Is website design a dying trade due to commoditization

Change is upon us in web design / development industry

The web has been a fast moving animal. Since were the days when I started reading “HTML for dummies” and where things felt exciting when I first read about dynamic HTML. Then the introduction of the modern search engine Google in 1997, and the release of WordPress in 2003, followed by the launch of the first iPhone in 2007.

Change has been among us since all time, and the modern human has been creating ever since, from art to inventions, and break through research. And allow me to refer to an example from the history books of 19th century England. I quote from Wikipedia (

The Luddites were 19th-century English textile workers (or self-employed weavers who feared the end of their trade) who protested against newly developed labour-economizing technologies, primarily between 1811 and 1816. The stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms introduced during the Industrial Revolution threatened to replace them with less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work. The Luddite movement culminated in a region-wide rebellion in Northwestern England that required a massive deployment of military force to suppress.

We can draw some general observations from this story. There are those who resist change because of fear or comfort, because change is scary. It threatens your current state, your sense of livelihood, your sense of security. And there is the tension from the other group of people, those who understand the change, who appreciate the benefits it brings to future generations, who manage to capitalize on them. They know that they will be threatened if they don’t change. Both are fighting for equally just causes.

So back to our topic on website making and design, and whether this industry is being commoditized and on a down trend. What I am trying to say is that this change is just one of many in the life of humanity, nothing different. In the article “The death of the web design agency” by Lindberg, he disputes the case, and ends with this sentence “The emergence of new platforms will be a threat to some, but an opportunity for others.”

Learning points

So I shall include some of my thoughts below:

  • Value added services – For those not already doing value added services, then yes you should be worried. Gone are the days where you come in, finish your website project, then pack your bags and go off to the next. With the proliferation of easily available well designed themes and online web builders, providing basic web design services are no longer adequate. You would need to come in more as a strategic partner as part of your customer journey, working together like an extension of their team in order to help them accomplish their bigger picture end objective, whether it is their business goals or strategic maneuvering.
  • Value – concentrate on bringing value to the customer. Ultimately its about the value underlying it all. What is your purpose, what are you trying to serve. Aligning what you do to what the customer values will go a long way.
  • Change –  see how commoditization of the PC industry has squeezed DELL. Stuck somewhere between cheaper brands like Lenovo and trying to gain market share against big companies like Apple with a new range of laptops called Adamo. Not all change is good, and there is no point changing just for the sake of it. Do it for the benefits.
  • Learning points – from Jack Ma of Alibaba, in his speech to Hong Kong young entrepreneurs. A) I liked his analogy on the 3 pigs. The first pig who sees the change and seizes the opportunity. The 2nd pig who sees the change and does not do a thing or hides. And finally the third pig, who does not see anything at all. B) Another point he made, regarding industrialization as freeing up the physical body just like what automation did to the Luddites in 19th century England. And now in this information age, where the digital world frees up the human mind. C) Lastly, staying humble and learning from the mistakes of others.

Simplify and gear up your business today.

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