Even when we don't design we design. That's the thinking that goes on when we look at a website with a crappy design. You can't say that "someone needs to design this site" because someone did design it. Someone actually designed Craigslist. Maybe they didn't put the planning in IA, aesthetic, and content production that you did, but in their mind they had an idea of how it would look and they implemented it. It was designed.
When talking to a potential client this is what you must be careful of because they know they can design something themselves so when you say you can design it for them all it means to them is that you can make it prettier and they don't know if they want to pay a premium for prettier. You are thinking that design is much more than that, but why would they know that?
I'm working on a friend's site and he tells me to design it and he will get me the content later. I tell him it doesn't work like that. Give me the content and I can design around it. What does he do? He gives me (barely) first draft material to work with and later tells me he is hiring a copywriter to fill in the content for the design I complete.
Have you ever gone clothes shopping for a person that you haven't met or seen before? I'm not talking kids shopping, I'm talking full grown adults. How do you buy jeans for someone that you know nothing about? I asked him that and he didn't have any idea and so I asked how could I design a site around content that I know nothing about? It's possible, but it would be generic. If this happens again I don't think I would have any problem shopping for a theme to buy and simply using that because sometimes it just isn't worth it. Why not save us both time and just get him something pretty right?
You think the theme market is popular because people are looking for the cutting edge?
If you want to be proud of everything that you leave your stamp on is it possible to make everything great? Probably not, but then the next question I ask is that should you even bother to try to make everything great? If you don't try to make everything great then you can simply get away with good enough. I know you think the same way at times. You just want to do enough to please a client so that they will be happy and pay you. Doing anything more isn't worth the time or money.
If you applied that mode of thinking to a car or house then you end up with a crappy car and house months and years down the road and people get upset. If you do that with a website you just fix it up and do it all over again. It's nearly impossible to make a timeless web design so they strive for perfection might not be as great as it is with a physical product in the real world. Does this make web design the lowest form of all design? It's almost like clay that can be shaped into anything, but never put into the oven to stay completely solid.
If this kind of thinking comes from a design-minded person (me), then you can only imagine the type of thinking that a client goes through and why sometimes your profession isn't as respected as you believe it should be. Although there are a large number of designers that do great work I sometimes think that we want to place too much importance on the jobs that we do. Some companies depend solely on the performance of their website, not the look of it, just the performance. Is the most important aspect of the design the aesthetics or the A/B testing that goes along with it to find that extra 3% conversion?
In the end though everyone wishes to get paid what they feel they deserve. You need to sit down and figure out exactly what you are bringing to the table because in most minds it isn't that much. That is going to be a tough pill for you to swallow, but at least it helps you to gain some perspective on what to improve to make things right.
Everything that is done on a website is design. If they can do it then they won't see why you can do it. If they can change it just as easily and tweak it they will want to know why they need to bring you in. To them there is no undesign and there might not even be design. To them it might just be trial and error and people will go to their site anyways so it doesn't matter. Good luck beating that mentality in the future.
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