Fawlty Web Design


I am a big fan of the 70’s British TV show Fawlty Towers. I remember watching episodes as a kid which we’d rent from the video store down the road. Back then the video format of choice was Betamax!

Having purchased the complete DVD set a few years back, I’ve now re-watched the episodes countless times. There’s certainly an element of nostalgia for me, but at the same time, it’s a brilliantly funny, timeless classic that is as good now as it was back then. An absolute gem.

By the way, there’s a point to all this, so keep reading.

In the show there’s a character named Mr. O’Reilly who is the local builder. The problem is that he’s entirely incompetent at what he does, but Basil Fawlty insists on hiring him for certain building projects at the hotel. Every time he does, it’s a complete disaster. For example, Basil hires him to build a wall in the garden and O’Reilly gets as far as delivering the bricks, but after months go by, he still hasn’t gone back to actually cement them together and build the wall.

Basil’s rationale for continuing to hire him is that he’s ‘cheap.’ This drives his wife Sybil absolutely nuts because she simply cannot tolerate the shoddy workmanship and is willing to spend a little more money for a professional builder; but of course Basil won’t have any of it. All he’s interested in is saving a buck, and consequences be damned.

The last straw is when O’Reilly is called in to install a new door and close off another one. It’s in the episode called ‘The Builders.’ Of course, it becomes a complete train wreck when his crew ends up removing a door that was supposed to stay, and building a new doorway where there wasn’t meant to be one. When Sybil finds out, she goes ballistic!

This is the only clip I could find from the episode when Basil returns to the hotel to discover the disaster.

And Finally My Point…

I think you can guess where I’m going with this. My point is, and you can probably say the same for just about any profession, that the web design industry is full of Mr. O’Reillys, and for that matter, Basil Fawltys too.

This post was inspired by a recent experience while working on a website for a client. I was called in to fix some glaring design issues with a site after my client had been trying desperately for 3 weeks to get their web designer to make the necessary fixes. Each time a request was made, days would go by and when the updates were done, it wasn’t what was requested in the first place.

If you think hiring a professional is expensive, try hiring an amateurWhen I started digging into things, I was absolutely horrified by what I found. Much of the css code for the content was written as inline styles, using outdated tags like <font>. Almost every rule of modern web design had been broken and no consideration had been made to what’s generally considered best practices. I found uppercase HTML tags being used, tables where there should not be tables, it was just disgusting, and clear that whoever did that, was entirely unqualified and still living in the 90’s or whenever such practices were the norm.

Now, I’m not claiming to be the greatest web designer out there. I know I still make mistakes and do my best to learn by them and refine my skills. I’m still a student and continue to learn new things every day, but what I saw on this site was inexcusable. What irked me more was that someone was paying for this, and someone else was being paid for it.

It seems you just can’t help but come across individuals who claim to be web designers, but still use antiquated coding practices and don’t follow basic web standards.

After the first year or so of being involved with web design, I began to develop a whole new respect for the craft. Today, I take what I do seriously and it just doesn’t sit well when I see bad design or coding from people who call themselves web designers. Web design is a skill that requires years to refine. You practice, make mistakes, and then keep learning. It’s an art form that many try their hand at, but few truly master.

You Get What You Pay For

It’s easy to get websites done on the cheap. Just like Basil Fawlty who insisted on hiring O’Reilly, even after the repeated failures. He just wanted the cheapest builder he could find. The same applies to web designers. If you’re someone who is looking to have a site built or to redesign your existing site, you may want to shift your philosophy on this. Figure out how to set aside a decent budget to get a professional job. Cheapest isn’t always best, and the money you think you’re saving will be sucked up in all the extra time and frustration you spend fixing what should have been done right the first time.

Do What You Love

Having said all this, poor Mr. O’Reilly was a really nice guy. I don’t want to speak ill of people when they honestly try to do the best they can. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and it’s best not to judge someone based on their poor performance in a particular area.

You have to roll up your sleeves and be a stonecutter before you can become a sculptor – command of craft always precedes art: apprentice, journeyman, master. — Philip Gerard

Whoever massacred that website I mentioned earlier might be talented at playing the piano, something I’m completely inept at. On the other hand, it may have been someone who has no respect for the craft, no desire to improve, or might even be outsourcing the job to someone who is equally clueless. If that’s the case, then I have no patience or respect for that. People like this should do us all a favor and find something else to do.

The thing is, if you aren’t enjoying what you do, or you’re not that good at it, then either make an effort to improve and/or figure out if it’s something you feel that you could ever enjoy, and if not, move onto something else. You have to find something you love to do.

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