real-website-designer

 

When web designers pass off other people’s web designs as their own

Posted on February 12, 2016

 

I recently wrote an article about how you become a web designer, and how you get started in the industry. However, one of the seedier sides to dipping your toe into the world of web design is the ‘fluffed up’ CV. Before you can get a job as a website designer, you need experience. You need to have designed websites. Nobody is going to give you a chance if you haven’t actually done it before, but how can do it when nobody will give you a chance.

Well, there are two ways:

1 – Design websites

You can design websites for yourself. Choose some topics and industries and build websites for them. You don’t need to have actual clients to do this, just make the websites to show what you can do. Make websites for your dad’s business, for your mum’s hobby, for your brother’s band – whatever you can think of to do, just do it. This shows potential employers and clients that not only can you actually design and build a website, but you’re also so dedicated you’ll build them just for the experience.

It’s what we like to see when we’re hiring for a web designer.

2 – Cheat

This may sound a little harsh, but it’s very common for people (in any industry) to ‘inflate’ their importance in roles they have had. For example, you might say you were responsible for a project when, in fact, you were one of many who contributed. You might say you led a team when, in fact, you were a junior member of that team. You might say you designed a website when, in fact, you merely made some changes to it.

You might say you designed a website when, in fact, you merely made some changes to it. Click To Tweet

This last one is very common in the web design industry, and it’s not always done to deceive; some people really don’t see the difference between designing and updating, or designing and developing.

A case in point

For instance, we have a client who has been with us since 2009 for online marketing. The client’s website was updated by us back in 2009 to be put into the WordPress platform, as it was previously a static HTML website with no include files, which meant it was very difficult to amend.

This also gave the website a blogging platform, something we use extensively at Engage Web for our online marketing as content is the backbone of good SEO. We have been providing content for the client on a regular basis since then.

Now, a couple of years ago, the client decided to have its website redesigned by someone else in an exchange of services, and then get us to implement the design without affecting the many page one rankings, and without there being a drop in the many enquiries that come through each month. We did this after being given some HTML and CSS files from the designer. We took the files and created a WordPress theme from them, added the WordPress code and installed the theme on the existing website.

I don’t think anyone can say the person who designed the website doesn’t deserve the design credit. Of course they do. Do they deserve to say they developed the website however? Can they legitimately claim, in their portfolio on their own website, that they added new features and added their own CMS?

Well, they have:

“A lot of new features were added to the site from callback request forms to scrolling slideshows. WebCMS was also installed so the owner could manage the content 24/7. Additional modules for course management and a blog was also added to the website through the WebCMS system.”

To any of their potential clients reading that, it appears the designer built our client’s website using their own CMS, and added a blog, even though the blog had been in use since 2009.

Now, we don’t mind designers doing this from our point of view. If someone wants to take credit for work they didn’t do, that’s up to them, but it’s not good from the client’s point of view. How can you be sure that what you’re reading is true? How can you be sure that someone who claims to have designed and built a website actually had anything to do it?

How do you know when a web designer has really made a website they claim to have designed? Click To Tweet

Do we have to fact check every designer who says they built a website now? Employers should do that when looking for web designers, and we can cut through the inflated claims when we’re hiring for web designers at the interview stage. For people looking to hire a web design company however, it can be more difficult to tell.

Taking credit for someone else’s web design

The example above isn’t an isolated incident either; we recently had another occurrence of a web design agency placing its ‘design by’ credit onto a website we had designed and built. The agency had merely taken over it and made some amends.

The design was put together by one of our web design team in 2012. The website was designed in Photoshop, following a consultation and brief with the client. The design went through five draft stages before arriving at the finalised website, and it was built in WordPress to have a responsive design using the Bootstrap framework.

The client moved the website to a new design agency in 2015 because the new agency was round the corner from them (about three miles in fact), whereas we’re about 240 miles away. This made sense, and we aided with the transfer of the website and the domain name.

I think you can guess what is coming.

The new design agency made some amends to the website, such as changing the font and adding a slider to the homepage, and then decided that was sufficient work to reward itself with a ‘design by’ credit in the footer, removing ‘Engage Web’ and replacing it with the agency’s own name.

Had they designed the website? No. Had they built the website? No. Did they have five rounds of design drafts in PSD files? No. Yet, to anyone who looks at the website, they are now proudly listed as the design company responsible.

Again, we don’t actually mind this. We know who designed the website; it’s in our web design portfolio. What we do think is wrong, however, is that people will see that website and think this other agency designed it. It’s deceptive and misleading, and is taking credit for work done by somebody else.

It’s deceptive and misleading, and is taking credit for work done by somebody else. Click To Tweet

We did call the agency out on Twitter about this, and received a response via email offering ‘to go over the changes the developer made to the site’. The use of this phrase in the email should be sufficient enough to illustrate the agency knows it didn’t design it.

Following this exchange, the agency did change its credit to remove the ‘design by’ and just, instead, feature the company name and link. While this doesn’t explicitly say the agency designed it, it is implied and would be taken as such by anyone who sees it.

Suspect everyone

So what do we learn from this? We learn that you can’t take it as read that someone who claims they designed a website actually designed it. We learn that a web designer’s portfolio might not be theirs at all, and that you can’t always trust that a web designer is being completely honest with you.

You can’t always trust that a web designer is being completely honest with you Click To Tweet

It’s a harsh lesson, but one well learned I feel – certainly better learned here in this article than discovered by parting with your hard-earned money for a website that may not end up as you expected.

Technical Director at Engage Web
Darren is Technical Director at Engage Web, as well as being a co-founder of the company. He takes a hands-on approach to SEO and web design, helped by more than 20 years’ experience in these fields.
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