Blog / Shonky Internet - Cowboy Builders and the Online Gold Rush

Tom Dickinson
December 1, 2010

When I bite into my apple, I don’t expect a cheeky worm to be wriggling around inside. I don’t expect the wheels to fall off my speeding bicycle, I don’t like it when shoes fall apart on the first wear, and I hate when my parachute doesn’t open when I yank the cord.

These pet hates, regarding faulty products and rubbish services - most people would agree - are unacceptable lapses in quality control and consumer care.

As consumers and users, these days we’re quite lucky there are lots of rules, laws and checks to keep everything running smoothly and working the way it was intended to. Cowboy builders now struggle to get away with selling rubbish work at abusive prices, and the manufacturers making toys with razor blade-hands and fit-inducing-strobe-rays will hopefully not end up under the tree this christmas.

So, why is it that in the world of website design, so much utter rubbish manages to exist, when in the real world it would never have been allowed to hit the factory floor?!

Well it’s become cheap and relatively easy to make your own website. Just grab yourself a copy of insta-website-maker-du-jour off the front of a magazine, or buy a copy of Dreamweaver and you’re away - let the good times roll! But it’s not as easy as some people may think, and it seems to me that the result of this DIY culture is an internet filled with ugly, unruly, faulty, difficult, tasteless and tacky monstrosities that totally disregard the user from the equation. It’s like the first round of the X-Factor, but I’m booing off tune-less digital design products instead of singers.

I understand that SMEs and individuals need to be represented on the Internet, and I think that it has to be a good thing that this can be achieved without spending a fortune on a top notch design and bespoke website. But how can people get it so wrong? Why in so many cases can people not see that what they have either produced themselves or foolishly paid someone else to make is such low quality, and so far off the standard of the websites that genuinely work? 

Could the answer be more IT in schools? More design lessons? I don’t think so: not everyone can be naturally good at this kind of work, and why should it be a prerequisite that every professional who wants to market and represent themselves online cheaply must also be a professional web designer / developer. (Let alone the fact that good graphic design practice and good web development practice are already so disparate to start with!) It’s a tough one, but am I the only one that feels depressed and disheartened when I am forced to sift through the sludge that clogs up the net. Sometimes it feels like a very bleak and backward place, but I honestly believe it doesn’t need to be this way.

At this point I appreciate that not everything can be great, and I am writing this as an experienced graphic designer at a desk in one of the best website production companies in the UK. BUT, my point is that I want the web to work, and I want people’s websites to work for them and their businesses the way they intended. To increase their appeal, to help get the word out, to help them make more money - especially in the current financial climate. So many sites will not, and cannot work commercially because they’re simply not communicating properly, or don’t even work properly. It saddens me to see so many businesses get it wrong, especially when they’ve paid someone else to do it for them.

There are so many great books and ‘idiot’s guides’. Have a look and see what works for you. Ask other people, have a critique, invite criticism. Personally, I think a great thing to use is a website template service, so many of the templates available aren’t half bad, and all the average layman or web virgin needs to worry about is putting in the text. It would be a shame if everything in this world was the same, but it would be better than everything being awful, all at the same time.