A few years ago, I wrote a post called “Why Web Designers Should Code by Hand,” explaining that hand-coding gave you much greater control, resulting in better, faster-loading templates.
I think that was right at the time, in the world of Dreamweaver and FrontPage. Today, so much has changed that I need to do a 180-degree change, and tell you…
Today, web designers should QUIT coding!
I’m a professional web designer. I charge decent fees and deliver excellent web marketing campaigns. And I barely code, ever.
The reason is not that I don’t have the skills. The reason is that it no longer makes sense to craft web pages by hand.
My Last Hand-Coded Web Page
Here’s the last web page I coded by hand. It’s probably one of only two I’ve coded myself in the past 12 months, and it’s just a very simple squeeze page for a client.
But if I had to do a landing page today, I wouldn’t do it that way. I’d use either LeadPages or Thrive Content Builder, without a second thought! Why? Because I’d get an equally good result (probably a better result), in a fraction of the time. And that’s good business.
Let me explain…
The Two Types of Web Designer
Web design has changed dramatically over the past few years. Today, we have great platforms that actually make publishing a good-looking, functional website so easy and cheap that web publishing is now a commodity.
(For a lot more great insight on this Shift, and what it means for the web design sector, check out my 25-minute video: “What Really Matters in Web Design”.)
So today, there are two main types of web designer, and the two roles are very distinct.
The best way to understand it is to think about a typical young city dweller who has just moved into an empty apartment, and who wants to decorate their living space.
More than likely, they’ll start with a furniture catalogue like this one…
Now, when it comes to designing that living space, it actually uses two types of design!
- The first design that happens is the IKEA designers who design the furniture and furnishings that go into the catalogue.
- Next, the homeowner designs their living space, using the products in the catalogue.
They’re both design! They’re both valid. And we have to agree it’s an extremely efficient way to get a room furnished that looks good and functions well, at the right price.
The reason is that the components have been well designed. They’re relatively high-quality, they’ve been tested, and because they’re mass-produced they’re also very affordable.
It would be ridiculous for every homeowner to decorate and to furnish every room completely from scratch! Can you imagine carving all the furniture for your house, weaving your own carpets, and printing your own wallpaper? No, it would be ridiculous!
But isn’t that the way most websites are designed today?
So what are the two types of web designer?
- First, we have product developers. The guys who work for WooThemes or Copyblogger or Thrive, or any of the other forward-thinking marketing product houses.
- Second, there’s you and I, the client-facing marketing web designers. We use the components (the platforms, themes, plugins, or assets the first guys make) to create great websites quickly and cost-effectively.
Now, for the first three quarters of my web design career, if you needed a website to look a certain way, you had to design and build it to look that way. There was no other choice.
Today there is a choice.
If you’re still designing and building websites for clients by hand, you’re wasting your time and your client’s budget!
(The only exception is a niche market for large-scale $100,000-plus custom projects. But I’m talking about the majority, the 90%++ of marketing websites for small or medium-sized organizations.)
Custom design and hand-coding are ludicrously expensive. If you’re going to invest the massive amounts of time it takes to do that, you’d better be re-selling the output of that work over and over again.
Unless it’s your job to build templates to sell on the market, don’t build them!
For us, though, for the client-facing marketing web designers, if we need to make a website, an e-commerce site, or a landing page, it’s stupid to start from scratch! Use a template that already works, deliver a great product, delight your client, get paid, and move on.
TEN Great Reasons to Quit Coding NOW
- It’s easier
- It’s faster
- It’s cheaper
- It’s less risky
- It’s better design
- More flexible
- More creative
1. It’s Easier
There’s no question that it’s easier to publish great-looking web content, whether simple landing pages or entire websites, using the tools we have at our disposal today.
If I had to make an e-commerce site for a client, I would use Shopify unless I had a really good reason not to.
If I had to make a magazine-style site, I’d use Thrive’s Performag theme (that’s the one I use on this site), without question.
However, I’d add a word of warning. Just because something is easier doesn’t necessarily make the result any better! It’s also easy to use a poor-quality WordPress theme, but that could result in a badly-designed product, and cause you headaches later on.
I’ll only ever advocate using the highest-quality platforms and themes! When you can get an incredibly powerful theme for under $100 (the cost of one or two hours of a pro designer’s or developer’s time), why would you even consider going for a cheaper option?
The result is that now anyone can publish something that looks good and works online. Should we be worried about that? No! Why not? Because marketing success has never been about being able to publish good-looking, functional websites. True success comes down to core factors like understanding your market, designing great propositions, and compelling copywriting.
2. It’s Faster
No question. Hands-down. Reusing things that are already 90% made for you is far, far quicker than making it yourself from scratch.
If I were to build a theme like the one this site runs on, it would take me MONTHS. And it would probably not work as well. And it would probably break.
Here’s the thing. I’m not one of the world’s best theme designers and developers! But I have the choice today. I can do something mediocre myself, OR I can get something great that has been made by a specialist expert, AND save time!
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Stand on the shoulders of giants, and expand your horizons.
In your business, the time saving translates directly to cost savings. If you create online marketing campaigns for clients, you can then reduce your hourly rates (if you use hourly rates). However, we should really be delivering and charging based on value delivered, not time spent. So using pre-fabricated components could mean you become more competitive, or more profitable, or a combination of the two.
Either way, working smart means you can deliver better overall results for your clients. And that creates a lot of possibilities.
3. It’s Cheaper
Using design components is similar to the DRY (“Don’t Repeat Yourself”) principle that we find in programming. Developers know, if something works, code it once and use it many times! To a pro coder, starting over every time is dumb. It’s no different in design and publishing.
So reusing great pre-made assets makes design and publishing faster, and that in turn saves money.
- If you’re a business owner and you previously had to employ or hire people to do your web publishing, it can now be done by people with less skill, saving you money!
- If you’ve ever had to outsource design work to freelance designers, now you can effectively outsource that work to design components instead, saving you money!
- If you do web design and publishing for your own business, or for clients, you can now do it in a fraction of the time, which means you can get on with other important work, potentially making you money!
Can you afford NOT to?
4. It’s Less Risky
On the subject of saving money, I have a clause in my standard web design contract that says, “If you find anything that doesn’t work as specified in the first 6 weeks after delivery, we’ll fix it at no cost to you.”
Now, let’s take the Scenario A. This is where I’ve painstakingly and lovingly built a client’s website myself by hand. I’ve built the back-end database and coded the PHP myself. I’ve even spent days testing it, or paid someone else to test it. This site has taken me six weeks of working long hours, and I’m justifiably proud.
If something goes wrong, I have to fix it, and that means COST. And, because I’ve made everything myself, and only spent days testing it, the probability of getting stung by those extra costs are
not inconsiderable. Plus, the knock-on effect on my time could seriously negatively impact other projects, potentially resulting in real losses.
Alternatively, I could choose Scenario B, and use some pre-made components that have only taken me minutes to install.
Now, these components probably haven’t had weeks of development and testing. No, they have probably had months or YEARS of testing. In the case of platforms like WordPress, probably DECADES. We’re talking about products that have been on the market for months or years, which have already been road-tested by hundreds or thousands of previous customers.
Of course, if something goes wrong, I may still be obliged to fix it. But which scenario is more likely?
5. It’s Better Design
Here’s a contentious benefit, but I believe it’s true.
Let’s take the broad view of what “design” means. To me, here’s its purest meaning…
Design is creating something new to solve a problem.
So to design doesn’t mean you have to create a solution from the raw ingredients. In fact, I’d argue you’re doing a better job as a designer if you can create something that does exactly what it needs to do with the minimum of cost.
You don’t need to be creative. In real business terms, there are no prizes for being original. In fact, as I wrote many years ago, it’s downright dangerous.
If tried and tested components, frameworks, and plugins are a good idea, so is tried and tested design.
When something is proven to work over time, we call it a “convention”. And conventions are our friends.
Real Example: Web Design From Scratch 10 years ago!
Here’s a site that I designed, built, and coded from scratch back in 2004, including a MS Access database for the comments. That’s a year AFTER WordPress was created.
It’s the very first version of this site! (Check out the page about Conventions.)
This will have taken me weeks to do. If this were done today, do you think it would be worth it?
No. Me neither.
6. More Flexible
One of the arguments for custom, hand-crafted design is that it gives you more flexibility. I don’t think that’s entirely true.
You see, the greater speed really means you have more options, not fewer. (Sure, you may lose down-to-the-pixel control, but the fact is you don’t really need down-to-the-pixel control.)
I can have a skeleton or half-built or fully-built WordPress site, and I can test how it will look with a different theme. In seconds. Literally, not even minutes. Seconds!
If I need a calendar or a form or a slider or a navigation menu, or practically anything I want, I can probably find a plugin to try out in minutes. Not days or weeks to build. Minutes!
Now, when you put this all together, what do you get? You get a scenario where you can have an idea, test the idea, and try several different solutions, all in a tiny fraction of the time it would take to design and code it yourself.
And when you code it yourself, your options and chances to change your mind disappear the further along you go.
Still think you need custom design to have flexibility?
7. More Creative
Using other people’s pre-made makes you more creative.
I can see people spitting out their tea at this point. “Surely, as creatives, we’re supposed to create original stuff!” they’ll be shouting at the screen.
Of course. I agree with you. We should be creating original stuff.
In fact, using pre-made design components helps us to focus on true creativity. By that I mean getting creative with what really matters.
What really matters? Well, it’s what makes the difference between marketing that succeeds and marketing that fails. The really important factors to design are the structure and content of your marketing campaign.
So many web designers make the mistake of thinking that what really matters is aesthetics. It isn’t. (Click the link above for proof.)
We all have a finite amount of attention, time, and creative energy. By releasing ourselves from the old-fashioned idea that we are supposed to make websites the hard way, we release energy and time that we can then invest in the stuff that really matters.
That means we’ll deliver better projects, have happier clients, more glowing testimonials, more impressive case studies, and so find it easier to get other great projects.
Doesn’t that sound like a good idea?
8. Cross-Browser Compatible
When was the last time you tested a website you delivered to a client on every current major browser (i.e. with more than 1% market share)?
Do you cut corners? Hope it works, or that the client doesn’t notice?
Seriously, back in 2001-2002, my old agency actually used to employ a guy to do nothing but this! A whole GUY! His name was Craig Robertson. (“Hi Craig.”)
I couldn’t tell you the last time I did browser compatibility testing. Partly that’s because the browsers have gotten a little better behaved over time, and partly it’s because I try to keep things simple. And what could be simpler than not creating my webpage layouts or visual styles at all?
For me, browser testing is a thing of the past, creating more time, less cost, more profit, and less stress.
This year, mobile Internet traffic took over from desktop Internet traffic. That is momentous.
That means websites don’t just have to work on mobile devices… they have to work GREAT!
Do you know how hard it is to make a website work great on mobile devices like phones and tablets? I can tell you it’s so hard that I can’t be bothered to do it. Think in terms of doing the design and production work twice, and you won’t be far off.
Do you want to absorb that cost? Do you think your clients do?
The best themes and platforms just work on small screens and medium-sized screens. They just do. As far as I’m concerned it’s voodoo, and I don’t care.
How about accessibility testing? Back in about 2005, I spent several weeks developing accessibility guidelines for a large site I was working on for the UK Government. WEEKS!
Proper accessibility testing takes a lot of effort, which means a lot of cost. So either your client pays, or you cut the corners. And with recent legislation requiring websites to be accessible, that’s not a good idea.
Again, the best themes and platforms just work for people using alternative user agents (which also makes them good for regular desktop and mobile users, as well as search engines and other automated agents).
It doesn’t make sense for you to
It makes economic sense for product developers to put in the investment required to make their stuff attractive, accessible, mobile-ready, and optimized for speed.
It does not make economic sense for you to do all that, on every project, for every client.
It’s foolish, and it’s also unnecessary.
The bottom line is this… If you love the low-level, detailed, original problem-solving work that goes into designing and producing web assets, you should find a job working for a product developer.
That’s what my old employee Dan Johnson did. He went from being the WordPress expert in our agency to being a WordPress expect for WooThemes. Smart move, Dan.
But if you like delivering the best work you can do, delighting your clients, making a profit, and building your business, you should quit designing and coding every website from scratch. Today.