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Web Design in a Global Marketplace    
by William Szczepanek

Article 25: December 11, 2009

By definition the Web is a global entity. This article can be read by people from around the world with different views, from different cultures and with different goals.  While conceived in the USA the Internet has enveloped the planet. The Web has been responsible to a large extent for growth in developed countries and  many underdeveloped countries, and it provides the long term impetus for the U.S. to remain a global superpower.

Corporations have slowly realized that if they do not expand their products and services to other countries they will not survive.  This corporate direction has shifted from “needing to globalize to survive” to “globalize faster and make more money.”  Does it matter that American corporations in this free-for-all market economy increase their bottom line at the expense of American jobs and American technological know-how that has made it all possible?

The U.S. has been a leader in technological advances and innovation for decades. This combination has provided it with security and power.  The U.S. designs it.  Other countries steal it.  The U.S. designs it better and it is stolen again, etc.  Part of our design superiority with regard to computer software and Web design is based on the premise that we have developers in this country working directly with colleagues in other functional areas performing critical analysis to help provide new and better products and services. This is the basis for fostering innovation.

The Globalization of the Web - Where is it all going?

The movement of technology to offshore locations has been going on for a long time now.  Entities, like call centers, were outsourced easily because people on the other side of the world could answer computerized phone systems for a fraction of the cost of American workers. Does this now mean that any job that requires a phone and/or computer can be a job that is ripe for outsourcing?

Now, you might think that this is an article at variance concerning all the jobs and technology being shipped overseas.  No, that is already a given and it will not stop as long as businesses feel that they will be more profitable by doing so.  The jobs are gone. More are going.  But, we must not let our technology leadership go with them, because it is technology leadership that creates the jobs of the future. With regard to Web design that leaves us with the conundrum of whether to continue to make our Web design development systems technologically better or to assume that the work will be done elsewhere and then concentrate on how to best communicate with our neighbors on the other side of the world more effectively. Let's assume for now we will try to maintain our share of the Web design pie.

But, where is it all going I ask again?  Today, more and more high level work is being packaged off to foreign countries because it costs less to do so, and therefore enables a company to be more competitive in price. The real question is "at what long term cost?"

This is particularly true of Web development, where India leads the way with programmers, graphics and (hesitation) content writers to fill your every need.  This is occurring at every level from Corporate websites to run-of-the-mill small business sites.  Bill Gates argues that we don’t have enough qualified technical people in this country, so he needs visas to import foreign workers capable of handling the new sophisticated development of the future.  Maybe, if our kids knew that they would have good paying jobs coming out of college, more of them would be majoring in engineering and software design.

The mass off-shoring of technical jobs has left many engineers and software developers unemployed.  This, in turn, has produced a glut of Web design and Web development startups by many people who thought that they could start a business, work independently and succeed because they were educated, talented and persistent.  With a glut of programmers and designers entering the industry we now also have this work being done in India and Pakistan for rock bottom prices.  Maybe that means that educated software engineers are now considered expendable.  Should companies be marketing websites here for really low prices and off-shore the programming. Who does this serve?  Does it really serve the client?

Some of us work on corporate IT staffs still insulated from the problems facing those entrepreneurs trying to make it on their own.  But, for how long?  Prior to the year 2000, IT staffs were well paid and instrumental in circumventing the Y2K crisis. Congratulations and goodbye. Your services are no longer needed.

When will corporate America (does it still exist?) wake up.  When will Americans wake up.  Continuing to look to foreign countries for software development expertise will eventually result in loss of proprietary information, loss of security and loss of the ability to progress technologically. Without the critical thinking of on-staff engineers and software developers, innovation and effective design become more difficult.  The products and services become more run-of-the-mill and the ability to design better products will move to where innovative technology is being developed.

The USA is no longer considered the leader in automobile production or electronics. It soon will not be a leader in aviation. Other countries are years ahead of us in alternative energy solutions.  Where does this leave us?  It seems that we are still good at entertainment and sports, though on the Olympic stage we our starting to lose out to those athletes from other countries that employ better strategies rather than better natural abilities. Google is the kind of company that we can be proud of, but how many of these can exist at the same time? It is not good enough to be just good. We must strive to be the best at everything we do, whether it is answering the phone, building widgets, serving up hamburgers or building the next space shuttle. Unless we remain capable of developing hardware and software solutions and services at every level we will not be able to develop the best at higher levels.   If we don't succeed at all levels, then we will see other countries with better hamburgers, better health care, better education, better living conditions, better fighter jets, better satellites and better guided missiles.

There is significant doubt as to whether the jobs of Web designer or developer will even exist in the not too distant future.  Certainly websites will become easier and easier to create.  But where does that leave us?  Word processors eliminated the need for many secretarial or administrative assistant jobs leaving the typing to the manager, president, CEO, or whomever.  But, are those documents better than what was done in the past?   Certainly the capability to generate a professional letter is much more readily available, but are the letters better than they once were? For that matter, who does letters anymore? Emails are now the preferred method of communication.  But, have you seen the punctuation and grammar in the emails that have spread across company networks?  Prolific? Yes. Good communication? Hardly.  In Web design today, glitz often trumps usability.

The Direction of the Web

Is that the direction of the Web?  It has been a place where anyone with some initiative could set up a website and talk to the world.  Will the experts rise to the surface, or over time will it be harder to find the experts?  Will the next Google be developed in China or India?  Will websites be more like emails in the future?

In prior revolutions, like the Industrial Revolution, people moved from the farms to the cities, worked in factories and were trained in new manufacturing technologies and improved their standard of living. Likewise, a few decades later, people moved from the factories to the offices as they were trained in new computer technologies.

Now, as we see jobs of highly skilled technologists leaving this country for countries where educational level is high, but costs are low, there seems to be a lack of direction for what people in the USA should be doing.  We could use more nuclear scientists and new minds to research the various forms of alternative energy and the potential that those emerging industries will bring.  But, with education of the masses in our country slipping there are only so many people who can qualify to be brain surgeons, or nuclear physicists.

That leaves us with more questions than clear answers.  The only thing that is clear is that expertise and the ability to create expertise are leaving the USA at a rapid pace. India is fast establishing itself as a leader in technology jobs of all kinds including Web development.  We cannot control the global marketplace, it is bigger than any individual company, government or country.

The answer has always been for America to invest in more productive technologies.  The ones that more advanced societies are capable of generating through a highly skilled, highly educated work force.  Our goal should be to develop these new industries and in that sense Web design and development is still in its infancy with much work to be done by those who created it and those who follow. The tools are in the hands of the people. The next best solution is likely located in someone's garage, studio or home office. All it takes is education, creativity and hard work.