With the advent of social media and mobile apps, it almost seems quaint to be talking about websites.
There was a time when web design and development was the hottest sector to be in. In the early days of the Internet, such companies could charge an arm and a leg just for building a simple corporate website.
Those days seem like ancient history now. With the advent of social media and mobile apps, it almost seems quaint to be talking about websites. But a corporate website is still necessary for many companies.
I recently spoke to the founders of two different web design and development companies to get their views on how the scene has changed over the years. One comes from a technical background while the other is design-based.
Fu Ching Yee (pic), who used to work as a programmer for a multinational corporation, co-founded her company Senedi in 2008, after she took up a voluntary separation scheme. Lilian Thien, who started her career as a print designer, got enamoured of the Internet and decided to join an interactive firm. By 2006, she co-founded her own company, Webz Fusion.
A lot has changed, including the skill sets that are emphasized. Back then, coding was the key skill to have, which was ideal for someone like Ching Yee, who is technically-inclined. It was harder for the design-centric Lilian. “Back in those days, it was a coder’s world,” she recalls. “Only recently has there been a shift to a truly designer-friendly web, where the software codes your design rather than you having to design for the software.”
In the early days, websites were relatively simple. “We did a lot of static or HTML-based sites back then,” she recalls. “Demand has now shifted to sites with content management systems because people are aware that content is king. And for enterprise projects, we see a higher demand for cloud-based software.”
With so many people owning smartphones, the mobile web has grown from being “nice to have” to being a “must have”, according to Lilian (pic). “Not many companies will actually ask for mobile web per se but they do expect their websites to function well on a mobile screen,” she adds.
“There is a lot of interest in mobile,” says Ching Yee, although she notes that mobile web is still something new for many companies so their budgets for it would be small. So, instead of building dedicated mobile sites her approach is to design sites that are adaptable to the small screen.
Back when they started, there wasn’t social media to speak of. Now, it’s everywhere. But while some companies have decided to forego websites in favour of blogs or social media pages, neither one feels their business has been adversely affected.
“I’m sure that social media has impacted the industry somewhat, but we don’t really feel that impact,” says Ching Yee. “Perhaps that’s because we’ve always targeted customers who understand the value of having their own web presence.”
Lilian highlights the fact that serious companies still need proper websites. “Facebook and blogs are fine for freelancers and small start-ups but any decent-sized company would need a corporate site,” she says.
Another threat is the commoditisation of the business. With so many competitors out there, it’s crucial stay innovative. Ching Yee’s company has an “Express” web development process that allows them to churn out a draft version of a client’s website within one day. “We are also automating our support, putting in all kinds of tools and widgets to manage the website after it goes live – taking care of things like backup, security, uptime, search engine optimization and so on,” she says.
Lilian believes that as the Internet evolves, new opportunities will crop up. She’s particularly excited about the notion of the Internet of Things. “It’s about creating web interfaces for ordinary devices all around you, she says. “The Internet of Things is both a challenge and an opportunity for designers and developers everywhere. The future is bright if you can adapt.”
Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.