Out of all the frustrations that come with running a creative business, the absolute worst is cleaning up after other designers and developers. When a potential client approaches me after working with someone else, I hold my breath while I look to see what the previous person did and how long it will take to fix it.
Don’t mistake my frustration for arrogance – I’m far from the most skilled or knowledgable web developer on the planet. But I’ve learned that there are some people who just plain suck at what they do (or attempt to do). And while their incompetence makes me look good, I hate explaining to someone, “You’re going to have to pay me a lot of money because your designer didn’t do his/her job correctly.”
I always stress the importance of asking good questions before you hire anyone to work on your website – the time you spend being picky in the beginning will pay off big time down the road. But what if you’ve already hired someone? How do you know if your designer is skilled enough to do work that is worth the cost?
Here are five signs that your designer may be lacking when it comes to giving you the amazing website you want.
5 Signs Your Designer Sucks
1. He tells you certain things are impossible.
Disclaimer: Some things really aren’t possible. For example, you can’t create a website that gives visitors the ability to fly. But I’m talking about reasonable things like site features or capabilities.
You’re working with your designer and you see another site that has the coolest feature ever. “Can we do something like that?” you ask. Your designer tells you no, that isn’t possible. This should be a red flag – how can it be impossible if someone else has done it?
Now, there may be logical reasons why a designer says something isn’t possible. For example:
- It isn’t possible based on your budget or the design package you chose.
- It isn’t possible because of the way your site is configured.
- It isn’t possible because it would look horrible or limit accessibility for some visitors.
But I’ll tell you this – most of the time, when a designer tells you, “Sorry, that’s not possible,” what he really means is, “I don’t know how to do that.” And while no one can be an expert on everything, if you’re working with someone who can’t give you the things you really want or need for your site, it’s time to ask yourself why.
2. She’s the cheapest designer you could find.
Years ago I had to complete an internship for grad school. When clients were assigned to me, they got a discounted rate. Why? Because I wasn’t as skilled or knowledgeable as the other people in the office.
When you hire the person offering full website designs for $150, I can tell you with 100% certainty that you are choosing someone with less knowledge and a poor skill set. I know this because no designer in her right mind would do a site for $150. People who know what they’re doing charge what their time is worth.
Remember when I said that people don’t do things unless they benefit somehow? When someone offers an unbelievably low price for her services, you can bet she’s either (1) using you as a guinea pig while she learns “how to be a web designer” and/or (2) a scam artist.
3. His work isn’t update-proof.
One of my clients left me for a “designer” (and I use that term loosely) earlier this year. Not only did he make huge, glaring mistakes in his work from a coding perspective, but he also told my former client something that blew my mind:
You have to be VERY careful when you update things on your site. Really, unless a plugin stops working, you shouldn’t update at all because it will mess everything up.
You know why he said that? Because his design work wasn’t done properly and couldn’t survive updates to plugins or the WordPress core. I had to rescue the client after an update broke her site, and when I realized what the other “designer” had done, I couldn’t help laughing.
You should always be able to update your site (and you need to keep plugins and your WordPress install up to date, by the way). Things may occasionally look strange or throw errors after an update, but your site’s overall design shouldn’t be one of those things. Period.
4. She uses plugins for everything.
I won’t say you shouldn’t hire a designer who can’t code (even though that’s what I believe) because people might flog me. But I will say that your designer should have some concept of how the internet works and how websites function. It does no good to have a pretty site if it’s so slow you can’t use it.
You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve inherited a design that is very nice to look at but has 70+ active plugins. Or a client who has 2,000 blog posts and never knew he should be compressing his images. Or a site using outdated HTML tables or image maps.
While we all want professional sites that are nice to look at, they also need to function. That means your designer shouldn’t need to install 25 plugins to make your design work. Your homepage shouldn’t have 150 requests and take 10 seconds to load. And your designer should understand how certain design elements affect functionality and talk you out of anything that will hinder a visitor’s experience on the site.
5. He doesn’t explain how you should use your site once it’s finished.
I’ve griped about this before – some web designers are terrified of losing clients or setting them free to manage their own sites. So they make it impossible for clients to add or change content (or even access their own WordPress dashboards), all so they can collect a monthly maintenance fee or charge for every nitpicky change they make.
I’ve seen it all – designers who disabled the visual post editor, designers who removed everything from the dashboard except the ability to add posts and pages… In one case, a client wasn’t even given administrator rights for his own blog! It’s ridiculous and a sure sign of a sucky designer.
Now, that said, it’s not a designer’s job to provide intensive WordPress training free of charge. But you should at least receive instruction on anything specific to your site’s design. For example, I use custom post types in many of my designs for things like portfolios, testimonials, or any content that needs to be displayed in a unique way. But I also send each client an email to let him/her know exactly how to use the custom post type and what to do if s/he has questions later.
How to Choose a Designer Who Doesn’t Suck
If you’re in the market for a designer, I can’t stress enough how important it is to ask questions. Lots of them. Make sure you have a good understanding of how the person works, what skills s/he has, and who controls what once the project is completed.
If your main consideration in choosing a designer is price, you’re in trouble. I know everyone wants a great design at the lowest possible cost, but cheaper is NOT always better. Ask yourself how much you’re really saving if your website doesn’t meet your needs or expectations.
Most importantly, talk to the designer’s former clients. I promise, no one will mind telling you if they had a great experience (and they won’t mind warning you if they had a really bad one, either). Ask what they wish they’d done differently and whether they would hire that person again. As I’ve said before, don’t blindly trust testimonials – contact real people instead. Every minute you spend doing your homework ahead of time will save you hours of headache down the road.
Have you ever hired a sucky web designer? What was the experience like for you? Any other warning signs you’d like to share to help others choose a great designer?
Jen @ Eco-Office Gals says
Wow #3 I just came in contact with a new client and when I asked why they had so many pending updates, this was their answer word for word! Or better yet another client that has a “security guy” for her site and he has 10 security plugins installed like she’s harboring state secrets, but they, as well as WP and her theme are all several versions behind. I’m trying to explain to her that 10 security plugins out of date poses a security issue in itself! Sigh!
Andrea Whitmer says
I’m dying to know if the person used the same designer my client did re: the updates. But I’ll be professional and stop myself from asking. 🙂
Jen @ Eco-Office Gals says
I honestly don’t know but I was amazed. This is total opposite of my practice, update everything, always. If a plugin breaks, there’s plenty out there, ditch it and find a new one if you can’t fix it. It’s not worth keeping and having something out of date!
Ben Major says
I think you’ve made the glaring mistake of confusing a web designer with a web developer. The two are no more alike than a graphic designer and an author. Web designers design for the web; web developers develop for it. It’s that simple.
“Don’t hire a designer that can’t code?” That’s probably one of the worst viewpoints you can hold in regards to the web in 2014. I’d prefer to hire a designer that can’t code, and a coder who can’t design. It means my boundaries between creativity and development can be completely separate entities. Would I approach a web designer to develop me a new site that uses WebSockets and Node.js? No way! Would I hire a PHP developer with some design skills? No. I want masters of the trade, not jack of them all…
I think you need to rewrite this article since it blurs the boundaries of web development and design, and offers poor, short-sighted advice to businesses looking for a professional approach.
Andrea Whitmer says
Thanks for stopping by to share your thoughts, Ben. I have to respectfully disagree with you – I think your definition of designer vs. developer is technically correct, but not something that the average person understands. It’s not “that simple” because it’s not the way most people work. For example, I primarily do development, but I define myself as a “web designer” because that’s what my clients ask for (when they really mean they want both design and development). A colleague of mine is described as a dev when she really only does design and contracts out development. The lines can’t be drawn so strictly because that’s seldom how it works in real life.
I develop a lot of sites from designers’ mockups, and the #1 problem I see is that people who do strictly design (as in, “I make pretty pictures”) don’t understand how the web works. They create mockups that don’t fit any standard grid, or they charge their clients for responsive headers that are only sized for iPhone/iPad while ignoring other devices. Then when the client is upset with the final result, they come to me in a panic asking for extra work outside the scope of the contract. So I will stand by my opinion that if a designer can’t code, they aren’t the best person for the job. That doesn’t mean they necessarily need to be the one coding the site, but they should at least understand the most basic principles of how a website functions.
If you don’t like the way the article is written, you are more than welcome to contribute a guest post with your own opinions. But the advantage of having a blog is getting to share my own thoughts – doesn’t mean anyone has to agree with me.
Ben Major says
Honestly, I think you’re discrediting a lot of designers with that sweeping statement. Understanding how the web works and develops doesn’t translate into the ability to code. Most web designers do understand how the web works. Any serious web designer WILL design to a given grid system or pixel density; GS’s have been around much longer than the web…
I’m not saying that the ‘average person’ knows the difference, but writing an article like this should highlight the differences for the lay client.
Andrea Whitmer says
I actually have a dev vs. design article on my to-do list as a followup to this one (which highlights the fact that the terms are sometimes used interchangeably), so maybe I should move that up in the queue. Again, appreciate your thoughts.
I don’t know if I’d trust a designer that couldn’t at the very least do HTML markup and CSS. They don’t take all that long to learn and they give you at least a decent understanding of how websites are built and work.
The line between developer and designer gets very blurry sometimes, especially as a freelancer working on smaller projects.
I went to art school, then got into web development. Turns out that web developers get paid better than artists…
I’m a little late to the party, but what the hey 🙂 Love your stuff – and my wife is a former psychotherapist. 🙂
I tell people I’m in web deployment – part developer (I can code) and part designer (I can work in Photoshop, though right now I use GIMP as I get back on my feet). I prefer the code side of the street, but not to the exclusion of UX issues.
I took over a WordPress site a little over a month ago that had been put up a few years back by the guy who was running the NPO he erected it for. The theme work was done in Visioneer, there was HTML code in every post (tables, etc) – I could continue listing the problems but fixing everything was what was needed. As soon as I could, I got the site running Genesis, modified the child theme, ditched a bunch of plugins, and have a happy client.
Andrea Whitmer says
OMG that gives me flashbacks to a site I did dev work on a few months ago… It was built on Genesis but all the pages had a million div classes that the clients were supposed to remember to use, and there were like 20 separate stylesheets. It was such a mess – the original dev worked against Genesis instead of working with it.
I really struggle with whether I identify more as a developer or a designer… Definitely more on the dev side but saying “I’m a developer” has connotations that I’m not sure fit with what I do. So I tend to use both depending on the situation.
I should have read this 2 months ago. Unfortunately, my designer even didn’t find the way to solve some problems by installing plug-ins (which I did by myself later). When I ask a simple question like changing menu color, she replied me that she already tried for 20 minutes but she cannot figure out how to do it. When I asked for creating a thumbnail display for the archive post, she refused to do it, and said excerpt is good for SEO… It was pain in the XXX after 2 months of email back and forth, so I just paid money to finish it that I can work on things by myself. After all this, I felt I paid money to set up a schedule to push myself with the design.
Anyhow, I’m so glad to see some work ethics here.
When I was looking for a designer, I asked questions in forum and looked at reference from other sites I like. Unfortunately, a lot of designers are very busy and do not take the project, some never replied my message. The one I chose was referred by a blogger, but it didn’t work out so well. It’ll be very helpful if you could write a post about how to find a reliable designer.
Andrea Whitmer says
Sorry to hear you had such a bad experience! I actually just found your email in my spam box, so I’ll send over a response shortly. Also, appreciate your suggestion! I do have a post about questions to ask before you hire a designer, but maybe I should go into more depth.
Michael Otzen says
Being a media graphic designer in the making, it really gives me things to think about. Reading this post, and the subsequent replies, really opened my eyes. I work at a school internship, where we can learn in protective surroundings. We can make mistakes, but the clients are aware of our situation and will not be upset in case mistakes or extension of deadlines should occur. However, we do our utmost to keep our deadlines and have an instructor on the side to help and assist us with asking the right questions to the customer in the first interview.
I see a large challenge in a customer interview. How do you explain a customer, how he or she should maintain their site onwards, if they know nothing about coding or CMS? In the simplest terms and often relating to everyday things.
For example, a stress coach wanted a website to promote herself. But every term in the book about the internet, she didn’t know a blind word, what you were on about. So we had to explain to her that a domain is the address. The web hotel is your house. In this house you have floors and rooms, each with their own function.
So not only do you have to be a competent work horse, you should also be able to explain yourself in terms that your client understands. And that is a big challenge to me. If anything, in the beginning, I would just be honest and say that I will give it a try and if I don’t succeed, I would find them someone else, who can help them better.
Thank you for your time and your post.
Andrea Whitmer says
Thanks for stopping by! You raise some really good points, especially as someone who is still in school and honing his craft. It’s HARD to explain to a client that a website requires care and feeding – many times, even telling them doesn’t really seem to drive the point home. I’ve had many, many clients turn down a maintenance package, then come back months (or even years) later with a hacked website because they never updated anything. WordPress makes updates SUPER EASY but they still have to log into the site to click the button. When I did direct client work, I really pushed for ongoing relationships for exactly that reason. A website is not a one-time expense no matter how you look at it.
It’s never a bad idea to refer someone out if (1) they aren’t a good fit or (2) they need functionality you aren’t comfortable with. I would also recommend deciding early on what services you will and won’t provide. It look me a long time to stop doing design (which I hate) because I felt like I had to offer everything if I wanted steady work. Now I have more work and income than before and I’m far less stressed. It’s never a bad idea to specialize!
“It’s never a bad idea to refer someone out if (1) they aren’t a good fit or (2) they need functionality you aren’t comfortable with. I would also recommend deciding early on what services you will and won’t provide. It look me a long time to stop doing design (which I hate) because I felt like I had to offer everything if I wanted steady work. Now I have more work and income than before and I’m far less stressed. It’s never a bad idea to specialize!”
Amen!!! I stopped trying to be a “Jill of all trades” years ago when I realized that I didn’t have to be.. While I am very familiar with both WordPress and Zen Cart, and I know CSS/HTML, my BEST skillset is my ability to do business analysis/project manage. This skillset gives me the ability to put together a proper site dev plan and then marshaling the resources needed to execute the plan.. Since I also write specs/reqs docs for software implementations/customizations I realized that I could use this skillset to develop specs for custom modules/plugins my clients might need.
So instead of trying to do it all, I instead cultivated a “team” of “go to” resources I could call on for things like custom development of modules/plugins for Zen Cart & WordPress & graphic design resources I can go to in the event that my client requires logo or other graphic work.. I engage only resources that I PERSONALLY had vetted because I discovered early on that freelance sites like oDesk, vWorker, Elance, and Guru provide a few good, but many more BAD experiences.. (It’s AMAZING the hacks out there who swear they are a developer but can’t/won’t read a spec doc..) Recently I also have found some RELIABLE and TALENTED graphic design resources on Fiverr (through a recommendation for another web/dev I trust)..
So my advice is the same as yours.. “deciding early on what services you will and won’t provide” Then build your business around them..
#1 & #3 resonates with me..
I had a client who I built A Zen Cart/WordPress combo site for leave me for another “designer”.. My client began having issues with 100s of spam comments coming in daily on her post images. Her “designer” told her that it was a bug in WordPress and… get this… that there was no fix for it! So she turned off her blog altogether..
2 years later my client wanted to rehire me, and told me this.. I laughed.. Because I realized (without looking) that a simple WordPress update would probably solve the issue.. I also realized that the other “designer” knew NOTHING about WordPress and instead of admitting this, found it easier to convince my client to turn off her blog.. So I updated the blog, , and guess what?? Yep.. no more spam comments. I then installed Genesis, and customized it to match the Zen Cart theme the other “designer” installed. Problem solved..
Andrea Whitmer says
Ugh what a crappy situation for all involved. I’ve had a few clients try to come back after letting someone else destroy their sites, and I usually won’t take them back on. There’s nothing I hate more than cleaning up someone else’s mess. That said, every now and then I inherit one where the code has been beautifully written and commented and my soul is overjoyed. 🙂
Fortunately the “designer” didn’t ruin the site.. She actually was a fairly competent Zen Cart developer, but she knew nothing about the rest of the landscape that made up my client’s site so things like WordPress and phpBB were turned off or ignored.. Personally she shouldn’t have take on the client if she wasn’t knowledgeable about or at least WILLING to learn about WordPress or phpBB..
Michael Otzen says
Where can I, as a beginner, learn more about WordPress and its many features? It’s a bit difficult, when I only have the basic, free subscription.
Andrea Whitmer says
The best way to learn is to set up DesktopServer on your computer (it’s free), download a copy of WP from wordpress.org, and dive into the WordPress Codex: http://codex.wordpress.org/
That will allow you to learn more about the features of self-hosted WordPress without paying for a hosting account just yet.
Andrea Whitmer says
Yeah, that makes sense. You would think people would turn down projects that were out of their scope, but things like that happen a lot. I have a friend who paid someone $8k for a WP blog design – they were going to do static HTML but swore they would “learn WP” for the project – and she got Twenty Fourteen with a logo slapped on it. Made me hurt a little. I tried to warn her that a promise to learn isn’t worth that kind of money!
8K!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Wow!! Maybe I need to examine my own pricing.. **lol** I sure as heck could have delivered sooooooo much more than Twenty Fourteen with a logo slapped on it to ANY client for 8K!!!!
Yes truly this “designer” should have turned the project down or make an effort to learn WordPress and phpBB.. When this client initially hired me, I knew nothing about phpBB, but I made a full court press effort to learn because it was a vital part of her website landscape.. (I also did not charge HER for MY learning curve!) It’s a shame her other “designer” didn’t do the same.. BTW, you may be wondering why I took this client back.. First.. She APOLOGIZED.. admitted that it was a mistake to “leave the fold”.. She said she didn’t realize how much I did for her until she was dealing with someone else.. Plus truth be told, she was the client who “jumpstarted” me.. I got soooo many clients from her initial site (she now has 2 sites I manage).. So I’m a little sentimental..
Anyway I digress.. IMHO like this “designer” far too many folks jump into this arena (web dev/design) with a strong skillset in only ONE CMS, and try to make that a “one size fits all” solution for EVERY client they encounter.. (I see this on both the Zen Cart and WordPress forums all the time) Because my background is as a Business Analyst doing application support/dev, I am more of an advocate of finding the RIGHT solution for each client’s business needs. So, for example, if they need a forum I get them the RIGHT forum for their site needs.. not the one that plugs into WordPress because I KNOW WordPress..
Anyway.. Clearly I am now hooked on your blog.. **lol**
Great post. I am strictly a designer, but I work with a developer for all of those coding areas I dare not venture into. Most of my clients come to me because I offer high design at a really affordable rate.
With that being said, I take issue with the point that a designer isn’t good if she can’t code. Any customizations, I outsource to my guy and I charge accordingly. Clients will tell you what they want and after they see the mock up, they get super excited, but suddenly want you to add crazy features from some other site that someone paid almost 10x for. I kindly tell them that this is out of the original scope, but if they want it, it’s going to cost.
I know my lane and I stay in it. Most of the gigs I turn down aren’t because I can’t deliver, but because they want you to manifest their unicorn fairy dreams on a non-existent budget. The value of a good designer/developer is determined by whether or not she can deliver on what she promises. One GOOD sign that your designer is GREAT!!…someone referred her to you.
Andrea Whitmer says
Thanks for stopping by! I think you make a valid point – if a designer works with a developer regularly, that’s not necessarily the same as a designer who tries to handle everything him/herself (usually with 80 plugins). Unfortunately a lot of designers aren’t charging enough to outsource and the end result for the client is a very poorly executed site.
I absolutely died laughing re: unicorn fairy dreams w/ no budget. I get a lot of mockups that require the moon and stars for a dev budget of $400 or something, and I’m never sure whether the person is serious or if they’re just sending it around to see who’s foolish or desperate enough to accept.
…And the crazy thing is, they will find someone to do it for $400! As you’ve explained however, anyone willing to do a job for bottom feeder pricing is probably being paid to learn. I should know…that’s how I started many years ago. Lol! My work reflected the pricing and as I got better, my pricing reflected that.
Many-a clients who have previously passed come crawling back after cousin Jerry’s friend “who said he could do it” took their hard earned money and produced a hack job. The truth is, in this industry, you will get exactly what you pay for and I’m glad that is the case.
As a designer/entrepreneur, you owe it to yourself to keep learning and be up-front about your strengths and weaknesses to your clients. Be honest about your offerings and charge accordingly where necessary to produce the best work possible.
Great post. Where’s do I sub?
Andrea Whitmer says
There’s an opt-in at the top right in the sidebar, but I’m thinking you may need to do a guest post! Great comments and insight for any new designers (or their potential clients) who may come across this post. Appreciate you taking a few minutes to share!
I stumbled upon this blog by accident while i was trying to teach myself html coding and css. I’m currently in school for web design/ development. I have recently found out that my school’s “web design” class will only teach students how to use Photoshop and Dreamweaver. Do you have any suggestions on where I can go or a different school I can transfer to so I can learn more about what I really need to know like Genesis and WordPress? I found out through this blog that there is so much more than WYSIWYG programming that I have never even heard of!
Andrea Whitmer says
Unfortunately I’m not super familiar with the programs available – my degrees are actually in a different field, and I’ve been out of school for a very long time! However, I will say that Dreamweaver makes my insides hurt a little. It’s not a bad thing to learn, but it’s not the most efficient way to build websites for clients. I would suggest looking at some of the online courses for WP, PHP, etc. on sites like Udemy.
I built static HTML websites for YEARS before getting onboard with WordPress, but using a CMS is better for clients in the long run, and my workflow is significantly faster and easier than it was in the past. Unfortunately a lot of schools are teaching vastly outdated methods and you’ll find you will do a lot more learning after graduation than you did in school. 🙂
I can’t offer insight into school, but I will say that there’s absolutely no need to limit yourself to formal education. School is a great resource, but don’t stop there.
I’m strong-minded on this point because I’m going on 8 years of professional experience, and 13 years as a hobbyist (wow, the time flies), and I’m a college dropout! It’s a scary phrase to many people, and I wouldn’t say I advocate leaving school, but the point is that my skill set was entirely acquired by reading reading reading, dissecting public websites, and looking into freely available resources for the programming side of things. Best of all, I love my job! Good luck out there.
By the way, Andrea: I’m impressed with the content here. I’m subscribing now! =)
Andrea Whitmer says
Thanks for stopping by, Vince! Totally agree – I’ve been doing this 19 years without a lick of formal education, and no one has ever questioned my capabilities. Taking apart old school websites’ HTML to teach myself took a lot of determination! It’s a whole different world now… So many resources available. It still blows my mind that you can find out absolutely anything you want to know using the internet.
Unfortunately I’ve had to deal with WordPress design & its templates extensively over the past 12 months for various clients/companies…and wow…what an absolute nightmare each and every time.
I exited college over a decade ago where I got a degree as a designer, have worked as a print designer, web designer and now primarily as a web developer/designer. Even went back to school and got another 4-yr. degree to have a better understanding of coding and the IT side of things. Heck – for a year I worked at a managed server hosting company dealing with mostly CMS-related issues on a daily basis!
…and this is my conclusion:
WordPress is terrible.
Seriously, I loathe the CMS. I have opted whenever possible to straight build custom, simplified, just-what-the-client-needs CMSs instead vs. turning WordPress into a monstrosity it isn’t. Only when a client specifically demands it do I encourage its use.
And WordPress is for BLOGS people. BLOGS. It’s like a Frankenstein monster at this point.
For instance, yeah, you can get a WooCommerce plugin and sell your custom shirts on your site…but be warned – it ain’t as easy as you think. You better have a compatible theme. You better have someone who can dig into the guts of config files to fine-tune the way items are displayed. You better be happy with the limited add-ons (that are typically pricey) it offers. etc. I’ve never seen a WordPress site be a turn-key solution – everything has to be precisely configured (think hard-coding all sorts of values in static HTML file) and if one thing is off, it could kill your entire site.
The more you know about design and web development…and in the process supporting WordPress sites, the more you realize it is a downright terrible solution 99.999999% of the time. It is overkill in most every way, and not nearly as feature-filled or future-proof as customers expect. It is for BLOGS and nothing more.
There are only three things worse than WordPress (in no particular order):
Andrea Whitmer says
Thanks for stopping by! Although your feelings about WordPress are very different from mine, I appreciate you taking the time to share your experiences.
I do agree with you that WP isn’t the “anyone can do it” solution people tend to think it is. For the average end user (the same person who likely has a post-it under his or her keyboard with passwords on it), learning all the ins and outs can be a total nightmare. Understanding updates is something many people will never be able to do no matter how many times it’s explained to them, and the level of frustration I see at times makes me wonder why people don’t try something else.
For me personally, WP is a great solution and I’m behind it 100%. That’s why I chose to work with it exclusively. But that doesn’t mean it’s the answer to every problem. I’ve never had issue with referring someone elsewhere if the solution they need can be better achieved with another CMS or another solution entirely.
I broke down and tried WordPress after about 13 years of building static HTML sites, and one of the biggest draws for me was the fact that *some* clients can maintain and change things themselves. (Definitely not all of them.) The idea that I could hand over a project and be completely done with it instead of carrying every single client for life was appealing to me. I also love the fact that there is such a large community – there are some great solutions out there. Admittedly, for every great plugin or add-on, there are a thousand crappy ones, but I think that’s the case with any open source software (just look at some of the extensions available for Chrome).
I’d be interested to know what kind of long-term maintenance is required when you build a custom CMS. (Not being snarky; I’d really like to know.) How long can a solution stay in place before the code is deprecated? How much control does the end user have, and does s/he have any options other than hiring someone if the site needs more/different functionality down the road? If you’re ever interested, I’d love to put up a guest post about what that process looks like and how the project is maintained once it’s completed, what the life span is, etc. simply because that isn’t a realm I’ve visited. The picture in my head is very similar to the type of work I used to do (which was a complete headache a lot of the time) so I’d love to hear more about the work you’re doing if you ever wanted to share.
High five re: Magento! I shudder a little just thinking about it.
Scott, that’s unfortunate that you’ve had such a negative experience but I think it’s worth considering how any tool is used before judging the merits of the tool itself.
I used to build everything by hand and like you, I am not pleased with the WP bloat involved to do something as simple as a static page. However, that’s part of the tradeoff. At the end of the day I have to ask myself if it’s more important for me to be a code purist with everything as optimized as possible, or is it more important for me to use WP and other tools as a force multiplier?
The purist side of me doesn’t like to rely on third party tools and code that is admittedly not as clean and/or efficient as it could or should be. However, the business side of me realizes that I can get more market value out of my time/effort if I don’t reinvent the wheel, even once. So much time has already been invested by people who are just as good or even better than I am at designing solutions to common needs.
Are there problems? Absolutely. In the end though it’s like any other framework. The same applies to frontend frameworks like Twitter Bootstrap or Zurb Foundation, or backend frameworks like perldancer or Catalyst. Committing to a framework always comes with baggage, but the effort involved to address said baggage may be less than the effort it takes to do everything yourself.
Or, maybe not. It will be different for everybody. For me, I can’t ignore the thousands of man hours that have been spent by people who specialize in the components they are developing. I would rather manage my project, because if I do everything myself my overall throughput will drop like a stone. I may have to dig into plugin, theme, or even WP core internals once in awhile, but that’s part of the trade.
As far as WP being for blogs only, it is open source meaning it can be for whatever you want. If one doesn’t want to train clients on how to use it, there’s nothing stopping anybody from customizing the admin interface. Literally anything is possible.
I wouldn’t say WP is terrible, I would say its appropriateness depends on the resources available to dig into the guts if/when needed. Again, this is true for any framework.
“However, the business side of me realizes that I can get more market value out of my time/effort if I don’t reinvent the wheel, even once. So much time has already been invested by people who are just as good or even better than I am at designing solutions to common needs.”
But THAT is the core problem. What you have admitted to is turning into nothing more than a WordPress plugin vending machine. You probably approach each project listening to a client and immediately thinking, “Oh, yeah…I know of plugin XYZ that costs $49 and can do that…and I can charge $199 for the setup of it!” And if a suitable plugin doesn’t exist, that’s when you start nudging clients into different directions in order to avoid development. Never mind if the plugin is terribly coded. Or has a bad UI. Or a strange way of working. Or has too many overwhelming options. Or is very restrictive usage-wise. etc.
I’ve seen this happen multiple times.
Small business owners of dev/design shops love WP because like you describe, they view it as a piece of software you can QUICKLY and EASILY and CHEAPLY attach “fancy” stuff to. The customer wants parallax? $20 theme on ThemeForest! The customer wants a shopping cart w/ QuickBooks integration? $90! The customer wants a fancy slider? $30! Should we even question whether the client NEEDS a parallax shopping cart site? …NOPE! Just send the first invoice!
From my perspective all I see is: “We don’t care if this accomplishes the technical, marketing and/or message goal(s) of the client – what we want to do is basically skim sites, find plugins, pull out our credit card a few times and then bill the customer big bucks for a ‘custom’ solution.”
CUSTOM? Bwahahahahaha. Yeah, sure.
Perhaps only purists think like me. I’ve heard in the past from a former coworker about a previous owner of the company we worked for saying I was “being dumb” for being a purist…after the coworker explained to him why I wanted to spend more time on the creative and building custom designs from scratch. And that’s fine if he thought that way – it was his company. And he only wanted to churn out cookie cutter WordPress sites for cheap (for probably the cheapest, most out-of-touch clientele I’ve ever experienced), which is why I left. Sad thing is, that owner’s mindset is not an uncommon one.
That’s fine if everyone on this blog think I’m out of touch or whatever for thinking WordPress is a bad decision – and I would say just a bad tool for anything other than blogging – because you’ve decided it’s better to stick with what’s safe/familiar vs. learning how to actually build things from scratch. I for one think duct-taping stuff together is a lazy, misleading and potentially security-ridden idea.
And YES, building from scratch is often what you need to do to truly meet a client’s needs (the clients who pay well and understand the value of what you do). It’s not rocket science, and yeah it’s gonna take more time to do the initial setup. But what you will deliver WILL actually be custom, and WILL be CRAFTED by a professional.
It’s sad to see so many developers siding with WordPress in an effort to crank out mediocre work to make a quick buck. Hint: When you do little to no ACTUAL work (changing CSS colors and fonts is not actual work), you are in fact a phony professional.
Andrea Whitmer says
I’m not sure if you’re just trolling or if that’s actually how you think WP designers/devs operate. Because what you’ve described is NOTHING like my own workflow or that of anyone I know, other than maybe the people on Elance or oDesk charging $150 per website.
I think it can be dangerous to assume that something is automatically better because you coded it yourself from scratch (generic “you” – not you personally). I also don’t necessarily see the value in something 100% custom if that means the client shells out thousands of dollars every few months when they need to do something. I would hope any professional is creating a solution based on what the client needs, but there’s no reason to imply that everyone who uses WordPress is some kind of scam artist because that’s simply not true.
I couldn’t agree more.. Lots of broad sweeping GENERALIZATIONS and STEREOTYPES, and ASSUMPTIONS.. Why come to a WordPress blog JUST to (apparently) bash???
“What you have admitted to is turning into nothing more than a WordPress plugin vending machine.”
You misunderstand what I’m “admitting to”. It’s not about cookie cutter product, it’s about leveraging work that has already been done.
Do you ever use code libraries? perl CPAN, php PEAR? The concept is the same. You are likely reusing code written by other people without realizing it. Do you really build everything 100% from scratch? Did you hand code the webserver software that runs your websites or are you using an open source solution like the vast majority of the internet?
This is the point: there’s nothing inherently bad about reusing other peoples’ work. It’s what open source software is built upon. The problems you describe have nothing to do with WordPress, they are problems with people using WP in ways that turn out bad product.
Assuming that using WP = laziness is ridiculous. Working with WP does not automatically mean you aren’t diving into graphic design, frontend/backend code, sysadmin work, or anything else related to running a website.
It’s unfortunate that your negative experiences have colored your perspective so strongly. You have some valid points, but they’re undone by your generalizations. Not everybody is as bad/lazy/opportunistic as you might think.
Best of luck.
“Do you ever use code libraries? perl CPAN, php PEAR? The concept is the same. You are likely reusing code written by other people without realizing it. Do you really build everything 100% from scratch? Did you hand code the webserver software that runs your websites or are you using an open source solution like the vast majority of the internet?”
Exactly!! Let’s take e-commerce for example..
WHY oh WHY would anyone create an e-commerce framework as part of a custom site build for a client. Unless the developer is SERIOUSLY undervaluing their time, the time and expense alone to build anything robust and feature rich doesn’t justify the work.. A corporate client would balk at such an expensive proposition.
REAL pros know that WordPress (or any other open-source app) is a framework/foundation for a site build.. A REAL pro knows that they must take time out to understand their client’s needs, and put together a solid build plan to execute those needs.
A REAL pro will NOT nudge clients into different directions in order to avoid development. A REAL pro will know that plugins/modules are NOT a “one-size-fits-all” answer to every business requirement, and sometimes you may need custom code to deliver what their client wants.
That said a REAL pro also knows they don’t HAVE to re-invent the wheel. If their client needs to sell and display ads on their site, there is NO NEED to write an entire custom ad management plugin/module if there is already a well written one ready to use.
While I can understand your frustration, I think you are a bit misguided on many fronts. WordPress can do a hell of a lot more than basic blogs.
40+ Most Notable Big Name Brands that are Using WordPress
And the vast majority of those are standard blogs or blog-like news sites. I’m on record saying WordPress for blog use is not bad. WordPress itself still has issue to me, but at least bloggers/writers in these instances are using it for what it was developed for.
Andrea Whitmer says
I’ve opted not to publish Scott’s last comment as I don’t feel it contributes constructively to the discussion here. When designers or devs start to feel like their way is the ONLY way, it’s difficult for them to express those ideas in a manner that will allow others to see their point of view.
I don’t think WordPress is the only answer, nor do I think it’s automatically the best solution for every single website on the entire internet. But because Scott opted to ignore my questions about his workflow, which I was generally interested in, and instead over-focused on why everyone else is wrong and he’s right, it’s clear to me he’s not open to exchanging ideas with others. Instead, he seemed to want a forum to bash those who do things differently, and I’m just not feeling that today.
Kudos to you.. CLEARLY Scott was more interested in spewing out GENERALIZATIONS and STEREOTYPES, and ASSUMPTIONS versus having an EXCHANGE of ideas..
It’s a shame when otherwise interesting conversations take a sour turn.
On the bright side, this is great motivation to turn out quality WP-based product. I’m sure this perception, though unfair, isn’t uncommon. What better way to change peoples minds than to show them?
“It’s a shame when otherwise interesting conversations take a sour turn”
Indeed.. I think though Scott was either looking for an audience for his views or he simply wanted to spank what he thought was a group of naughty children rather than to have a meaningful discussion..
“On the bright side, this is great motivation to turn out quality WP-based product. I’m sure this perception, though unfair, isn’t uncommon. What better way to change peoples minds than to show them?”
I agree.. In fact I recently did an upgrade/facelift to a client’s site.. including a dynamic WordPress/Zen Cart theme/template integration where the WordPress theme CONTROLS the overall look/feel of the whole site including the Zen Cart template. I used no plugin or module to achieve this.. (none exists) In fact I had to figure out a LOT of how to do this on my own since many naysayers kept telling me that it couldn’t be done.. So I used just elbow grease along with trial & error.
The site has LOTS of custom code, custom Zen Cart modules, and custom WordPress plugins. WordPress is a FRAMEWORK.. With out-the-box WordPress and Zen Cart installs, I could have NEVER pulled this site off. Available WordPress and Zen Cart plugins and modules alone would not have allowed me to pull this site off (especially NOT the themeing/templating integration work — which BTW was NOT based on some Theme Forest hack)..
Understanding what my client needed and delivering THAT is why this site re-launch went well.. and despite Scott’s very narrow POV, what I delivered IS actually be custom, and WAS CRAFTED by a professional.
Gary Jones says
I disagree with the (il)logical assumptions made in point 4.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with 70+ active plugins. It all depends on the what the plugins do, and how they are written.
If there’s five plugins that each register a custom post type, and include a widget for displaying the output, then that’s better than a single plugin that does the same – it means each post type can be enabled or disabled as necessary without affecting the others. One plugin could be improved with new functionality, without risking breaking code of the others. Any duplicate code could be held in a must-use library plugin, and extended accordingly.
Likewise, other plugins could be extended with other add-on plugins – WooCommerce, EDD, Soliloquy, Envato, bbPress and others follow this model. These all add extra functionality to customise the original plugins. For Genesis child themes, you might also have bridge plugins that adapt the default Genesis output for these plugins. Overall then, it’s not hard to get 70+ plugins.
The problem comes when they all output styles and scripts to the front end, or they have non-caching expensive database queries, or access the filesystem in some way. These last two are the expensive operations for performance, but they still would be if the code was placed into theme files too.
So the unqualified “She uses plugins for everything”, for me, is a good thing. It’s more modular and flexible than stuffing it all into a theme, and that functionality being lost when the theme gets changed. If a qualification is needed, it’s not about the number of plugins being used, but about the number of expensive tasks those plugins are doing between them.
Andrea Whitmer says
I’ll agree that it depends on what the plugins are and how they’re written. I’ve been known to hit 40 or 50 myself in certain cases (usually ecommerce). What I find more often, though, is inexperienced designers who use plugins unnecessarily and in a way that hinders load times (like 3 separate slider plugins – saw that recently). In most cases, when I see large numbers, it’s a sign things aren’t as they should be.
The web person in one of the first examples where they had told the client they should not update plugins was right. Big mistake there was ever giving them access to be able to. That will screw a site up depending on plugins. Sure they paid for the site and they need the access info if relationship breaks or moves on, but they have no business making updates unless they can back the database and files up too for when they do screw it up. Then we get to go in and recover it for them. All stems from being cheap… which most are.
Andrea Whitmer says
I think it really depends on the type of relationship the designer or dev has with the client. Most of my clients are fully capable of applying their own updates and making backups, and they opt to take care of that themselves. If a plugin update breaks a site, I’d really question the quality of the plugin – I haven’t seen issues like that since the early, early days of WordPress. As the platform has matured, issues like those are extremely rare.
Personally, I think it’s far more dangerous to scare site owners into thinking nothing can ever be updated. That’s when they show up here filling out my contact form because the site was hacked and the person who told them not to update is (often) nowhere to be found. It’s far more lucrative for me – this may be selfish, but it’s true – to clean up after something breaks vs. maintaining a site on an ongoing basis, so if they want to update their own stuff, I don’t mind at all. 🙂
Neghie Thervil says
I can’t remember the last time a plug-in update broke a website. 90% of my clients require the ability to update their own websites and that is the growing trend. The days when we could hold clients for hostage and juice them slowly over time is gone. I actually suggest that my clients take care of their own updates and give them “the option” of taking care of it for them.
It’s all about the quality of the plug-ins you’re using and the development of the site as a whole. I create video tutorials (at a fee) for them to reference to whenever they want to update anything giving them the ultimate freedom and control. That way, if they do happen to break something, it’s not on me, and my bleeding heart doesn’t affect my ability charge them accordingly to fix it.
Andrea Whitmer says
Hmm… Interesting article. But I’m torn.. When you say ‘cant code’ do you mean the same as ‘wont code’? I can code. Very well in fact. I can write your whole website in notepad if you want. But do I? Nope.
Why would I waste days of my time typing code when I can just install a visual editing plugin and do it in a few hours..? It saves me time. It saves my client money. And in my experience, the easiest solution is usually the quickest.
I’m genuinely curious. Maybe I’m doing things wrong?…
Andrea Whitmer says
Re: using a page builder, I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with that as long as the client understands you’re using one and how it might affect the site down the road. Many page builders fill the site with shortcodes in place of actual content, making it impossible to stop using the plugin later without losing the content of every single page. A lot of them are also bloated and poorly written – Visual Composer comes to mind – and may drag down performance. But if a client understands those limitations and is willing to deal with them to save money, that’s their decision. My only problem comes when a client is being sold on a “custom” solution that involves a premade theme and a page builder for thousands of dollars. For five hundred bucks? Sure! But not at a price that promises something they aren’t getting.
This is an ancient article,
so comments are now closed.