Design or development?
Not everyone specialises, though. There are a lot of generic agencies out there that do everything. Their offer includes the design, the front end programming and the back end programming. Sometimes they do the marketing and the SEO as well. But establishing yourself as a one-stop-shop is not necessarily the best idea. “I see a lot of generic agencies trying to do it all,” says Andy Budd or Clearleft, “and what tends to happen is that if you try to do everything, you don’t do anything particularly well.”
Web design and web development very much go together. But they are very different skill sets. It’s worth noting that not all of the web design agencies we spoke with specialise in programming. Or even development and build.
“In the beginning, Rawnet focused on both web development and design as the business was just me and the two go very much hand in hand,” Ross Williams says. “I worked with my clients to find out what it was they wanted and provided them with creative solutions that I knew were possible based on my web development skills.” But later, when it became possible, Ross sought out employees with specific skills, including a web developer and a creative director.
“Web design agencies are like architects for websites,” Andy Budd of Clearleft explains. “A lot of detailed planning goes into what we do. We’ll try to help the client create a whole concept to their site and map out all the interactions, and work out a persuasive flow of information for the site. We develop a website blueprint, with diagrams and stuff like that to give the design context.” But they don’t do the build.
Clearleft pass their plans over to particular engineers and programmers to construct the site. Specialist designers focus more on the strategic side of the website. “We realised that we were never going to be the best programmers in the world,” Andy says. “So rather than selling a service and offering brilliant design, but giving our clients a lesser service in programming, we decided to focus on just one particular thing.” If you choose to go down this route, you can work with a variety of different developers to programme in different languages, or builds. And lots of the bigger clients have in-house teams.
If you are planning to focus mostly on design, having a house style isn’t such a bad idea. Just be aware that if you do focus on one particular style, if that style goes out of fashion, your agency will go out of fashion as well!