The web design market in Benin isn’t necessarily underdeveloped; however, there’s a pretty serious lack of professionals with real design skills. There are a number of firms out there creating boring static webpages with Dreamweaver, which would be fine, except that there’s a severe lack of understanding of the underlying concepts. No problem, right? As long as they can create more-or-less professional looking pages, who cares?
Actually, it’s a big problem.
First, people often don’t really know how to use Dreamweaver, especially when modifying CSS templates. Second, people often don’t understand design (basic usability issues, color choice, limiting the number of fonts, not using a dozen marquees on a page, etc). Third, code produced by these programs is hard to maintain.
All this, in addition to unrealistic expectations on the part of clients (sounds familiar, but here it’s often bought into by designers here) adds up to a lot of mediocre websites whose owners gave up on them long ago.
The market is ripe for a couple of enthusiastic kids who understand how the web works, who can create stylish and usable sites, and who are capable of building them from the ground up . . . by hand. These designers can (and should) cut down on production costs by cutting down on the complexity and charging for SEO and simple things like emailing like sites to exchange links.
One might argue that in today’s world, a dynamic site is practically required. My response is, “No, it’s not.” Most small Beninese NGOs have neither the capacity or the time to maintain a website on a daily or even a weekly basis. Add the cost of training someone who’s barely computer literate to make constant changes, and suddenly, the site has become an enormous expense. Websites here in Benin are good for credibility (essentially, an on-line calling card) and getting the information that development organisations produce out to the people who can use it (or at least, out to other NGOs who can distribute it).
A well designed site of five or six pages is far more effective than an unusable and unupdated site of greater size. These types of sites are simple (admittedly, deceptively so), but with good work methods and experience, they’re relatively quick to produce and easy to update. The designer can either charge for changes, or train someone on staff to take care of it themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great work out there, but the bulk of the market is saturated with firms who can create big complicated pieces of frustration. I’m pretty sure that, in a few months, a few of my students will step up to the plate and start making money designing smart websites. It won’t be their primary job, but it’s something, and anything that makes information more accessible is a good thing.
Sounds like decent development work to me.