Why every web designer should embrace site builders

By Avery Wagner Posted Mar. 21, 2016 Reading time: 4 minutes

The number of web designers who still look down their noses at website publishers (such as Squarespace, Wix, or Webydo) is unbelievable to me. Eye rolling, haughty chuckling, bursts of forced laughter… the whole nine yards.

Snobs, you know who you are…

Where I work, our tool of choice is Squarespace, but across the Web you can see the same snobbery we experience, directed at other template-based website publishers. In the words of a fellow web designer:

Pfft. Squarespace? That’s what we tell clients who can’t afford us: “Just go make a Squarespace site. Do it yourself. You don’t need us.” Who cares? If they can’t pay the full price of development, we’re not interested.

Or another friend:

WTF are you talking about, design a Squarespace website? Design it? Just tell the client to use it out of the box. Why would you EVER offer Squarespace design? Just tell your clients to do it themselves if that’s what they want.

Or yet another web designer:

You’re joking. Squarespace? I don’t have time for this. I have real work to do.

What is it with designers trash-talking these publishers? Get your heads out of the ground! Template-based publishers offer a major business opportunity; if you’re still stuck in the mud writing them off, you’re missing out…big time.

Here’s the truth: we designers are trained to take criticism; it comes with the job. But, the moment we feel our skills being undermined, it’s a different story. There’s a switch at the back of every designer’s brain that flips into panic mode the instant we feel we could be replaced by something newer, something automated, something that doesn’t need a human designer there guiding the process…and these publishing services’ whole pitch is that they allow anyone to create a beautiful site.


Admit it: deep down, you feel threatened

So you laugh it off. You send clients who are an ideal fit for a combination of template-based web design and your professional skills out the door. You look down your noses at these website publishers instead of seeing the opportunity they represent. In doing so, you let an incredibly valuable business deal slip through your fingers.

Instead, we should be embracing the expanded opportunities that Webflow, Virb, Weebly, and others represent. For every small business, nonprofit, or blogger who can’t afford the price of full site development and design, you have an opportunity: a client who values your expertise, needs your skills, and wants to invest in your services. What they don’t want is the full enchilada. They shouldn’t need to invest in what could be two or three times the cost of a professionally executed template-based site in your full development process.

Leading these smaller clients to think that they need to lay down $15,000 for a custom-built site when their needs could be better met by the incredible usability, security, and affordable hosting of these publishers and complete the project on budget is, in my mind, entirely unethical.

$50 logo templates haven’t brought down…graphic design…computerized spreadsheets haven’t sealed the fate of skilled accountants, and boxed cake mix hasn’t put professional bakers out of business

If these smaller clients don’t need custom-built functionality, they don’t need a custom-built site. A restaurant, a pet store, an accounting office; these busy small business owners don’t have time to learn how to work through clunky back ends. And they don’t have $15,000 to lay down for custom design and development.

But they do have the insight to see the value of a professionally executed website. That’s why they came to you: they know that the experience you bring to the table means the website you create will be of a higher quality and functionality than they could ever achieve themselves.

You know not only how to make a site look good, you know how to make it function intuitively, represent a client’s brand from top to bottom, and meet all of the client’s needs. These site builders are the perfect opportunity to cut a smaller deal with smaller clients instead of sending their business out the door.

$50 logo templates haven’t brought down the field of graphic design, the advent of computerized spreadsheets haven’t sealed the fate of skilled accountants, and boxed cake mix hasn’t put professional bakers out of business. While template-based website publishers may at first glance feel threatening, they really represent a whole new set of opportunities for you.


Site builders haven’t, and won’t, replace web designers

You already know this deep down: high-need, larger-budget clients — those who truly need a host of custom-built features — are still going to need your development skills as much as ever. You can still count on hitting your optimal price range with those clients.

Instead, where you’re going to benefit with a template-based publisher is with clients who already recognize the essential importance of designers’ skills: businesses with straightforward website needs, bloggers invested in their brand, small nonprofits, local restaurants, and the like.

The skills these clients are going to need from you on these projects are the things you love working with: Your professional eye and advanced branding and design experience.

The demands and skills these clients won’t need from you at all? Hand-holding HTML coaching, site security responsibilities, site updates, making minute changes to content when clients can’t handle it, optimizing your code for every single browser and interface by hand, and configuring and integrating a million haphazard plugins. In other words, all of the things that can make your job terrible are no longer on your plate.

To wrap this whole discussion up:

  • Offering customized, optimized, professional website publisher-based design gives us — designers — the chance to achieve all the things we love about web design without the drawbacks that suck.
  • And it gives clients the power to make their own content updates and changes on a professional, flawless site without paying unnecessary development costs.
  • And finally, it gives these clients’ customers a fully branded, fully responsive web experience.

Despite my earnest evangelizing efforts, it’s the same with these template-based publishers as it is with everything in life: Haters gonna hate. But, if you’re a rational human being who’s completely unswayed by my arguments and still a Squarespace hater? Please let me know how ridiculously wrong I am and why.

Peace out.


Featured image uses, web builder image and auto-build image via Shutterstock.