While cleaning out a big stack of magazines recently, I came across this article in Print that I’d marked as potential blog fodder.

In part, this article is about the current proliferation of design tools that help non-designers create something all their own – a t-shirt, a set of thank-you notes, business cards, and web sites. It brings to mind a recent article in another magazine that discusses how a few small businesses built instant web sites using tools found on GoDaddy, Homestead, MSN and other services, and became overnight sensations.

I can see why this might be a scary trend for us professionals – giving the potential clients the opportunity to make something themselves for which they might otherwise hire one of us. The tools are better, more readily available and easier to use. They have ‘built in skill’ – the results can look pretty good, even without design expertise on the part of the client.

But think about it. These folks that utilize GoDaddy’s Website Tonight – are they creatiing something truly special? Is it unique? Or is it something that looks more or less identical to 5,000 other sites that used the same template? True, it’s inexpensive. But is it accessible? Is it search engine-friendly? Is it ‘good’ as in high-quality design?

Do non-designers know the difference between homemade design and professional work? I think that many do. Sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes it’s not.

As the writer of the Print article states, DIY design today is more focused on customization than on improving or displaying design skill. That is, a non-designer who undertakes to create something often has the goal of making something unique, individual, and theirs and isn’t concerned about process or those little things that make me cringe, like errors in HTML code or colors that clash.

There are a lot of website builder programs out there – one I checked out had 2000 templates to choose from. But choosing all the elements of your site from drop down option menus doesn’t automatically mean the design will be ‘good.’ It’s yours, and it may very well be the only one that looks exactly the way it does, but it still hasn’t been designed. It’s just been pieced together like a puzzle from parts made by – that’s right – other designers.

The author goes on to say that DIY design is not a threat to real, professional design. I agree. If someone comes to me and says ‘I have a domain name parked on X host and they tell me I can build a web site there for $5.00 per month. Why should I pay you $X dollars to make something for me when I can do it myself for so little?’ then I have to give them the reasons, and the reasons are compelling to many.

Some don’t care, but most do. Most can tell ‘good design’ from ‘not so good design’ by looking, and most are willing to be educated a little, or sometimes a lot.

So, I’m not really worried. I think my prices are fair, I know my work is high-quality, and I have no shortage of clients who are tired of doing it themselves. I think it makes busy business people feel better that someone else is taking care of something important for them, and it’s one less thing they have to do themselves.

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