Comparing Apples and Oranges

Well, they are both fruits and they are kind of round… but that’s about as close as it gets. Unfortunately however this is what comparing two web design companies can be like.

Imagine the scenario; your boss has decided that the company web site, which the financial director’s nephew built during his uni holidays in 2002 really should be updated. He has tasked you with overseeing the project and now you, who usually just arranges the company payroll and whose marketing expertise basically consists of talking to the guy at the printers, have to source a web design company, produce a spec, oversee the project, manage the budget and all the while maintaining your own workload.

So the 16 million results for “web designer” on Google really didn’t help much so you ask around, check out a few competitors sites, look in the yellow pages and before too long you have list of companies to call. Well… before you pick up the phone here are 7 things you ought to think about.

1. Do Some Homework.

The first step in sourcing a design company is finding designs you (and others) like. Start off by looking at the competition or other local businesses of a similar size. Most design agencies will link to their own web site from the footer of the sites that they build – visit their sites, view their portfolio. Is the design you liked consistent with their other work? Can they provide a solution for you? Some designers are fantastic at brochure sites but their ecommerce sites are non-existent or dull. Make sure they not only suit your style but also can meet your requirements.

2. Know What You Are Asking For.

Thankfully you don’t need to know every technical nuance of web design in order to talk to a design agency – however, it would be a good idea to know the basics. For instance understanding that your domain name is NOT your web site and that hosting has nothing to do with cocktail parties.

Questions like “How much will a web site cost?” will always be met with the same response… “Well… that really depends…” Equally unrealistic is the notion that you can pick up the phone and order a website and get it delivered  by next Friday.

In reality even during the pricing stage you will need to work closely with your chosen agency in order to get an accurate quote and don’t expect it to end there – the whole process should be a collaboration from start to finish.

3. Getting To Know You.

Because the web design process is a creative process you need to be on the same page as your designers. Collaboration is more than just a few emails, it’s a relationship. Your initial conversation with the designers should leave you feeling confident that they understand your objectives. Designers that seem in a rush or uninterested should be avoided as they are not likely to give your project the time it requires.

Finding a good match is vital to a successful project – remember that in most cases the initial site build will be the start of an ongoing working team that should go on for many years to come.

4. The Small Print.

On smaller jobs this will probably just be a sign off on the brief, on larger projects this will be a full contract but either way you need to understand what you are getting for your money. A web design brief should outline what you are actually paying for in terms of designs, reviews, site construction, content, photography, copy writing, SEO etc.

A good web design brief should be fairly self explanatory and non technical but remember the brief is primarily to protect the design agency, so anything not explicit in the brief you may be liable to pay for. If you don’t understand something or need an area clarifying then just ask, most agencies will be more than happy to make things clear.

Remember that once a site is built most agencies will charge for any changes so get it sorted before you start. Most agencies will also ask for a small deposit prior to commencement and may also have staged payments at agreed waypoints on larger jobs.

5. Trust Your Designers But Be Honest.

You have engaged a design company for their experience and skill. Remember, you are not a web designer! However it is important to be honest. The first stage in the design process will normally be a design mock up of your new site. This will form the foundation for the rest of the project so it has to be right.

 If you feel that the design really doesn’t reflect your objectives, then be honest and get the designer to rework it for you. DO NOT try and redesign it for them… “Make this grey”, “more space here”, “add this logo there”, “make that bar taller” or the like, as this will only lead to a hacked up design that will probably have all your modifications but look terrible.

Let your designers do what you are paying them for and design your site. At the same time try not to be overly fussy about visuals if it is 95% then try not to obsess about the 5%. Remember good design is not just about how it looks but how it works.

6. Get To Work.

While your design agency is busy putting your site together there will be certain areas of the project that will undoubtedly be your responsibility. Usually this will involve at least providing the copy for the site or perhaps some of the images, logos etc.

Copy writing can be difficult and time consuming, if you have the time then make sure you have talked to your agency first to get a handle on what to write and how to write it. If you are not confident or simply don’t have the time then find a professional copy writer (your agency should know some) to take on this burden. Remember, bad site copy is probably the single most deciding factor in a badly performing site.

Many sites get held up in development because the site owner fails to deliver on their end of the bargain.

7. Don’t Be Tempted.

Probably the number one reason for delays and extra costs are last minute changes to the project or spec. Sometimes this is called “scope-creep” or “feature-creep”, this will inevitably lead to delays in getting the project off the ground and may incur significant additional fees.

If you have established a good relationship in the first place and worked with the designers to put together your brief then this type of problem should be minimised or eliminated altogether. Remember, what you might perceive as a small modification could have a number of unforeseen (expensive) knock on effects that could have been avoided if known from the start.

These sorts of issues also can create bad feeling between the client and the agency – prevention is better than cure.

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