You've been framed
Frameworks will be similarly important in 2009's coding landscape. Developers who are familiar with them will almost certainly have an advantage, providing lower costs for clients.
"With budgets dropping, agencies that traditionally worked with completely bespoke systems may have to adapt to a quick and dirty approach," believes Webjam.com co-founder Marcus Greenwood. "Using open source and software-as-a-service products delivers results more quickly."
One open source tool that's likely to make further headway in 2009 is WordPress, which is user-friendly, customisable and has plenty of support for add-ons. Designers will increasingly flock to it for a low-cost 'CMS-lite' solution for smaller clients and, although purists balk at the thought, Dougherty doesn't think the influence of WordPress is all bad.
"Of late, I've noticed a better understanding of space and typography on mainstream sites, rather than designers being afraid to utilise a browser's vertical scrollbar and opting for cramped layouts entirely above the fold," he says.
"One reason could be the mass emergence of blogs and self-maintained news platforms – they've helped develop a coherent style for displaying text and other media forms on web pages, and these styles will increasingly be adopted on more complex web platforms and websites."
For many web professionals, though, 2009's big challenge will be business prospects in an uncertain economic climate. Although the web industry is well positioned to deal with a downturn, there are still things to be mindful of to ensure continued success for your organisation.
"Get organised, form teams of compatible skills – designers combined with technologists, illustrators and copywriters – and sell your skills as a team as well as an individual," recommends Lateral's Simon Crab. "This will increase your chances of getting work through networking and enable you to respond to a wider set of briefs."
He also recommends specialising in growing sectors in the market, such as 'not for profit' and green issues, thereby becoming a default designer when clients put a pitch list together.
Aral Balkan also considers 2009 a time to focus on doing things that matter, working on initiatives that are inclusive, green and informative. He talks of the Avoiding Mass Extinctions Engine (a software project designed to create a standard for carbon dioxide data, algorithms and profiling) and his <head> web conference, which first ran last October.
This virtual event was global, green, affordable and interactive, and Balkan believes in 2009 it will provide a environmentally friendly platform for democratising one of the most effective means of communication we have for disseminating ideas and knowledge – presentations.
Balkan suggests that more people in the industry should think along these lines this year if they're to succeed. "The web, more than any technology before, has the potential to set agendas, and affect social change on a scale previously unimaginable," he says.
"It's the single technology that'll have the greatest impact in tackling the great issues of our day." Over the coming year, he expects the approach he favours to gradually make irrelevant and inconsequential the "daily sensationalistic start-up and tech celebrity news cooked up by the tech-tabloids".
Although Balkan's line of thinking might seem whimsical in the brutal business environment 2009 is likely to bring, where words such as 'value' and 'return on investment' are paramount, innovation has always driven the internet and will remain important.
Marc Peter notes how consumer behaviour has already been affected by the economy, with increased traffic to comparison sites and bargain listings. "Designers will have to focus on getting eyes on screens through innovative use of incentives that stand out from the crowd, and cross-sell initiatives," he says. "If ever there's a need for good design, it's in a dire economy – thoughtful, useful, on-the-spot design gets your clients' brands noticed. With things a little slower, there's the time to deliver superb quality work at every opportunity."
Others are more pessimistic, considering that clients will want to scale back, focusing on what's purely needed, rather than what they want. But while designers, as Clearleft's Cennydd Bowles says, "will have to be more agile, useful and flexible, focusing businesses on what's really important, and steering them away from unnecessary functionality," it's important to remember that what's necessary isn't the bare minimum.
In 2009, it'll be important to utilise the web's ability to see clients through tough times and position them so they're well-placed to emerge ready and able to take advantage of the first signs of economic recovery.
"With in-store foot-fall and sales on most high streets falling, the possibility of reaching out to customers over the web and selling products and services is an opportunity that's simply never been available to such an extent in any previous economic downturn," says Danny McClelland. "It's one that the industry needs to exploit in 2009, so it can show itself as being the prominent client catcher and sales booster."
First published in .net, Issue 185