Is it time for the website development industry to be regulated?

craig rreadon

There’s nothing quite like the website design and development industry.

As exciting as it is, it’s the only industry where qualifications appear to mean nothing as high school kids compete with multinationals for a slice of your digital action. And your dollar.

I’m certainly not one to stifle one’s creativity with bureaucracy, but the number of horror stories smaller business operators report about the industry could put Stephen King out of a job.

Stories abound of stolen deposits, incomplete websites, websites that don’t work or do what was briefed, security issues, disappearing web designers and a host of other issues.

I’m not sure what proportion of overall business complaints are levelled at the website development industry, but judging by the stories constantly lighting up social media, it would be up there with shonky builders and used car dealers.

Not worth pursuing

The problem is, while the sums of money at stake are significant for the business operator, they are usually too small to take significant legal action.

Even if you go down the path of the state consumer tribunals, there is still hours of work that needs to be invested in preparing your case – usually too much to justify the trouble, particularly if you lose.

So why isn’t the website development industry regulated by stricter qualifications and the like?

I think there are two key reasons. Culture and pace of change.

It’s a free free world

Culturally, the website development industry is one that likes to express itself without the barriers of previous industries. It likes to be able to learn on the fly by accessing both peer communities and the volumes of information about most aspects of web development and design.

If you’re thinking the hippy movement of the late 1960s, you aren’t far off the mark. Make websites, not war.

With freedom of expression comes mistrust of authority and in turn regulation. The industry prides itself on being unencumbered with the rules and regulations of pretty much every other industry.

Who you gonna call?

Of course with ‘laissez faire’ work practices comes laissez faire legal implications. Because you can’t point to a provider being governed by a qualification or regulatory body when hiring a professional, you are forced to rely on the available legal channels in the event anything goes wrong, which they clearly do pretty regularly.

Not that I’m overly qualified in the website development industry myself. While I have studied content and marketing at tertiary level, none is specifically geared towards the digital world. They are more general studies that I’ve migrated into a digital context.

Though admittedly, these studies are more advanced than many who make good livings in the website development industry after teaching themselves many of the ropes from free online forums and resources – not that that’s a bad thing either in isolation.

Academia slow to respond

The industries’ pace of change also ensures that qualifications are less appropriate to this industry. As advanced as some tertiary institutions claim to be, they are still years behind what is going on in the website development industry right now.

By the time academia has had a chance to gather enough evidence and expertise to create and offer a good course, the website development industry has moved into a whole new direction, often making this kind of study redundant before it can even be completed.

The result of so little regulation is that designers and developers with little experience start to offer their services to an unsuspecting market.

Low client knowledge and understanding

Complicating matters further is the low knowledge level on the part of business clients. Often their decision is based on viewing websites and other creative and technical projects the provider claims to have created.

Unfortunately this approach is heavily flawed for a number of reasons. First there is often little evidence of the provider’s role in creating the work. Second, while the finished product is there to see and use, it does little to demonstrate how well the provider managed the design and development process, which may have been deeply flawed.

With such a blend of technology and creative components, it’s often difficult to judge the true cost of the work demonstrated. Who’s to say that it wasn’t done for next to nothing, thereby removing all important budget-creation and adherence requirements?

And on it goes.

Regulation may be abhorrent to the industry, but it may well be necessary to survive in an increasingly demanding and litigious business world.

In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.


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5 years ago

The web development industry has undergone significant changes in the last couple of years – there are agencies charging 50 grand for sites that wind up providing very little for their owners, people tend to misunderstand the purpose of sites & hanker after cutesy design results instead of solid marketing principles & communication/ease of transaction. I just think the regulating body would be a nightmare unless it is intelligently executed!

5 years ago

It’s an interesting point you make Craig. In the digital age we now experience, it’s very easy for an agency to outsource everything, and then both the website owner and agency are stuck with the end product…Good or Bad. Our website development is completed in house and as such requires us to charge more than an agency that outsources, but out clients are kept in full communication through-out the entire process, and they have full input into the end result. How all of this could be regulated would be very interesting to read!!

Vanessa Emilio
Vanessa Emilio
5 years ago

Good article and timely. We have numerous clients at who seem to have ‘issues’ with overseas providers. Granted sometimes the issue is lack of clarity around what is required or expected on the part of the client engaging the developer but where overseas entities are involved, it seems there is a lack of understanding about litigation or ability to recoup fees/refunds or otherwise contractual liability for any work done overseas. I cannot stress enough to clients that if they choose overseas providers to outsource to (normally they are cheaper-maybe for a reason? Your point under ‘who you gonna call’ is spot on!) there is risk involved. Losing deposits, payments, right to litigate or have any recourse is highly contingent on where and who you choose as a service provider. Warning to all: there is a cost to doing business with unknowns overseas and you are not protected locally if you choose to use these services!