Small Business Web Design
I love small business web design. It is one of the few jobs that allows me to be both creative and technical. I am also thankful to Google and SEO for adding value to my career and my work. The continual raising of the bar of excellence keeps me being creative and profitable.
The Technical Problem
With the constantly evolving page rank algorithm, the technical side of design is starting to get muted by all the SEO demands. Consider this article from MIT Technology review (http://www.technologyreview.com/news/423872/the-10-essential-elements-of-design/) that lists “The 10 Essential Elements of Design.”
l Emotional Appeal
This article was written about 4 years ago. Today, how many of these basic elements are tying the hands of designers because of the Google requirements for page rank? The article states that these elements “transcend context, industry, and geography.” Some elements such as “Tools” and “Process” have actually improved over the last 5 years, but what about the more personal and creative side of web design such as “Function” and “Aesthetics?”
The Present of the Past
There is a reason I am somewhat concerned about this trend of optimization for the sake of profit. I have a friend that got into coding for PC’s back in the 1980’s when there was only a framework for writing everything from word processing software to adventure games. The idea of a virtual window was in its infancy, and 1 megabyte of RAM was almost unheard of on a PC.
Despite these, what would be considered by today’s standards, impossible development conditions, creativity abounded. There was little standardization. For example, the Help function was sometimes accessed by either the F1 or F10 key. At the same time, there were 10 or 20 different word processors available to the user. If you haven’t heard of WordStar or Multimate you are not alone, but these were two of the more popular word processors of the 1980’s.
Now step back and take a look at what choices there are for PC word processors today. The industry has evolved considerably regarding standardization for user interfaces, but the competition revolves around a few major software companies. The user is basically trapped between a small number of products, most which have features they will never need or use. Creativity has been squashed under the wheels of progress, and all but a few profit from it. In fact, it may be argued that creativity has disappeared from PC application software.
The Web Design Connection
OK, I agree that the Internet is galaxies larger than the PC industry. It has in large part replaced the need for the desktop computer given the advances in mobile technology in particular. But for web designers we may be looking at the same problem sooner than later. It took about 20 years for independent programmers and consultants to go from relevant to obscure. The reason was that their creative skill sets were smothered by the demands for standardization by the industry and users alike.
As much as we would like to think that the size of the Internet and its global acceptance insulates us from experiencing such obscurity, the constant change in the Google algorithm may significantly diminish our relevance. Ask yourself whether you had the same design freedom you have even a couple of years ago. Remember, here we are talking about profitability as well as creativity. The world has enough starving artists and musicians.
Which leads us to …
The Business Problem
Most of us who do web design do it as a part time gig or a full time profession. The bottom line for us is important. We can get tons of satisfaction and personal enjoyment from being creative, but we still need to eat. The tendency for most things digital is to eventually become automated. When we look at this from a web design perspective, the potential of a lion’s share of our work becoming automated can be seen.
As much as we use a number of tools to do a number of the automated functions, that doesn’t being us much satisfaction – or profit. But SEO and Google continue to narrow the boundaries on what is considered to be creative – that is, if your goal is to optimize the web site for the highest possible Google page rank. This is why most clients hire us.
I am not arguing here for de-standardization or keyword stuffing. Both of these actually devalue our work. But we need to come to the realization that the more Google changes its algorithm to maximize the accuracy and relevancy of its search results, the more web design creativity will be degraded. If you Google “most important technical web design elements” you will have a choice between deciding whether 6, 7 or 10 elements are the most important. Fortunately, this is the way it should be whether Google approves or not.
It’s All About the User
One interesting problem that has come out of the SEO process is the reminder that it is the user or visitor that is the most important focus of applying all the formulas and technology. Here is where web designers really prove their worth and value. Most learning is done visually, and the art and science of web design is largely based on what is both functional and aesthetic. In other words, it is about technical knowledge and creative ability.
Unashamedly, our profession is profit motivated and user focused. If just anyone could link together the various natural skills and hands-on experience that we do, we would be making McDonald’s wages. But we do not get the profit if our focus veers away from the user. A Page One ranking is not a guarantee to unlimited profits.
Google will do what it needs to do to increase its profitability. The European community is taking steps to break up Google’s influence in the continent, fearing it will become more powerful and interfere with fair competition for businesses and limits buyer’s choices. Though it is a political statement at this point, it foreshadows what web designers may be encountering in the not-too-distant future.