Managing Expectations On A Web Design Project

August 1, 2012 | Business, Web Design

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Hiring a web design firm to build your organization’s web site can be nerve wracking for many small business owners. Unfortunately, stories abound about web sites that took too long to launch, went over budget or just didn’t live up to the expectation of the web design buyer.

Imagine this conversation as a way of analogy:

“Hey, let’s go grab some lunch.”

“Yeah, sandwiches sound good.”

“OK. But I want to sit down and have table service, I don’t want to just order at the counter.”

“Great. I know a place that’s got sandwiches, soups, salads”

It turns out that place is Denny’s.

Looking back, everything that was described fits with what Denny’s offered. But I can imagine many people would be disappointed with the experience. The quality of food will be poor, and the ambiance, decor and service will all be lacking.

It’s not that Denny’s mislead anyone. Their menu, environment and pricing is out in the open.

The problem is that the buyer was expecting something more. Better quality, better service. A more exceptional product and experience.

Here at Visible Logic, we always try to deliver exceptional quality. Our web site work goes beyond the minimum. However, we also try and tailor our estimates and project scope to our client’s goals and budget.

Frequently, there is more than one way to build out something in a web site and one way may be less expensive but have drawbacks in terms of functionality or design and branding. Another route may be more expensive initially but be a solution that is scalable.

You’re getting a web site—or lunch—either way, but as a buyer of a web site you need to have the same expectations as the provider of the web site design.

It is best to be clear about your expectations around the following elements:

  • Background research and strategy. Does the web project include researching your competitors; or developing different approaches to the overall messaging of the site?
  • Organization. What content needs to be included and who is organizing it?
  • Design options and revisions. How many different variations will be presented, how many sample pages and elements will be examined and how will the refinement process work?
  • Content development. Who is doing the writing and editing? What about other content such as graphics, charts, videos, links, etc. Who is developing a plan for developing new content?
  • Does the design include optimization for mobile phones and tablets? Is it responsive design or a mobile-specific version?
  • SEO. Is there any SEO infrastructure being built? Are keywords and phrases being identified and entered by the web developer, the client, or an outside expert?
  • Training. What training and support is included?
  • Maintenance. What is required to maintain the site? Can you do it yourself or is it included or extra?
  • Marketing and promotion. There are a lot of related skills and activities around promoting a business via the web, what is part of the estimate?

Budgeting for the web site you really want

As a web site buyer it can be difficult to identify what is included and the quality and extensiveness of these elements. It can be especially hard to figure out how one estimate compares to another.

Every small business owner I know carefully examines major expenses. And for most, a web site launch or web site redesign project are significant investments for a small business.

We find that managing expectations is key to everyone feeling satisfied with the project. If you want to pay for sandwich at Denny’s you cannot expect the quality of a five star meal. Sometimes, inexperienced buyers feel they’ve paid for a gourmet meal, when they have not.

Clear communication helps

What amplifies the problem is that the web site buyer may not be well versed in the web standards: what is a best practice? what is a reasonable fee? The small business owner does not feel like they are on even footing when discussing their expectations.

Two tips for getting clear with your expectation:

  1. Give examples of other web sites that are doing what you want to do. It can be an example of a design and interface you like, or a functionality. Be clear about what the element(s) are that you like. Show many of these examples, if possible.
  2. Speak plainly about your end goals, not the specific technology. For example, I’ve had prospects say that they want a e-commerce shopping cart when really they only want to be able to occasionally sell one item. (There are much simpler ways of selling one item than developing an entire shopping cart.)

The disappointment that comes from mis-matched expectations can cause problems in a branding project, a logo project or anything other type of design project. But they seem particularly prevalent in web design because of the wide gulf between the most minimal way to solve a web challenge to the most robust way to solve the problem.

 

What have you been disappointed about when you worked with a web designer?

4 comments

  1. christelle | August 2, 2012 at 7:19 am

    This is a subject I like discussing, and you addressed it very well. I am surprised that so many agencies or designers don’t support their clients through the process to help them understand what the work will require and what approach to take.
    A good design brief is a minimum to make sure the designer understands the client’s needs, and a detailed contract is also important to state what exact deliverables are part of the job.
    I worked with an agency once who just sent me a quote with no details whatsoever as to what was going to be included in the work, I had to detail everything myself to make sure I would get my money’s worth.
    It would be interesting to come up with a standard brief that would cover all aspects of the website design process, like a very detailed checklist that clients can go through.

  2. Emily Brackett | August 2, 2012 at 10:36 am

    @christelle, thanks for your comment. We spend a lot of time on our estimates. And generally we get excellent feedback on how thorough and thoughtful they are. The good thing is that this gets easier over time as something you explained for one client/project can be repurposed for the next one.
    But, as a business owner there are times that I feel that I spend too much time on a proposal. Either I end up talking over my prospect’s head with details they don’t understand, or it just is too much time for the size of the job.

  3. niewaznejak | August 14, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    An interesting post! Congratulations on a great website!

  4. Emily Brackett | August 27, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    This blog post has generated a lot of great discussion over on LinkedIn’s Creative Freelancer Conference Group. Join the discussion: http://www.linkedin.com/groupAnswers?viewQuestionAndAnswers=&discussionID=141136700&gid=761567&commentID=91946087&trk=view_disc&ut=3KNGoGu-AYl5o1

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