The Rarest Commodity: The Web Designer

September 17, 2006 Posted by Tyler Cruz
  • The Rarest Commodity: The Web Designer
  • Video: PPC Abuse
  • Blog Updates

The Rarest Commodity: The Web Designer

“One of rarest things that a man ever does is to do the best he can” — Josh Billings

Gold. Silver. What makes these things valuable? Their beauty? Their difficulty of extracting? No, it’s because they are rare. Good web designers, in my opinion, are becoming just as rare.

In fact, they almost seem to have become extinct. Can you remember back 6-7 years ago, around 1999-2000? The web was quickly evolving, as it always is. However, this time was a bit different, as there was a large influx of web designers and web development companies which stemmed from the dot com epoch of the mid-late 90’s. I could specifically remember there being countless web design companies popping up. And not just web design companies, but good, talented, freelance web designers as well.

Where have they gone? They seem to have vanished. Well I have two good ideas of where they went.

First, the especially talented ones were grabbed up by prestigious design firms and companies during the pre-2001 era. The leftovers, which didn’t get picked up by a firm, still got by from freelancing. However, once the dot-com-bubble burst, unplugged their mice and keyborads, and went back to ‘real’ workforce – tech support, retail, McDonalds.. whatever it may be.

What do I base this on? Nothing groundbreaking or anything… just personal experience. I certainly didn’t consult Nielson Ratings or conduct any scientific polls.

I stopped designing my own sites years ago. I’m decent at web development, but could never get the quality that I wanted. Plus, I always took too long. So, naturally, I outsourced the work to Laravel development services and continue to do so today. The conclusion I’ve come to over years of hiring scores of freelance web designers is that… well… they ain’t what they used to be.

Now, granted, when I hire a designer, I usually don’t hire somebody who has worked for Sony or Toyota. Obviously I couldn’t afford that. But I have looked around for mid-ranged designers, and their portfolios simply make me shake my head in frustration.

To be more specific, I’ll break down web-designers into four price-range classes:

Level 1

Cost range per project: $150-500

These designers are a dime a dozen. Usually teenagers or inexperienced web designers, these level-1’s are actually somewhat popular as many people do not want an elaborate or extra-special design (or are just cheap…). They usually design in a basic Web 2.0 style, although my take on it is that they design and then slap the moniker of web 2.0 on it because it’s all they can do.

It’s usually the boring ‘plastic’ look with big navigational elements that always supercede the content and fluidity of the site. It’s rarely new or interesting, and are rarely custom-fitted to the site; you could replace the logo with another and it’d work. That’s not a good thing.

Level 2

Cost range per project: $501-1500

Everybody above level 1 is actually quite rare. Level-2 designers are fairly rare as they are in a special price range niche that seperates them from the cheap level-1’s and the more expensive level-3’s.

I personally think that level 2’s are fine in many instances. They break away from the level-1 attitude of one-design-fits-all, and design with a bit of uniqueness and custom-fitting. They have more working knowledge of browser compability, CSS, and usability.

I don’t have anything against level-2’s, except for the fact that they don’t quite push the envelope far enough for me. Why go this far, but not push just a little bit further and produce something really outstanding, I always think to myself.

Level 3

Cost range per project: $2001-5000

These talented designers either work for a web design firm, or have established a good name for themselves as a freelance designer. They usually have an impressive portfolio with some decent clientelle, usually large websites.

Level 4

Cost range per project: $5000+

These designers are almost always part of a web design company, and really, a team. These firms have a strong presence in the corporate world as they have created online identities for many corporate clientelle. These are the guys you see design for companies like Nike, celebrities, movie studios…. etc.

If you can afford this, well then, kudos to you!

Now, getting back on track here, I just wanted to say that I almost always hire level 2’s. However, it’s really the level 3’s that I’m looking for (or more specifically, level 2.5’s). See, I’m not afraid of spending $2500-$3000 on a design. But I’d want something nice.

I’d want a designer that is well-versed in professional custom website design and knows exactly what I want, and can deliver. I want no missed deadlines, no excuses, and no complaints.
I’d want well-commented HTML/JS/CSS, everything cross-browser-able, and valid and clean HTML/CSS. And obviously, I’d want a sexy or kick-ass design.

If I can get that, I don’t mind shelling out a couple thousand dollars.

Unfortunately, you don’t always get what you pay for. For instance, I could go and find a bunch of web designers right now who charge that much. But, their only delivering me a level-2 design…

I’m picky – yes, it’s true. But that’s a good thing. And I’m not unrealistic, either. I honestly think that people are just too lazy or not skilled enough for me. I have the money to pay.. but do they have the skill?

Sorry if I’ve gotten a bit off-track here, but getting back to the point, talented web designers who charge fairly (I’m not saying cheap, I’m saying fairly) are a rare, rare commodity. I’ve gone though far too many web designers over the years to know how rare they are. In fact, I’ve still yet to find one. I’ve found an amazing logo guy, and for that I’m grateful, but not a good designer.

So, if you happen to have struck gold and found somebody, KEEP HIM. Do everything you can do develop a good relationship with him and don’t share him with anybody (except of course, me…).

Video: PPC Abuse

The following video was not made by me. I simply found it on YouTube and felt it worthy 🙂

It shows how some people are abusing Adwords and Adsense:

Blog Updates

I’ve managed to do a bit more work on the blog.

First, I finished the advertise page (link located on the left side of the site). Decent prices, I believe.

Secondly, I created an .htaccess page, redirecting the atom.xml to my feedburner url instead.

Now, I have a lot to discuss on this. I spent like an hour-and-a-half researching and figuring out how to do that. I know absolutely nothing about RSS, XML, and feeds in general. I remember back years ago when they started to surface and I just ignored them. Now it seems that they have annexed the internet!

The traffic to this site halved ever since I moved from Blogger to WordPress. I checked my error logs on Apache, and there were a lot of 404 requests for /atom.xml so I’m assuming that the deletion of that file caused a lot of it; people probably thought my site was down or something. So, hopefully the redirection of it will get a few people back here.

Here’s a bunch of questions for you smart folk out there:

1. There are a bunch of various RSS feeds and alternatives listed in the header HTML of my blog. Since I’m using Feedburner now, should I remove these from my HTML and replace it with just one; for Feedburner? If so, what exact HTML should I use?

2. I subscribed to my Feedburner feed, a few hours ago I believe, if I did it correctly. Yet, the number of subscribers still shows at 6. Is this a live count, or updated once a day or so?

3. As it is right now, if people simply add: to their RSS reader, it will use what’s in the header of my HTML, correct?

4. I understand WordPress uses MySQL, but does it use that for the style modifications as well? For example, I’ve customized the side menu on my template here. Doesn’t that modify the actual ‘hard’ files themselves? I ask because when I make backups, it really means that I need to make backups of my design files as well, correct? I assume the MySQL only covers the actual posts and basic WordPress setup, correct?

Edit: Actually, I believe now that the side pages, such as ‘About Me’, ‘Advertise’, and ‘Contact’ are part of MySQL as well. So, I think I’m okay then. As long as those are backed up too, there’s not too much to worry about. I’d mainly have to redo the right side of the template.


Good luck and good earnings.

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Posted: September 17th, 2006 under Articles  

24 Responses to “The Rarest Commodity: The Web Designer”

  1. Dread says:

    To answer your questions:

    1. Yes, replace your feed links with the feed burner feed, this way they will be counted on the counter. I use a plugin to do this for me, its nice and easy:

    2. Probably updates a couple times a day, if not then its at least once a day. Its never totally accurate anyway.

    3. Yes. The plugin i suggested will redirect that to the feedburner feed though.

    4. Things you want to backup are your entire database and also your wp-content folder, that will mean you have a backup of all content inlcuding posts, comments, pages, settings, etc and also plugins and templates. Everything else is the core wordpress install.

    Any more questions? Mail me.

  2. After searching for many months, I finally discovered a web designer that is a “rockstar.” Luckily, I managed to scoop him up immediately. I have at least 10 projects for him as of right now. My plan is to keep him occupied with designing sites for me indefinitely. Good luck on your search for a kickass designer!

  3. Ben says:

    A good client is just as hard (if not harder) to find! Everyone wants pro design, but no one wants to pay for it. Asking for a down payment is like asking someone to cut off a finger.

  4. Tayfun Ozturkmen says:

    I’m a designer/developer, probably a 2.5 on the tylermeter (I have some experience working with a few sub 5000 alexa sites) and let me tell you – designing for anyone but yourself (generally) sucks ass. Also, the bigger companies I have worked with have all come from the 1999 school of web design and have no idea about standards (they think using a div for everything is revamping their website is good). This is because most large organisations use a marketing company rather than looking after their web prescence themselves.

    To be honest, if there’s one thing I’m trying to do its to stop being a designer and start being a publisher. I like having a grip on the look of my projects, but designing is working hard, not smart.

  5. Andrew says:

    I got pretty scared when you said you can’t find a good reliable web designer, as I am designing your site and I haven’t been active much (damn internet problems). I can assure you that I will be online later today after school to get started on the blog design again. I will talk to you later and show you what kind of style I have came up with.

  6. Kyle says:

    Well, your assessment of where the designers went is way off base IMO. In the recent months (about 6-8 months ago), the design industry completely exploded with new work. With the 2.0 boom, along comes a ton of much-needed design. As a result, the industry has flip-flopped again to being designer-driven instead of client-driven. It means that there’s more work than people can fulfill, and as a result, less available designers. It means that no longer can you say “I’ve got the money, show me the skills” but you have to actively sell your project to the designers.

    I think where you’re problem (in finding good designers) is that you’re viewing them as needing money, rather than you needing services. Think about how you manage your time — sure, you could make money by making 1,000 content sites — but, why don’t you? Because it’s not worth your time. The same goes for designers, when you’ve got RFP’s coming in every few days, you get to pick and choose your projects and take the ones with the best clients. Money? Well, that’s just a by-product of the work.

    If you want to know where they went, take a look at all the new startups. Become involved in design-heavy communities (such as 9rules, Stylegala, SXSW, etc). You’ll find tons of great talent out there.

  7. Matt says:

    I’m not trying to offend you or anything here bro, but many many designers know your name as associated with being overly picky and unrealistic with your budget. That plus things like how you ran the Publisherspot competition really gets around.

  8. Sam says:

    I agree with Matt 100 percent, and don’t you dare go saying you get the best out of designers 😉

  9. Mike says:

    Tyler expects $,$$$ design for $$.

  10. Zane Jamal says:

    Not all designers are terrible. Providing your patient, have a positive attitude and are a reasonable person it shouldnt be hard.

  11. Andrew says:

    “Tyler expects $,$$$ design for $$.”

    Then explain why he pays more than “$$” for designs.

  12. Matt says:

    I think he was just trying to make a point, Andrew.

  13. Cody says:

    I don’t get it.. you don’t design good, you don’t program, you don’t code at all, all your websites are a turnkey platform… what do u do exactly?

    As you can tell, he dosent know much about desiging, thats why he dosent know how much to pay…?

  14. Andy says:

    He’s a web developer and spends his time marketing and being an entreprenuer. His designers and coders aren’t taking risks, he is.

  15. Jon says:

    you can hardly blame the guy for trying to get the best design possible (in his eyes) for the least amount of money, afterall he is running a business.

  16. Being picky about a web designer is not a bad thing at all. I’m extremely picky. I believe some designers…no matter how committed they are to your project don’t have the skills to design what you want. That’s just a given.

    Also, since it’s more of a designer-driven market, entrepreneurs must sell their projects to designers. A bad designer will take any project just to make money. A great designer will pick and choose the projects they want to take on. After all, why would they want to create a design for a website they aren’t passionate about? Money isn’t the only aspect that motivates great designers to take on projects.

    That’s just my 2 cents…for whatever it is worth.

  17. ercom says:

    A great designer is hard to find. Reliable, efficient with his time, and competitively priced (albeit – this is subjective, as XXXX can be competitive pricing given quality).

    Nevertheless chiming to give credit where it’s due:

    “He’s a web developer and spends his time marketing and being an entreprenuer. His designers and coders aren’t taking risks, he is. ”

    Absolutely Andy! Webmasters, I do not care if they’re clickbank marketeers – are the best of the bunch. I love designers, I treat any and all I’ve worked with well. But they work hard, not smart. They work for money, and not vice versa.

  18. boybunny says:

    Well you have hit many nails on the head. Pretty much working at McDonalds now and earning more money than designing web sites. The problem is that American Talent Scouts leave USA to hunt for basketball players or American football players. Not once have I ever seen any web or software guys try to look away from the US coastline (this seems to include many US states that have no coast).

    I can tell you a lot of horror stories. Most of my experiences left me unpaid. I left being an artistic director to go freelance and have regretted it.

    I can list a line of “Clients” as you have done designers. Ones that say “I want something original” that you work your guts out for months doing many redesigns, for them just to go elsewhere and get an “Original” boilerplate design from a boilerplate company. Others that promise good or bad payment (I have agreed to work for under $100 for projects), just to be absolutely shocked when I refuse to hand over any part of the website after they tell me they will not pay anything for it, but still want it. There are others, but I will avoid really ranting.

    So in many parts of the world, there are plenty of great designers, but few good clients. I gave up instead of learning what CSS was (it was yet another crazy new standard to sink large chunks of my time into for no return) so my standards knowledge is firmly back in the “Frames Era”. There would need to be some real incentives now to learn most of the bones of a site again from scratch. I also do not have the qualifications. I earned my way up to “Head Animator” and “Artistic Director” positions through hard work and the best possible folio. In the web game it is more based on the qualifications you have. So unless the world spins on its axis sometime soon, I will be happy doing menial work and spending time with my family, instead of dreaming that someone with money and integrity is going to appear.

  19. tylercruz says:

    boybunny – I never really thought about that before – that part of the reason freelance web designers are disappearing is because of bad clients. It’s the complete thing reversed I guess.

    I guess that makes sense. I certainly know that there are a lot of cheapskates out there. It sucks though.. because it makes clients like me look bad. I have no problem paying 25 or 50% or even 100% in many cases, up front. And while I’m specific in what I want – as long as it’s done well and to my specifications, I usually have little to no changes needed. I also provide professional, and specificly detailed descriptions of what I’d like and want, providing tons of samples….

    Bah. All those bad clients out there driving good designers away…

  20. […] Lastly, be cheap and expect cheap. The quality of your price determines the quality of your design. Don’t pay someone $300 for a three page blog design and expect to get something incredible. Sure, depending on who you hired, it may not be bad. BUT, paying $100 for anything is just absolutely ridiculous. Designers: If you’re still charging $100/logo or $100/template – you’re ruining the market. I have to be honest with a controversial observation I’ve carefully made. Clients like to pay for quality. Most clients don’t even look for designers for under $500, some don’t even look for under $5,000. (One of my favorite blog posts was made by Tyler Cruz on design prices.) Basically what point #4 is saying, is… The cheaper the price (VARIES!!!), the cheaper the quality. Don’t pay pennies and expect a dream come true back. […]

  21. jcyprich says:

    I used to do web design when the only web design tool available was Notepad. Back then, building a web site was like building a software application. The designs were very basic, but that’s because most sites were built by programmers and not artists.

    When the GUI tools were available, graphic designers were able to make better looking web sites than the ones made by programmers. I’ve never liked graphic design and always preferred banging out source code.

    Today, I look for templates that I can modify. You can hire a designer to build your site from scratch, but you have some web design skills, you can get a template and edit it yourself. A good template can be found for around $40-60 USD. I would rather have someone design a DreamWeaver template, and I would add the PHP functionality myself.

  22. nbil says:

    I run a small web development firm. Personally I think you are looking for 2 different people, a Graphic Designer and a Web Developer. In my experience a good graphic designer is generally not a good developer and vice versa. I’ve found only 2 exceptions to this since 1999. So for any given project I usually have at least one of each.

    I ask the Graphic Designer to create mockups of attractive sites that are easy to use and meet requirements. The Graphic Designer will only create the images, no code. Then a good developer will build the website to match.

    When I say “good” Developer I don’t necessarily mean someone who is good at coding anything, they can be just good at what I need for that job. If they are really good at xhtml/css and that’s all I need, then they’re hired :).

  23. […] The Rarest Commodity: The Web Designer. […]

  24. […] a year ago I wrote a great post titled The Rarest Commodity: The Web Designer where I shared my views on how I feel that quality web designers are a dying and rare breed, and […]


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