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How many Website Design companies??!

Now I am not normally one to pass judgement on other people and other companies, but today I received a flyer through my letterbox from a startup website design company based in my area. Whenever I see a new company in our industry the first thing I do is log on to their website and have a look at their design portfolio and list of clients. 

Whilst their website was nothing hideous, it did feature the usual cliched stock images of women using laptops (I am not sure why they are always using laptops? Do women not use desktop computers?). Alarm bells rang when the rather small portfolio included a website which showcased the musical talents of someone by the same name as the director of the web design company. It was then that I thought ‘Oh no, another one’.

We seem to be overrun (in the South Devon area at least) by hundreds of people claiming to be web designers and graphic designers who offer their services at ridiculous prices and who offer such a wide range of services they could never be a specialist. 

Similarly, I came across a website advertising the services of a Torquay based web design company which also sent alarm bells ringing when I read their list of services as follows:

  • Website design
  • Photography
  • Logo design
  • Setting up Internet Connections
  • Setting up printers
  • Networking
  • Setting Up Ebay / Facebook / MySpace accounts

…and the list goes on. The most worrying thing about the above company is their price list. They are currently advertising logo design from between £45 and £60 (although this is free when you order a web design package!). You can also take advantage of their ’Free Home Page Trial’ in which you can have the home page of your website designed with no obligation to buy! Now, as I say, I am not normally one to comment on how other people run their companies, but this is surely pricing themselves out of the market (not to mention making it harder for the rest of us).

The worst thing about the companies I have mentioned is the quality of work produced. A quick check against the WC3 Validator reported over 103 errors on the home page alone (and 124 errors on the first example I mentioned). This combined with dead links, links which open in a new window for no reason, slow download speeds and table based layouts all show the quality of workmanship is simply not there. 

The scary thing is that a quick Google search showed there are many more companies offering the same cheap services.

Reading other blogs it seems that this is something that all designers feel quite passionate about (especially in relation to logo design). I recently read a post by Tara on her Graphic Design Blog in which she tells of an incident in which a company had come to a designer friend of hers after having had their newly designed logo added to there company stationary and to a fleet of vehicles, only to discover that another company (from the same industry as them) already uses that very same logo. It seems that it is only after an incident like this that a client learns the benefit of seeking a skilled and professional designer, rather than trying to save a few pounds and getting it done cheap.

However, not all potential clients have had this experience and it can be frustrating having to explain why our prices are higher than the company down the road who will complete the whole project for a lot less money and throw a free logo design in for good measure!

Don’t get me wrong, there are many talented web designers and programmers in the South Devon area, some of which we have been lucky enough to work with but there seems to be a new web / design company cropping up every day!

We recently wrote a blog post about the funny things clients say and ask for and the general feedback from our readers was that it is our obligation to educate our clients to the reasoning and processes behind our industry. The problem is, businesses are based on money, and it’s very hard to explain to the client the difference between a £45 logo design and the price that would be charged by a professional graphic designer.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Do you feel there are lots of companies in your area letting the industry down?  How do you explain to your clients the differences between the service you offer compared to a much cheaper company? Or are you a designer / company who offers cheap services and feels you have a valid reason for this?

More articles on this subject:

Why logo design does not cost $5.00 - By Jacob at Just Creative Design

What’s your logo worth? - By David Airey

6 Reasons Why a Logo Should Cost More than your Lunch - By Tara at Graphic Design Blog

Posted by Steve

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Posted on Saturday, August 16th, 2008 at 6:50 pm
Posted In Featured Articles, Freelancing, Graphic Design, Logo Design, Web Design |

21 Responses to “How many Website Design companies??!”

  • David Airey says:

    Oh boy. You know the competition isn’t too high when a service they offer is ’setting up a MySpace account’.

    Thankfully for me, location isn’t a barrier to new business, as the majority of my clients come from overseas. One issue this does create, however, is the exchange rate, and the current strength of the pound.

  • Tommy Day says:

    This is a big problem in Indianapolis, Indiana too. Lots of little design companies churning out crap on a daily basis, and unfortunately, lots of clients who don’t know better and actually pay for it.

  • Johan Martin says:

    It’s a problem everywhere and it only increases as the web’s reach becomes wider. A good friend of mine told me that I’m really selling is trust more than anything else. So, if a client isn’t willing to pay for trustworthy work, they probably aren’t a trustworthy client and should be passed by.

  • Chelle says:

    I know I use a laptop :) But it does seem cliched when you see the same things over and over again.

    I do a little graphic design on the side for a few old coworkers & my own projects…I never charged much simply because I don’t consider myself a “professional”…

    It sort of goes to supply and demand - you have to figure out what makes it worth your time & talent, but also make sure it’s reasonable enough that you get enough business to be steady but not over your head. Many companies start off inexpensively, then raise the prices as more people become familiar with them & they can’t handle the extra workload.

  • aaron says:

    i’m one of those little designers that charges ridiculously low rates. After someone asked me advice on how much a website should cost, I did some research and found the results shocking. Trash sites are built by people that charge $100 to $10,000. Personally, I do it mainly as a hobby and tend to work with small customers that simply cant afford to spend $1000 on a site. While my sites are not spectacular, they’re typically well put together and well designed to web standards. I think the bigger crime in this case are companies that charge thousands of dollars for inferior design.

  • Steve says:

    Thanks for your comments.

    David,

    I wish location wasn’t a barrier for us. We do have some clients from outside our area but the majority are local due to word of mouth etc. This means that local competitors offering services (even setting up MySpace accounts!) at ridiculously low prices does affect us and our potential clients. We haven’t been lucky enough to work with overseas clients yet but hope that we will in the future, although the exchange rate must be hard to get around as you say.

    Tommy.

    It seems that this is a problem all over the world. You will always have someone undercutting your prices. As I said in the post, the tricky part is educating your potential clients as to the differences between the service you offer and the service offered by a cheaper alternative.

    Johan,

    A very good point, maybe you do not want clients who are not prepared to pay for quality work.

    Chelle,

    I hate those stock images. I think it is different when you are only offering some cheap / free services to friends and co-workers as it is not your main income, and I imagine you are not advertising this?

    Aaron,

    It is interesting to see the point of view of someone who charges lesser amounts for their services. One of the reasons I published the blog article was to discuss the reasoning behind pricing for graphic design and web design work. I think you are absolutely right when you say that no matter what a website costs, it can still be designed / built badly and companies that charge the earth for poor work are also a problem. The problem I have with the example companies in my local area is that, unlike yourself, they do not produce good quality work built to web standards. In my opinion this is the biggest problem as the client has not been explained the importance of web standards and CSS driven sites.

  • Hi guys,

    I really enjoyed reading this article. I have recently graduated from uni and I have aspirations of starting my own design studio in a few years.

    However, before doing so I realised that I needed a few years experience under my belt and have got myself a job, as a developer in a full service agency to learn the trade.

    I was wondering if a standard quality kitemark would be of use. I think this article has persuaded me to start a movement towards one. Maybe every designer/developer who can prove their quality to a panel can display the kitemark/logo on their website/promotional material.

    Do you think this would be a good idea? Would this be something you would join?

    Thanks for the reading guys!

  • Great post, the same thing is happening in my neck of the woods in East Yorkshire at the moment.

    I work for an agency and a while ago we approached by a company to produce a simple 10 page CMS website. We quoted about £2500 which by standards was pretty cheap I reakon? But for this the company were going to get two designers with over 10years of experience each working on the look and feel of the project. As well as myself, developing the site (me having 8years in the industry) to full standards compliance.

    However we got a phone call from them just before starting the project to say that they had been approached by an 18 year old kid who had just finished his A levels, who said he would design and build the site for £200.

    Suffice to say they ended up with a non-cms, non-compliant and frankly hideous looking website out of the process. The main issue though is that they were happy with it and thought it was great.

    I think that there are always going to be cowboys undercutting you by thousands on each job, the problem is whilst the clients are happy to pay peanuts and be content with there piece of trash logo/website/etc.. the problem will remain an issue.

  • Dot Design says:

    This has become more of a problem, but as long as you offer quality at a price that reflects your skills and work then you will be fine. These cheap “I think I’m a designer because I own a copy of Adobe CS3 and have a mac” do not have the skills or track record to compete with you. From the look of your portfolio you have good clients and are producing good work, so don’t worry. Stick to your guns and the cheap fakes will fall by the way side. Thats is whats happened with my business, I believe that some clients have stuck with me because I continue to produce good work, they trust me, I solve their problems, I go above and beyond and they can count on me to produce the best work I can for them. Am I blowing my own trumpet too much? But seriously you probably do the same otherwise you wouldn’t have a successful business!

    A good subject, but one I don’t think a quality designer needs to worry about.

    Rant over!

  • Steve says:

    Micheal,

    I think some sort of kite mark would be a great idea. I know back in my early Uni days (before I chose the graphic design route) I did a lot of video and film production and at the time looked to join the Institute of videography (www.iov.co.uk) which is a similar principle. They have a governing board which, from what I hear, are really strict in who they allow to join. Maybe something in a similar vein could work for web design or graphic design?

    Gavin,

    I think you raise a very good point. I would imagine that 90% of the time the client is happy with their ‘piece of trash’, as you put it. I still think this comes back to the fact that clients sometimes need some educating when it comes to web and graphic design. Why would you worry about web standards if you did not know they existed? Why would you worry about having your site built in CSS rather that tables if you don’t know the difference?

    Thanks for your comment and I really like the name Penguin Zoo, please let me know when the site is up and running as I would love to have a look.

    Gareth (Dot Design),

    Nice to hear from you and nice to see you’re back blogging.

    I would say that whilst the subject does not worry me, I do find it very frustrating. I think the worst thing about it is when a client can not see the difference between the work a cheap designer (with a copy of CS3 and a mac) produces and the work we produce (and I hope there is a difference - thanks for the nice comments regarding our portfolio by the way). But as Johan said before, these are the sort of clients you can probably do without!

    Thanks for all your comments!

    Steve

  • [...] article asked questions of the new and ‘questionable’ design start-ups that are springing up [...]

  • John Smith says:

    The link on the bottom of your page says “XHTML 1.0 Strict” but your doctype is Transitional. Just thought I’d point that out…

  • Steve says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the heads up. I had copied the link from our main flash site which is strict but the blog is transitional. I have updated the footer.

    Thanks again

    Steve

  • Danny Hinde says:

    Very interesting article! I think the work of graphic designers/web developers is highly underestimated - however most people do not understand the benefits of hiring a profesional, trustworthy designer. In Wales there seems to be a lack of design or web design firms, I actually can’t think of ANY from the top of my head!

    And regarding your location. Wow, just did a google search and can’t believe how many different firms there are!! At least some of them can differentiate themselves with services like setting up Facebook accounts!

  • Steve says:

    Hi Danny,

    Thanks for your comments. You are certainly lucky to not have many web companies in your area. As you said, a google search for graphic designer or web designer in Devon will return a huge amount of results! You are right though, at least some of them separate themselves by offering these sort of services! But as we have learnt, clients wanting these sort of services are not the sort of clients we want to work for!

    Steve

  • Shauni says:

    It is overwhelming just how many design companies there are out there. I don’t mind freelance designers, but dislike personality-devoid companies. Recently for my own design portfolio website I’ve been researching what names have already been taken- and, for cripes sake, so many! I tried every word and concept I loved and you could bet there was a web-design company with the name already. And the most hurtful thing was, thier websites were hideous! Or they snagged a name like ”Queen Bee Designs”, yet nothing remotely of that theme was evident in thier logo, website or colour schemes. What a god darn waste!!!!

    I want rid of all these cheap and love-less companies. Logos in particular are our little babies that we lovingly craft and send off into the word to try thier best. They shouldn’t be mechanically slopped out or copied for several other clients! :( x

  • Hi Eightyone,

    Apologies for the length of this post in advance, but I needed to get things off my chest!

    I briefly skimmed over this post of yours when I first saw it a few months ago, so thought I’d check back again today and read it properly!

    It’s a very interesting read and, like yourselves, I too get so totally frustrated and angry when I see some of the hideous creations that come through my letterbox offering me design and website services.

    Like most other ‘genuine designers’ out there, I don’t claim to be the best in the world, but like yourselves I have been to college to study my chosen design career and also worked damn hard in various other design agencies over the past 15 years to get where I am now.

    As you can imagine my anger rate goes through the roof when I look at these websites, especially in the local area, that claim to offer quality design and website services for peanuts, blah blah blah!

    When I see these, to be honest, a small part of me starts to panic a little. I start to think, “Oh no, these small companies are going to be taking all my design work, they can offer the services for close to nothing and I’m going to have to give up my freelance design career”, etc, etc… but then I think, NO!

    Let’s look at what these people are REALLY offering? Apart from CHEAP, BAD design, the answer is very little. OK, they could possibly create a logo for someone for £25 or even less, but guaranteed it will have either been copied from someone else’s logo design down the road or taken from some hideous clip art disc. The choice of font, colour schemes will be the most obvious, tacky ones available and the end result would be a complete mess. The client might say he’s happy, but I doubt it very much!

    When you look at their website creations, that’s when things really get messed up. More often than not, the logo creation they’ve scraped together from the bottom of their shoe doesn’t match in with the only website template they have bought off the internet. Still, they don’t care. They just chuck it in and hope the client doesn’t notice that the colours don’t match, the font is completely different, and the background tinted image of some ‘burning flames’ don’t quite fit in with their cleaning businesses image. (That’s exactly what a client of mine was living with before he came to me for his design work!)

    I admit, I’ve produced some acceptable logos in an hour or 2 but that’s only when under real pressure. Even then I’d like to think it still would’ve looked quite presentable and created correctly. If I hadn’t, then I wouldn’t have just stopped there and instead carried on until it was right. As for my websites, again I certainly don’t know everything and I’m constantly learning new things, but at least they will be designed to fit in with the look and feel of the logo I’ve just created along with every other part of their project to give my client a nice set of promotional work.

    There’s always going to be businesses out there that claim they’re designers, both web and graphic, but the majority of them AREN’T from a design background. They just think they warrant being classed as a designer just because they can type a few letters and move a clipart picture around a page. If you look at their websites very few of them have portfolio pages or good examples of work, which must tell us something. They’re usually plastered with ‘too good to be true’ price offers in an attempt to suck in the general public. This is usually because they’ve got no clients in the first place, and obviously don’t get recommendations from previous clients for good quality work.

    The main difference is, us designers care about our work. We’re extremely passionate about the things we create (sometimes too passionate) and would rather work an extra day for free to get the job looking right and to have genuinely ‘happy’ clients, rather than try and fob them off with bad design and poor workmanship.

    A TRUE designer is the sort of person who scrutinises every piece of print than passes through his fingers (even the Chinese menu!), checking for print quality and type errors. The kind of person who’s always looking at van signage or posters and thinking “Oh, that’s a nice font” or “I can’t believe they chose that picture with that background!” I can’t imagine these ‘pretend designers’ thinking in the same way.

    If a business chooses to use these kinds of designers, they’re just as bad a deserve the kind of crap artwork they’re paying peanuts for!

    I think if you’re good at your job, produce good quality design & web work, and know what you’re talking about (or even admit it and be honest when you don’t) then the clients see this, trusts you and more often than not continues to use you and tell their friends about the excellent service they’ve received.

    That’s my massive rant over… for now anyway. Apologies if that was a little long, but it so winds me up. I’d love to be able to name and shame the culprits, but I’ve really got to get on with some good quality design work now!

    Thank you - Mark (Frankman Design)

  • Steve says:

    Shauni - I think the lack of love is also what bothers me the most. A logo should be pondered over, turned upside down and inside out to ensure it is perfect. The idea of cheap logo factory, churning out thoughtless, lifeless logo’s is heart wrenching!

    Mark - Don’t apologise for the length of your comment, I’m glad you could get it off your chest! I think you summed it up when you said “If a business chooses to use these kind of designers, they’re just as bad and deserve the kind of crap artwork they’re paying peanuts for!” I couldn’t agree more! We can’t compete with these types of businesses as we cannot/will not create poor quality work for poor quality prices!

  • glen says:

    Hmmm. Its a tricky one. Both clients and “companies” are ignorant as to what is involved in making a good website and therefore under value our skills. But it swings both ways. Many companies won’t look at the cheaper web design companies or freelancers because they assume that they are incompetent and/or unprofessional.

    I’ve been on both sides and yes it annoys me. Still, we all have choices in life.

    I am/was a freelancer web designer/developer and i have battled and battled over the years to bring in enough business to sustain a living. And yes, one of the biggest problems is that sooo many web design “companies” suck! Not just the cheap ones!

    Being young and single, I decided to move out to Asia/South America where living conditions are cheaper. There’s actually a surprising large number of British born web designers living in Chiang Mai (northern Thailand). It is, however, significantly harder to bring in your own projects when you live in these countries and so you have to rely on contractors a lot more which comes with its own annoyances.

    Whichever way you choose to go about it….its a pain in the arse!

    If i may rant about one more thing…

    Many Indian web design companies can’t resist throwing a can of SPAM at everything! In return, this makes approaching prospective customers that much harder. For, example I spoke to a local removals company and they told me they get several phone calls every week from Indian web design companies and they said it gets very annoying. And of course, mail shots are now pointless due to the amount of SPAM thrown around. The Indian companies have very militant marketing tactics, offer very low prices and often deliver poor results (not all of course). This makes obtaining any kind of outsourcing partnership very difficult.

    Anyway, i got fed up with being angry about it so I gave up and moved on. I know that seems like a defeatist attitude but the industry is getting tougher and it doesn’t look like that will change.

    That’s just my opinion anyway. Thanks for the interesting read.

    P.S. I just had a look at where you were based and coincidentally, I am not far from Paignton myself…so…if you’ve got any jobs going…hehe :)

  • Lu says:

    Hi Glen,

    You raise some really interesting points. I do believe that clients commissioning a website do need to be educated as to what makes a good website and why. Just because someone is a freelancer doesn’t mean they can’t make a perfectly good website. Sometimes they are much better than the agencies as they work with the client and understand their needs rather than the clients objectives being passed round in a giant game of Chinese whispers by an agency.

    Impressive to read you’ve worked in a number of situations. I agree about militant marketing tactics - it’s a real shame.

    So you say you’ve moved on, are you not in the design industry at all anymore?

    I’m afraid we aren’t looking to hire anyone at the mo, but it’s always great to meet like minded individuals!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Jo Cox says:

    This is a problem everywhere. The usual story is of someone who has been made redundant or had kids and decided to set up a little business to run during the day whilst they’re at school. They typically have little skill or previous experience and often do a bad job in pretty much every area. I’ve seen webpages that don’t even have titles!

    But whilst I do find it insulting that some people think it’s ‘easy’, as if our profession isn’t that important, thankfully there are also enough clients out there who understand the difference. They know that it’s about more than just pretty pictures on a screen, and that when you pay for a professional you’re getting insight and marketing expertise too.

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