We often describe our industry as being filled with cowboys and amateurs. But is it really that bad?
Yes. From our experience, there are generally 2 types of web design companies; those that know they're incompetent and don't care (the cowboys) and those with good intentions that don't know they're incompetent (the amateurs).
Here are just a few examples.
Unaware of basic legal requirements
A few years ago a local web designer thought it was appropriate to admit on Twitter "I didn't realise that it was a legal requirement to put alt attributes on images".
This is basically a legal requirement under the Disability Discrimination Act for all images on websites to be given descriptions. For a web designer to not have even a basic understanding of the fundamental legal requirements is appalling, but this is unbelievably common.
For a web designer to publicly admit to such incompetence on Twitter is just cringing.
We have worked directly with many other web designers because there are so many companies that do not actually have the required skills to create websites themselves. They basically white label our services.
One of the companies that we have worked with wanted us to develop online shops using the proprietary Interspire platform. This isn't a particularly sophisticated platform and it doesn't really benefit from any noticeable advantages over free open source systems. But we just do what the customer requests.
They gave us a copy of the platform for each site that we created for them. However, whilst looking into the code whilst creating one of the websites, we noticed that it was an illegal, cracked copy of the software.
Needless to say, we have not worked with them again.
This is just yet another example of web design companies using their favourite system instead of choosing the best system for their customers. In all of the cases we worked on for this company, there would have been several better systems to use.
And they would have been free without having to resort to illegal cracked copies.
Web designer can't use a browser
Another web designer that we have worked with had been in the industry for over a decade.
We'd completed a project and the MD was requesting some small changes over the phone. A couple of the changes were so small that I implemented them whilst he was on the phone and told him to "have a look now".
He said that nothing had changed.
I double checked everything. It was all in place, the changes were complete.
But still he insisted that it was exactly the same, no change.
I asked him how he was refreshing the page.
"What do you mean?"
"Are you using the refresh button or using ctrl + R?"
"What's the refresh button? And what does ctrl + R do?"
Yes, I actually had to explain to a web designer how to refresh the page in his browser because he was expecting the changes to just magically appear in front of him.
For a layman, this would be considered fine, no big deal. It comes up fairly often in our customer support calls.
But for a web designer, this is more basic than even "web design 101".
Fundamental misunderstanding of security principles
At a networking meeting I got talking to a competitor about the software that they use.
He said "We use WordPress" - which is usually a bad sign in itself - "but we have also written our own bespoke CMS which we use for our more security focused customers".
He was basically advocating the principle of "security through obscurity" instead of security through rigorous, tried & tested methodology.
The conversation was cringing trying not to publicly embarrass him about his lack of security expertise, so I changed the subject.
The irony is that their clients using WordPress are using an inherently more secure system than their closed source proprietary system designed for their "security focused" customers.
No web design skills AND no project management skills
There is another web design company that we only worked with once. We were recommended to them by a common customer.
They are a specialist web design company. They do nothing but web design, web development, SEO, etc.
Except they don't.
They don't do anything, they outsource everything. So we assumed that they really just specialised in the project management.
This is very common in our industry. A large number of companies don't have any in-house skills, they just project manage subcontractors.
They asked us to quote for creating a website in the osCommerce platform from a design. We asked for the exact specifications, but they just reiterated that they wanted the website constructed from a design that they would provide.
So it was literally just coding up a design.
However, once the job was completed, they kept coming back to us with design changes. Initially just minor tweaks, but it grew to significant changes to the original design.
The design clearly hadn't been signed off by the customer before being given to us.
After the invoice hadn't been paid for several months, we eventually managed to get in touch with them again. They immediately started trying to get a discount claiming several tasks hadn't been done.
In other words, several things they wanted but we're too disorganised to request in the initial quote or at any point in the process.
It turns out that they not only didn't *specialise* in project management, they didn't even understand the *basics* of project management.
Bad handling of a security breach
We were asked by one of our customers to look into their website that had been hacked. We don't manage their website, we just manage their online marketing.
We'd mentioned to them several times over the preceding couple of years that their website management company wasn't upgrading or patching their website software so it was probably only going to be a matter of time before the site got hacked.
And sure enough, the site had been hacked. Repeatedly.
Initially, the website was just being taken down, but then the hackers got more clever and decided to redirect the checkout to their own website so that the visitors gave them all of their credit card details.
Initally, the website management company just moved the site to a new server. But that just moved the security holes and solved nothing. Then they started trying to patch the security holes. But the hackers had clearly had enough time to create their own hidden back doors into the server so that they no longer needed the original access point to get in.
After 3 weeks we got involved and noticed that they hadn't changed any of the passwords. The website had been repeatedly hacked for more than 3 weeks and they hadn't even thought to change the passwords until we insisted. This is beyond incompetent.
The problem was eventually resolved, but our customer estimates that they lost over £200,000 in revenue, and then had to pay the bill for fixing the problem.
So how do you find a decent company?
As a layman, it's almost impossible. There's no industry body to regulate companies, and no official qualifications to use as a guide to competence.
A key problem is that the industry is known as "web design". So lots of people with a bit of an eye for design think that they have all of the required skills to set up websites.
Its definitely not a hard and fast rule, but if you search for a "web development" company instead, you're likely to find a more competent company.
Creating a website is not a design job with a bit of techie stuff, it's a techie job with a bit of design.
It might also be worthwhile checking the qualifications of the web developers. Computer programming is a degree level occupation. So if the web developers aren't educated to degree level, they'd better have a lot of relevant experience to make up for it.
At OpenGlobal, we take our responsibilities seriously. Web design and development is not the simple job that some many people setting up in their spare room think it is. It's a graduate level occupation, with graduate level responsibilities. Contact us today on 0845 269 9624 if you want to have your online presence done right.