Ask DN: Can a traditional design agency learn HTML?

over 8 years ago from , UX Designer

I often see posts about print designers learning html. What about a traditional design agency? How can a smaller print focused agency learn to successfully enter digital?

Full disclosure. I work for a small agency, we do both print and web, but mostly print. I'm the only designer that does frontend. I'm looking for resources to help the management understand how we can transition to work better in digital design


  • Murat MutluMurat Mutlu, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

    Like most things in agencies, it can happen if it's from the top down.

    Usually it works like this - your print clients will often require digital work done around some of the briefs they give you. A landing page here, a banner campaign there etc.

    You gradually begin to upsell the ability to do that work, biting off small chunks at a time. Most clients would rather not bother their bigger retained agencies with banners and landing pages because it will cost them a fortune.

    Once you're foot is in the door, you start pinching more and more work until you have portfolio that can attract new clients.

    Then when there's enough digital work coming through, you begin moving away from print.

    That whole process takes a while though

    Getting everyone to learn HTML is another story, there needs to be investment in training, time to experiment etc. I'm not entirely sure about that.

    It would be easier for you to be given the responsibility to lead the new digital division and complete the work until it becomes too much for you and you can start hiring help

    4 points
    • , over 8 years ago

      Thanks for your input. That's pretty much been our experience. I've been taking the lead on digital work. We're slowly getting noticed for our work.

      I suppose we're heading in the right direction. I don't necessarily want other designers to learn html, but I do want to help everybody understand the differences in working on the web. I'd especially like to help the owner understand some difference even more.

      I really want to get to the point that we can hire a developer, even part time to help me build out sites. It feels like a chicken and egg problem much of the time.

      0 points
  • Tierney CyrenTierney Cyren, over 8 years ago

    I know it's probably not what you're looking for, but Codecademy has a fewexellentcourses (each one of those is a separate link) that teach one how to create front-end code/websites. Highly recommend. There are a few competitors, but you can't beat the level of quality that Codecademy has at their price level (free!).

    3 points
  • Sam Pierce LollaSam Pierce Lolla, over 8 years ago

    You don't necessarily need to make websites to be a digital agency. You could transition into designing apps, motion graphics, illustration, etc.

    However, be aware that all of those niches are specialized industries unto themselves, or even sub-industries of larger worlds (film, startups, etc). Like the world of print, they each have their own history, their own methods, their own thinkers, their own culture, their own business models, and their own set of tools (including their own programming languages).

    2 points
    • , over 8 years ago

      Good point... Although, considering our current client base web design makes the most sense. I think apps would be much harder of a transition. I should say that we do have a web portfolio, I would just like to grow that type of work.

      1 point
  • Joseph FelicianoJoseph Feliciano, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

    I worked for a certain small design & print / marketing agency briefly. The majority of the work was print design and this place refused to do anything differently.

    There was one supposed senior web developer and three designers. I was hired to be a jack of all trades junior designer that could cover both print design and front end design (html5, WordPress).

    No one there understood the web. The senior web developer was making sites that looked like they belonged back in 1998. They had a total of about 30 web clients. Non responsive at that and forget about mobile. They were so out of date. Think GeoCities websites and you get the idea. I was shocked people paid for these.

    I ended up being given the lead on one web project for a local Italian restaurant. I designed and used WordPress as a CMS for the project. Client loved it, boss was amazed. Then I left a few days later.

    Why ? The boss / owner of the agency who literally has no design, technical skills, or understanding of web / mobile had final say on every design and web project leaving the building. He fought me and questioned every step of the way. A small five page website micromanaged to the extreme.

    I could have stayed and possibly been the boy genius savior, but they refused to do anything different. In this case, this certain agency has no idea how to transition into web and is being led by someone who has no clue how the web works.

    They will keep printing flyers till there's no cash for payroll and the doors close. With out a boss that understands web, they won't even see it coming.

    1 point
  • Ryan Hicks, over 8 years ago

    Hah it's going to be really really hard if not impossible. Speaking from experience.

    0 points
    • , over 8 years ago

      I'd love to hear more about your experience. Do you, or have you worked for a print only agency? Has this agency tried to move more into the digital space? What are some of the barriers?

      0 points
      • Ryan Hicks, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

        Oh geez where to start. Really I could gripe about this all day long. I started working for the agency I'm at right now about 7-8 months ago. They have a digital team, but it's barely there. Like your team basically; where it's me as the ui/ux (most senior), a front-end dev that's actually an intern putting in long hours for us, a visual designer that's very entry level handling email development for us, another entry level designer helping the latter out, a producer that's basically a glorified PM, a video guy, and an on-need-basis digital producer working remotely.

        This agency is traditional advertising all the way, but offers itself as a full service agency often times contracting out jobs which I have a whole other opinion on. No one in this company knows anything about digital except for me, video guy, and my entry level visual designer. Our front-end intern is fantastic, but he's not considered full time. I have been fighting so hard to get the digital team more work and better placement in the company because that's where the money will be made in the future. No one in here accepts change in the digital realm. They believe in it, but not enough to put money into the effort of the side of business or the team. You can always tell where the money is in an agency by the size of the their departments.

        For instance I have been trying for the last 6 months to get this team to try Slack. Finally got it approved last week and sent out an email for everyone to try it. Maybe 15 people out of 50 signed up for our company account and two people use it. One of them being me. No one in here adopts to anything digital. My creative director doesn't even know what I do. He asked me what I did a couple months ago, and I have to explain it to him. Our PMs don't even know of or about what Jira or Trello is. It just blows my mind that people in this industry don't know the tools that their specific industry uses. Hell even our traditional designers don't even know of a lot of things. I'm constantly guiding all the designers in here in best practices and new techniques. Not that it's a big deal, but no designer in here even knew of dribbble. What do these people do all day? Sit in a cubicle, design, and go home? Don't they ever want to expand their craft. You can't do that by just pushing out jobs you've assigned to at work. You have to be active in the industry you are working in. It really blows my mind.

        Doubt that answered your question /rant.

        1 point