have, etc.

There is also another big one: You're not aware just how much you've internalized. These tools may make it trivial for you to assemble a site, but they make it possible for others. (In my field, I am frequently surprised at how much of what I thought was obvious universal understanding is actually the product of specialized skill and not universal or obvious at all.)
posted by anonymisc at 7:03 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I hire good designers because it's a specialized skill that I don't have and can recognize the difference between good and bad design, and even appreciate attempts to quantify that difference. I know that for me to cadge together some javascript or php is going to take a long time, still likely be buggy and probably insecure, and that doing the actual layout of HTML is tedious sometimes beyond imagining.

It's the same reason I hire a print designer, even though a lot more of that is work that I can do myself — because it's a better use of my resources to hire a specialist to do specialist work and for me to focus my time and skills on things that other people can't do as well or as quickly.

Two more important points: Even with something like wordpress, you can get a LOT more out of them if you know what you're doing, and it's also worth it to me to have a design that doesn't just look like a generic out-of-the-box site, because sites like that read as less trustworthy and professional to me.

Also, yes, the majority of people have no fucking clue about how good design works. Even younger people, who are nominally supposed to be web native or whatever the fuck, will frequently be unable to manage even the level of HTML savvy it takes to post a link on MeFi.

(Honestly, I find that more often a detriment than an opportunity — the number of times that I have to explain that we can't "just do" whatever change is requested is uncountable. People have no idea how much work is required for good design.)
posted by klangklangston at 7:07 PM on May 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Why do people go to restaraunts when they can go to the grocery store and cook for themselves at home?

plenty of reasons....

I use weebly for my business website and while it looks decent, it lacks a professionals touch that comes with training and experience.

i think there is still a major market for designers and programmers out there....there will be plenty of people who, as time goes on, can and will do stuff on their own, but still plenty of folks and companies that will need more professional help!

go for it.
posted by TwilightKid at 7:19 PM on May 20, 2014

Just look at MetaFilter. You can't build that to your exact needs with a template.
posted by Dansaman at 7:28 PM on May 20, 2014

In addition to Aranquis’s point, there is the fact that DIY web sites look like DIY web sites.

Plus there are all of the domain registration and hosting issues that you can help with, if you can, to let your clients differentiate themselves from their competitors, on a higher level. bluedogparks.com is a much more impressive domain than bluedogparks.blogspot.com or any of the numerous alternatives.
posted by yclipse at 7:34 PM on May 20, 2014

I sell web design for a living. There are millions of small businesses in the US, and some percentage of them will always try to do it themselves. You don't care about them. There are more than enough people looking for help that pondering the question of why some don't buy is a waste of your time. If you are decent and have a modicum of ability to market yourself you won't want for work.

Also, the minute the website needs to talk to another system a developer is needed.
posted by COD at 7:35 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've never hired a web designed but I've considered it. I had a great idea (sez me) for a website but the technical end was more complicated than I could do, and I couldn't find any easy-to-use templates that would've done it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:38 PM on May 20, 2014

I do a lot of web development in my day job, and some on a side job (the side job is mainly putting together simple Wordpress sites, but we do either customized template work or totally custom graphics depending on the client's needs).

The others upthread have hit it, but a) what seems simple to you is awfully complicated to some people. You may be good at running a restaurant, being a lawyer, etc., but all the steps from registering a domain to installing a CMS to maintaining the content involve technical know- how that gets easy after you've done it dozens or hundreds of times, but is far from trivial when you haven't.

b) the other reason is time and priorities (there's a great economics term for this, but I forget it). If I could be an established lawyer, I'd do that. Some specialities make $200-400 (and more) an hour. Me, I'm charging $50-100 an hour. So if you're a lawyer, do you strain your brain learning another skill so you can avoid paying $50-100, or do you concentrate on your job so you can earn $200-400 and pay some other guy to do it? Further, if the website goes down while you're on your way to court do you a) stop what you're doing and try to fix it b) get your non-technical admin to figure it out while he or she is answering phones or c) let us fix it?

It's true that canned sites are cutting into the market for local business sites where they wanted it to be $100 and/or they were going to have their 12 year old do it. Good for them. If that's all you can afford, and/or you have the time to kill while waiting for customers to come in, go to wordpress.com, square, or whatever. And I mean that sincerely. You've got to do what's right for you. My pitch to my clients is that we can do a better job, and you (the client) will get a turn-key result.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:41 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and to speak to graphic design - my career in promotional products/wearables has convinced me that the average person has absolutely NO IDEA what looks right, even at the most basic level. My own talent in this area is only marginal, but years in this business has convinced me that graphic design is the most under-appreciated creative art, period (and I'm a musician on the side). I mean, as a clarinet player, I don't get paid much for gigs I do, but at least people DON'T COME ON STAGE AND ASSUME THEY KNOW HOW TO PLAY BETTER THAN ME. I don't know how you all don't go on murder sprees. I have no solution to offer on this; none.

But I can say, on the positive side, that clients who get it, get it. It does help that doing layout work is REALLY time consuming., and that the computer/mechanical printing processes needed to reproduce something generally require something done in vector art, which Microsoft paint (so far) can't produce.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:45 PM on May 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do not underestimate how intimidating the process of creating a web site seems to a lot of people, even a basic Weebly-type site.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:56 PM on May 20, 2014

You can give someone a set of ingredients but there's no guarantee they'll be able to cook an edible meal with it. Similarly, you can give someone a copy of Photoshop or DIY web tools and there's no guarantee they'll be able to make a usable, attractive interface out of it. And these days online businesses live or die based on the first impressions their site gives off, so a smart person won't underestimate it's importance.

Your average person vastly over rates how easy design is, there are a lot of self taught designers out there who think a couple of books, some software and a few weeks messing around means they can call themselves a designer.

Sure, you may get a few with innate design skills but generally, there is no replacement for a good eye, four years of design school spent developing this, understanding how a user interacts with a website (GUI) and multiple years on the job under good mentors.

With design, like anything else, education and time spent honing your craft counts for a lot and it shows in the finished product. Otherwise I might as well grab my ingredients, call myself a five star chef and set up restaurant.
posted by Jubey at 10:04 PM on May 20, 2014

Drupal & Wordpress don't make web designers obsolete, just more specialized. We still have to spend time adjusting themes to match branding guidelines, etc. So we still hire web designers to adjust themes and manage the web presence. Plus, even though I know how to use Inkscape pretty well, its not like I really know how to make awesome graphics.

And specialization is the answer. Sure, a manager might be able to do those things, but they could also outsource it to you, and use their newly found freetime to write more performance reviews or whatever they get paid more than us to do. Or more seriously, programmers / system administrators don't automatically know their way around CSS enough to replace you, and are sufficiently more expensive per hour than the average freelance designer that your specialization thrives.

Another thing that high traffic sites do is A/B testing, where they test changes to the site by randomly giving a portion of the traffic the old site and another portion the new site and seeing which one brings in more revenue. This is not something many people know how to do, how it works, or even what the tools are. I suspect this sort of statistics gathering may become a good way to do repeat business. Knowing the last time you were brought on to design a site you improved sales calls by x% would be a pretty good pitch, IMO. So maybe learning your way around Google Analytics is a good idea.
posted by pwnguin at 10:27 PM on May 20, 2014

I'm sure you'll get enough work if you're good by today's standards, but you're right to be concerned if you're wondering about the next few years. There will be some service(s) that makes awesome-looking stuff for just about any pedestrian website need. Code generation is getting better, automatic template customization is getting better, word is spreading, etc. And, more people are going to be aware of those options, like your clueless friends. I definitely send the clueless over to Squarespace or Wordpress.com whereas I once would have made them something.

However, since organizations that currently stand out just because they have design and coding by an average professional won't stand out anymore, they will have to hire very good professionals that can do better than the standard tools or use the tools exceptionally well if they want to continue standing out. Not every organization will choose to continue. At the very high end, exceptional organizations will continue to pay well for exceptional work.

This isn't just happening in design. You can get data piped around by existing services in ways that used to require custom programming, and that trend is not stopping.

You can see exactly this trend in desktop publishing. At some point, Microsoft Word and Publisher got good enough and most organizations stopped having professionals design most letters, fliers, etc. This stopped a lot of pedestrian designers from getting work.

At the same time, the standard went up for eye-catching, well-designed, etc., professional tools stayed ahead of what Word and Publisher could do, and so there is still a market for design, but only if it's lovely work and only for companies that need to stand out.

So, I'd only encourage you to get into the business now if you can look at themes/features at a site like SquareSpace or Wordpress.com say, "that's not good enough for my customers," and then deliver on that boast reliably.
posted by michaelh at 7:27 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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