What I learned from building websites after a 10-year freelancing hiatus

What I learned from building websites after a 10-year freelancing hiatus


3 min read

Ten years ago I worked as a freelancer building websites with WordPress. I created custom Designs/Templates with Photoshop, HTML, PHP, and CSS. My main customers were people who wanted to switch from their static HTML page to a system where they could easily maintain the content themselves without breaking the website. WordPress was back then the easiest choice. It was super user-friendly and Content could be made without breaking the website layout.

1. CSS got so much easier yet so much complicated!

When I started working in freelancing, the “box-system” was just about to replace websites that where build with tables. Working with float started to become popular and was also quite tricky back then. Mobile designs were not really a thing, and you would have to either make 2 different pages (the popular m.-subdomains) or you completely ignored mobile altogether.

When I came back, flex- and grid-systems made building complicated layouts so much easier, but on the other hand, setting up a flex or grid for me is still more complicated than a float. But with practice this will surely change.

Designs are responsive now, so forget about all your fixed sizes (back then we did pixel perfect designs) and accept the fact that your website will look different depending on which device you open it. The main thing is – it should look good but doesn't have to be identical.

CSS-Frameworks exist and help with the speed of designing a page.

Accessibility is a thing that's taken serious. Back then we could only dream about that.

2. CMS are not the solution for everything.

With frameworks like react, svelte or Django - not every website has to be a blog or be interactive. I often see interactive elements being outsourced to other platforms. Third party comment-systems for websites just started to become a thing and communication happens on social media instead of website owned forums or communities.

I also frequently see micropages or 1-page-website solutions. No subpages but everything on the frontpage. That was almost impossible to think about back then.

3. The expectations are insanely high!

Back then the expectations towards a website were high but not to the standards as they are now. A little JavaScript was already the crème de la crème. These days it's completely normal and almost expected. People are even surprised that you can be a web-developer with only HTML and CSS.

With the high expectations there are also more sources to learn from on how to create a high quality website. Back then the sources were super limited. YouTube was a thing but not as much as it's now.

4. The payment is better!

The value of having a professional website is higher these days. Back then it was a “nice to have” but “we don't want to pay a lot for it.” A lot of websites I had to fix were made by peoples' nephew's after school, edited several times by several people in dreamweaver or FrontPage and loaded with bloat those editors added over time.

The higher expectations now support professionals in doing professional work and getting professionally paid.

5. Web development has a better reputation.

From “some nerds doing something with computers” to “an actual job”. Everything is professionalized and I love it. I would love to see this with more digital professions in the future.

Two things that have not changed:

  1. It is still worth learning web dev. It's a constant development that introduces new technologies and solutions over time.

  2. It's really rewarding learning all those new technologies on top of your old knowledge and almost doing time travel to better and improved times. I enjoyed learning about the design philosophies and technical solutions.