Last years PSD to HTML companies have sprung up all over. They translated a website design (as an image created in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator or other graphics packages) into xHTML/CSS markup, WordPress themes or CMS templates. Due to the rapid Internet expansion these services turned out to be a good help for web designers (especially in the periods of work overflow) and non-techie customers.
But now the PSD to HTML market is at the crossroads. The consequences of this can be both positive and negative.
HTML5 and a New Concept of the Web
A year ago we tried to answer the question whether HTML5 is the end of PSD to HTML services, at least in their current form. Now it is obvious that a similar question is also applicable to the web design and development industry in whole. The point is that HTML5 introduces some important conceptional changes rather than just purely technical ones.
The first wave of probing and excitement for the new possibilities offered by HTML5 is fading away. Instead, we are witnessing fierce discussions about such “abstract” things as semantics – just remember the recent article “Our pointless pursuit of semantic value” and the community’s reaction. The debates show that with the advent of HTML5 the web design won’t be the same as we know it now.
PSD to HTML conversion is no exception too. Yes, the new version of markup language introduces a number of new technical skills to be mastered by HTML/CSS coders. But in fact HTML5 requires to revise almost all the primary promises which are associated with the PSD to HTML services.
The short list of benefits usually claimed by the PSD to HTML services spans hand coding, semantic markup, and cross-browser compatibility. Let’s look at them in the light of trends 2011.
Hand Coded HTML/CSS
HTML5 adds to the markup language quite a number of new words, and the total quantity exceeds 100 now. CSS3 and browser vendors increase the HTML/CSS coding vocabulary even more.
This complication has given a new kick-start to the HTML/CSS coding automation and changing the attitude to it (for example, read Inayaili de Leon’s article “The future of CSS: Embracing the machine“).
On the other hand, to date there are no established best practices in utilizing HTML5 and CSS3 novelties (in fact, there is no finally approved HTML5 standard version yet, the development is still in progress). So, the automated tools and templates recommended by the web design community could be a good way to shorten the road from “I’ve read how to use it” to “I know how to use it right” and secure a markup quality. No accident that there are a good many of articles which analyze the lessons that can be learned from HTML5 Boilerplate and the like.
SEO Semantic Coding
As it has been mentioned, the recent “semantic” discussions demonstrated once again that web designers do not all hold the same opinion regarding markup semantics and whether more semantic is always better (see also these notes by Luke Wroblewski).
Imagine now what ordinary website owners and customers must think about necessity of the thing they can’t even see. For many of them correct functioning and a basic level of cross-browser support are quite enough, especially when it comes to the websites that are aimed at the realization of short-term business projects.
As for SEO part of the “SEO semantic coding” promise, the situation is not better. The usage of HTML5 per se doesn’t guarantee better ranking of your website in Google (for example, read “SEO best practices for HTML5: truths, half-truths & outright lies“). The main goal of search engines is to find and rate high quality content which is important for users. And they shut their eyes to some markup defects or a lack of semantics on the websites with good content.
Again, if SEO semantic coding is not perceived as a necessary requirement to the HTML/CSS markup, then is it that an attractive and valuable benefit of the PSD to HTML services as it is advertized?
One of the main ideas behind HTML5 is to make the Web as more integrated and unified as possible: cross-device, cross-platform, and cross-application. The consequence is that cross-browser compatibility should be treated in a much broader manner than several years ago and take into account mobile browsers too (see more in “Cross-browser PSD to HTML conversion – How compatible should it be with the advent of mobile Web?” ).
Such a broad compatibility obviously raises the price of PSD to HTML conversion because it requires more time, efforts and skills to be developed. Therefore the proposition of a cross-browser compatible markup should be essentially more detailed in order to understand what exactly is promised by a provider and whether it is interesting to a given customer.
W3C standards compliance
Just one quotation: “At the same time, don’t insist on validation since some perfectly good code will never validate.”
Maybe Christian Heilmann is right when he wrote that
The old standards for “best practices” do not apply to today’s world any longer. We wanted web development to be a craft, but it actually is becoming a commodity.
The challenges described above are becoming even sharper in the light of the current competitive situation in the PSD to HTML services market.
Decrease in the Growth Rate and Price Wars
In July 2009 the number of PSD to HTML providers was about 200. In our previous market research “PSD to HTML/CSS conversion market – A year later” we have reported that in May 2010 “the number of companies that offer PSD-to-HTML and other kinds of image-to-markup conversion has increased up to 230+.” The increase totals 30 companies for 10 months, or 1.5% per month.
In December 2011 this figure is equal to 252 companies (according to psdtohtmlcompanies.com). The difference against May 2010 forms about 22 companies, or 9.6% over last 19 months (0.5% per month). So, it looks like the growth of the PSD to HTML services companies has been ceasing.
Fig.1. The change of the quantity of PSD to HTML companies over the last 3 years (crude estimate)
Fig.2. The decrease in the growth rate of new PSD to HTML companies per month
(roughly approximated on the basis of Fig.1)
Please note: the data is got from only one source (psdtohtmlcompanies.com). It may not be absolutely accurate. Also, it doesn’t mainly include freelancers and companies for which PSD to HTML is not the core service. Moreover, the market is dynamic: new companies are emerging constantly but not all of them stay active for long enough.
The market saturation is accompanied by toughening competition and attempts to find a unique positioning or just differentiate, at least to some extent. Three main ways to achieve this goal are seen:
- Brand building and refinement, perfection of service quality and customer care
- Niche specialization: PSD to WordPress, PSD to Email, etc.
- Low prices tactics
The first way is more typical for those companies which consider PSD to HTML services as a long-term business. This implies building of a high-performance production cycle, tight control of quality, comprehensive customer support, as well as maintenance of market reputation. Due to efficient processes and skilled dedicated personnel such companies can secure high quality and in time delivery.
Niche specialization is quite an effective way to differentiate in the market or even to create a new one. Emergence and growth of such services as PSD to HTML5, PSD to Mobile and responsive websites, PSD to Joomla! or Drupal was a noticeable trend in 2011.
On the other hand, some teams enter the PSD to HTML market just in order to try to promote their “old” services (design, back-end programming, etc.). And taking a new name or subdomain, they project their total web development experience onto a new service and pretend to have 5, 7 or 10 years in, say, the PSD to HTML or PSD to Joomla! field – though without assigning a dedicated staff and arranging production / management processes adjusted to the PSD to HTML specifics. But it is like if a trucker with 10 years experience decides to be a Formula 1 driver and then says that he is a racing driver for 10 years too.
The third approach is mainly demonstrated by new or renewed market players. Striving to attract the customers’ attention, they resort to low prices that sometimes are quite disproportionate to the operating costs, even counting the disparity in salaries in different countries.
Cutting prices by some companies has both positive and negative consequences. As benefits one can mention
- Customers pay less
- A spur to optimize overhead costs and processes for other market participants in order to stay competitive
Among disadvantages are as follows:
- Trying to optimize their prices some companies may go too far and use, for example, hidden fees (at the stage of ordering or during the execution) or violate order commitments. Usual victims are quality, delivery time, the level of customer service, let alone such “abstract” notions as the markup semantics or hand coding. (That is why it is always reasonable to compare total prices for a concrete order, rather than numbers in advertisements.)
- It might lead to the strict market polarization: low-price providers with moderate or low quality products versus a group of high-price brands. Ironically, in such cases high quality services might become even more expensive than it was before but without firm guarantees of quality due to weakening of real competition.
Overall, the former PSD to HTML boom and praise of this market as of continuously fast growing and of an infinitely huge demand might play a trick on it now.
PSD to HTML Services: Outlook 2012
Summarizing, the following predictions are shown for the PSD to HTML market in 2012:
- HTML5, CSS3, and technologies like responsive web design will gradually move from a hot marketing promise into a day-to-day practice
- Specialization and segmentation of PSD to HTML conversion companies will continue: PSD to HTML5, PSD to WordPress, PSD to Joomla!, PSD to Email templates, just to name a few
- HTML/CSS coding services for mobile platforms will be growing
- New and more advanced tools and templates which automate or streamline the PSD to HTML conversion process partly or in whole will be appearing
- Content management system developers and top IT vendors will continue to enhance their software products in order to facilitate the website building for non-techie end users as much as possible, including theme creation
- PSD to HTML companies will elaborate their pricing models and marketing strategies
What will the final result of competition in the PSD to HTML market be? It is difficult to foresee exactly. But hope that regardless of all the challenges, the service providers will stay professionals. Let me quote the recent “Interview with web and graphic designer Veerle Pieters“. Answering the question “How do you convey the importance of web standards to your clients?” she said:
I don’t convey it all. I just do it. Clients shouldn’t have to worry about this or decide on, it’s up to us to use what is best for the client’s interest and web standards does just that.
This could be a guideline for all web design and PSD to HTML companies. Happy and prosperous 2012!