The digital revolution has been a great leveller. Thanks to huge advances in technology and the increasing ubiquity of personal computers and smartphones, specialist disciplines that were once the preserve of an educated elite are now – quite literally – in the hands of the masses.

Take journalism: nowadays, anybody with a smartphone and a Twitter account can break global news and (for better or for worse) broadcast their opinions to thousands, if not millions, of people in all corners of the world. Not a day goes by without the emergence of a new technology that promises to simplify or automate a task – be it web design, content writing, or video editing – thereby democratising the creative process and making all of our lives that little bit easier. But is it all too good to be true? Can an untrained individual with no specialist knowledge really do as good a job as a qualified expert? How far can DIY really take you?

What you see is what you get

Just a few years ago, producing a new website for your company would have involved seeking out (and paying) a small army of designers, programmers, copywriters, testers and other specialists. Now, with WYSIWYG site-building services like WordPress and Squarespace, anyone can create a fairly professional-looking website in a couple of hours. These platforms are great for one-man-bands and small businesses – especially those for whom unique web design and bespoke functionality aren’t necessarily must-haves.

They’re also inexpensive, and some are even free of charge, which makes them ideal if cash is an issue. If you’re a freelancer, a tradesperson or the owner of a small, non-tech business and you want a slick, functional website that requires little tweaking and will look after itself with minimal input, then DIY could be the way to go.

However, if you want your business to stand out and you value originality, then this type of site is best left on the shelf. Why? Because a ‘flatpack-style’ website is guaranteed to stick out like a sore thumb next to something that’s been built from scratch by specialists. It’s the difference between a tailored suit and one bought off-the-peg.

“If you want to expand and push the functionality of your site in new directions, there are some things that only a programmer can do”

 

And while WordPress et al have certainly made site-building easier, they also have their limitations. They will take you so far, but if you want to expand and push the functionality of your site in new directions, there are some things that only a programmer can do. PHP isn’t something you can learn in an afternoon. See, disciplines like programming are a lot more than career choices: they’re lifestyles. Programmers become programmers because, for them, coding languages and algorithms aren’t just useful – they’re actually interesting (I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in).

Creative talent

Likewise, graphic designers become graphic designers because they were born with an aesthetic sensibility and a flair for rendering what they see in their mind’s eye on paper or screen. You can learn Adobe Illustrator in a few weeks, or use free image-editing options like Photoshop Express or Gimp, but passion and talent cannot be taught.

Think of it like Instagram. Modern smartphones come equipped with sophisticated cameras that allow any user to take high-quality snaps, which can then be touched up to perfection with effects and filters. There’s no denying it – the results can be truly impressive. But does that mean you’d document your wedding using a smartphone? Probably not. You’re far more likely to call in a pro, because, even to the untrained eye, a well-composed shot taken by a professional photographer using top-of-the-range equipment will beat any smartphone effort hands down.

Sure, DIY has its place. For the hobbyist or small-business owner, being able to craft your own content without having to pay a premium is a dream come true. But if you want your business to stand out in a vast and increasingly homogenous world, you might be better off calling in the specialists.

Mike Harley