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Pitfalls of Software as a Service. A Web Designer’s Perspective.
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Andy Leverenz

July 6, 2015

Last updated November 5, 2023

Pitfalls of Software as a Service. A Web Designer’s Perspective.

Design for the web has been an ever-changing pattern over the years. The tools web designers use have shifted their focus to be scalable based on a number of devices in the world. Designers have a tough job of making each design on each device look and function in a way that just works but is also visually pleasing to look at as well as understand.

The SaaS(Software As A Service) model has shifted to include just about any tool you use today. Smaller teams are trying to counter the SaaS by offering an app for one flat fee as opposed to the subscription plan we all love and hate.

Do subscriptions really benefit both parties or just the application developers themselves? What are you paying for when you opt-in to the SaaS model. Do you get to actually own it or just lease it?

Understanding the Saas Approach

SaaS is a software delivery method that provides access to the software as a web-based service. Typically everything functions in the cloud or server. While there are many factors that make up this approach, the main theory is that software is available to you at any time (a.k.a. on-demand software delivery)

The Positives

With the SaaS model, you are almost guaranteed the latest and greatest from a company in terms of the version of their products. Software from Adobe for example, offers a plan to have access to all of their products via what they called Creative Cloud. Inside of this application, your products can be managed, updated, and downloaded. This allows users to have quick and easy access to any updates which come more often. These updates improve software but can also prove to be hotfixes as opposed to fixing the underlying real issue with a piece of software.

Another service like Dropbox, is a great way to share larger files with other people without having to host them yourself. On top of sharing, Dropbox delivers built-in versioning to maintain backups on each file save. This sense of security is great when you may have overwritten code or design. Depending on the plan, you have purchased you can go back in time and retrieve an older version of a file.

The SaaS and cloud approach prove to be lifesavers on a constant basis. Services like these keep web designers at ease knowing they don’t have to maintain the software on their own but rather just be prompted to act when an update or new feature is available.

Some companies offer free plans which offer features that are up-sold to get more users to opt-in. Trello for example allows new users to use the product to almost the absolute fullest. The pro-rated plan goes one step further to offer more customization options or third-party connections.

The same concept applies to Dropbox as I just mentioned. There is a free plan, but you eventually reach the allotted maximum limit for space and need to upgrade your plan to achieve more. When this happened to me I was bummed and really didn’t see the value in paying for a pro-rated plan. I finally bit the bullet and tried it out for a few months. I discovered it was totally worth it for my work. I share files constantly and being able to do so in a few clicks is absolutely wonderful in my opinion. Kudos to you Dropbox!

In the end, I would gather that the positives to the SaaS approach for web designers are:

  • Frequent updates which over bug fixes and more stable applications
  • Consistent new features
  • You can typically cancel your subscription whenever you like without penalty. This doesn’t apply toward every product under the sun, but a lot of the great services out there allow it.
  • Free trials or accounts are typically offered to let users try out the software first to see if they truly like it.
  • Less manual maintenance when it comes to updates, installation, etc…

The Negatives

While the SaaS model seems like a no brainer, I like many of you, have sat back and watched it quickly become the only way a lot of software providers deliver their products to their user base. Users are expected to pay a monthly or annual subscription to compensate for the time and cost to keep the application in good working order.

This makes complete sense except for the fact that a user never really owns the software.

I also invite you to ask yourself how many applications your business needs to operate these days. How many monthly or annual subscriptions does that add up to? Getting overwhelmed with all of these monthly and yearly costs like me? Do you crave to just pay once and get stable, less frequent, updates for a small fee only if you want them?

Most creatives like the music of some sort so I’ll use Spotify as an example here. Spotify has changed the way we listen to music. On a desktop computer, you can listen to any track for free but will occasionally hear sponsored ads. If you don’t want the ads and want to be able to listen to the music you like offline or on your phone then you must upgrade and pay for the Spotify Premium service. The service gives you access to a massive amount of music no matter the device you own. Great right? Well, unfortunately, it all seems too good to be true until you realize you’re paying to listen to music you don’t actually own.

Spotify also updates their software what seems like almost nightly. Sick of having to restart Spotify to update the software? Holy hell, I am…

Being a big music buff myself, I want to be able to save my music to my actual computer or device. I have never liked the thought of paying for something I don’t actually own and that’s especially true for something like music.

The SaaS model for Spotify seems to fail in my opinion. Sure, you have access to anything as long as you’re paying for it but what if you can’t afford it at some point? You’ll cancel your subscription and go crawl in a hole somewhere because you can’t hear what you want to hear. Oh and don’t get me started on the regular free radio because we all know that’s gone to shit.

Going back to Adobe again, I have to say their SaaS model just sucks. No longer can you purchase their products outright. When they did offer their software for purchase years ago it cost a lot initially. What seemed like a lot at the time doesn’t compare at all to the amount you pay over time in a subscription-based service. You may not get all the bells and whistles, but you do own the software.

When software is released for sale and not as a service you often see a more polished result when it hits the press. This is a result of developers and designers of the application or service spending more time on updating things the right way. Software using the SaaS model today may not be great from the start but eventually will mold into something amazing. Should you really have to pay to wait for that though? I’m looking at you Adobe Photoshop!

The negatives to the SaaS approach for web designers are:

  • Constant updates that aren’t necessarily improvements to the software.
  • Buying software in a lump-sum might actually be more cost-effective from a designer's perspective than the subscription-based model.
  • Users like myself want to own something. I don’t need to feel it in my hands, but I want to know I have an authentic production of a tool or application a company produced or offers. (e.g. music!)
  • Nobody wants to pay to improve the software until the software is actually worthy of itself from the start. Don’t force us to buy in and use shitty products until they are ready for production!

SaaS works. It’s a great way to offer extremely up to date software and services to users who want their products and services to be the best they can be. There are plenty of drawbacks to both the SaaS model and buying software outright, but you just have to ask yourself if you’d rather lease or own.

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