The Website Development Window

Here’s a problem I don’t have an answer for.

Any website designer will agree that a web  design project that proceeds smoothly from start to finish results in a superior website to one that stutters piecemeal over a long period.

So, how to get clients to organize for website development and what to do if they don’t?

No matter how much encouragement they have to paginate their website, get their content refined and graphics ready, there is always a point where you have to accept what they have at that time.

Sometimes it will be pretty nearly perfect and others – mostly – will be largely imperfect even if they had years to prepare. My experience has been that however substandard the content is and however much you want to create a first rate website, the client may end up arguing with you over edits you’ve made so leave his mess alone.

The only sane approach I think is to make it clear to the client that a website ‘development window’ will be created for his site development. Typically, for the small business website, about four weeks which allows for the to-ing and fro-ing needed to complete the website.

The client should be aware that if the content is late arriving the development window will shut to permit the development of other websites and their site may be delayed. One might go a step further and inform the client that he may be charged for the allocated time whether or not the content has arrived unless he has asked for a rescheduling with due notice or that he will be kicked out of the queue completely.

The clients who cannot get their act together are usually those which have several personnel adding to the website, one or more of whom is always late. Still, that is their problem and not yours. As soon as I hear that there is a ‘website team’ which expects to be consulted at every step, the quote doubles.

I have just finished two websites. One has taken 15 months for fairly straightforward work (the contact went and had a baby in the middle – and there was a ‘web team’) and the other, four months. All web designers hate to have to go and find files, edit them and repost them time after time. I eventually lose interest in the project and it turns out often to be mediocre. Occasionally I have refunded deposits and told the client to go elsewhere.

The second client mentioned above wanted a revamp and submitted a list of edits which was quoted on – and more edits kept coming and coming. The final amount of course was three times the original quote and when invoices are submitted in these cases with just an amount, the queries may start. ‘But I understood it was RXXXXX’ etc. So, now I also put in the hours that were worked and if there is a query I also put the hours that were originally quoted for and the EXTRA hours that were worked. If that doesn’t work I send a full, itemised bill with hours worked for every edit.

It normally doesn’t come to this for most clients.

There’s no easy answer, particularly if it’s a redesign for an existing client who you don’t want to lose. Usually, threatening to back-burner the site gets things going, particularly if the back-burnering  extends over Christmas. It gets the client to focus on what they really want. One of the clients above wanted the site to be set to music (‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay’ I thought appropriate), have a sound effect on mouseover, have a promo ticker, have a news ticker, have an exchange rate ticker and have a conversion calculator all on the same page. And they complained about it being slow.

I saw it described well on another web designer’s T&Cs. It said ‘a dynamic relationship exists between ourselves and the client’.

Excellent. It means that both parties respond timeously at all times. Perhaps one needs to invoke contracts? I’ve never needed one but it’s a piece of paper to wave when things go wrong. Contract or not, it is sensible that the client must be aware that the development window opens with the first of his content submissions and will close at a prearranged date, website finished or not. Thereafter either additional charges apply to ensure the speed of development continues or the website is back burnered.

Trouble is, us small developers need the cash.

Do Not Change What They Want!

An  easy mistake to make.

You can see clearly that what your client wants is deficient in some way and you have the right answer at your fingertips. If it’s something related to the design of the website and it’s not a show stopper, let him have it.

My experience is that all you end up doing by inserting your sensible improvement is upset the client. Even if you get your way, there is still residual resentment. It’s a little thing he thinks he got right and you got wrong.

Even if you win a couple of battles, your client will declare war and you will definitely lose.

When to Submit the Website Draft to the Client

You want to impress the client with your work and the interpretation of his needs. You also want to impress him with the speed of your response.

draft-smallBut, if the draft website is largely incomplete, the client will pick lots of holes in it and think you don’t know what you’re doing. So, what do you do?

If you work and work at the website to get it as complete as you can get it, any wholesale changes will be resented. Further, the extra time you have taken to get it right will not be appreciated by the client as well as the possibility that your interpretation is not his.

I try and complete just enough pages to give the client an idea of his website, if necessary using dummy text and pictures on the major pages. Knowing when to stop is not easy and is based on a site by site basis.

The other problem is how to submit the draft. Often, there is no face to face communication. Do you just post the web site draft and inform the client by email? Do you add a short explanation? A long explanation? I often write my justification as the home page text if none is available or add a separate page.

The best way is a face to face without the client having previously seen the draft which also has the advantage that the client’s response can be observed and there is no time for him to develop an entrenched opinion.  It’s easy then to discuss the various merits and nip problems in the bud.

If that’s not possible, then a phone walk through is the next best way.

 

I Like this – and this – Oh, and this . . .

Every website designer has had clients who think they’re doing everyone a favour by suggesting other websites that they have seen and liked. Sometimes we make things more difficult for ourselves by telling them to come up with a website example. I have done this for years on & off and to be honest, it’s rarely worked.

Clients have little idea of the complexity and cost of other websites. Because you have quoted them R10,000, they think every other website on the Internet costs the same. After you have quoted, they will suggest a website that they like and upon a little investigation it is plain that this website costs way more than R10,000, sometimes at least ten times more and has a permanent web team of five people.

Explain this to the client and they think you’re looking for an excuse to nickel and dime their website with the unsaid suggestion that after quoting you really have no idea what they want.

websitesThe other thing is the ‘multiple examples’. The client will suggest typically two or three websites that are completely dissimilar but he likes elements of – but doesn’t tell you which elements. This is a real recipe for disaster because eventually, after buggering about, they still won’t like what you offer.

I then tell them that they’re suffering from Analysis Paralysis and ditch all the suggestions and start from basic principals. They fixate on the graphics which are among the easiest elements to change. You tell them that the website will sink or swim depending on the words and pics and how they are laid out.

As a side matter, the problem with colours extends all over the place. ‘We decided on this colour but I see when I got back that you’ve changed it’.

No I haven’t. My computer display is set differently to yours – and your ambient lighting is different – and maybe you’re using Mac . . .

I usually make them choose one – or none – and then perhaps MAY introduce elements from the other websites as development proceeds.

confusedI had a request for a quotation the other day – ‘We want a website with the sort of functionality but a different skin of this site.’ Now, when you look at ‘this‘ site, it has nothing to do with their core business. If they have a website address on their email I always check it out and also look at the code and who designed it.

That statement above is all I get to submit a quote on. And they wonder why the quote changes so much when I know more about what they want.  Prospects love to lock you in to a price range before they deliver the ‘Oh, by the way, we also want a database and eCommerce.’

After years of frustration and irritation all round, I think it’s best not to suggest any layout but come up with what you think is appropriate – and generally they’re happy.

Outsourcing Website Design Work

Sometimes, you don’t have the expertise to complete certain website design tasks – PHP/ASP is an example. The option is outsourcing this website work overseas.

If you take a bus in India, it deposits you almost inevitably at your destination on a spot of sand at the edge of the road, from whence you fight with tuktuk drivers to get the best price into town.

durban web designers - outsourcing to  technosoftI was waiting for a bus in Jodphur to take me to Pushkar on said patch of sand. I had about 45 minutes until the bus arrived and I looked around and right next to me was a small two storey office  building with the words ‘Technosoft – Website Developers‘.

Ha!

I have time to go in and chew the fat. It turned out they also had offices in Delhi and Baltimore. A couple of years later I had need to get a member login system and contacted them. They were very reasonable and after one  bit of editing got it right in about a week. I was impressed.

I got the client to deal with them directly and I just added the code.

Outsourcing to PHP Jabbers

durban web designers - outsourcing to jabbersA few years ago I came across PHPJabbers. They sell PHP scripts and will install the whole thing for you at no charge if you want. They’re based in Bulgaria.

Their selling point is their support and over the years, there have been plenty of tickets. They will come back to you typically within an hour – very efficient.

I have bought some scripts for myself to try and for clients. The scripts are just the hook because although they are standalone, they will inevitably need some modification which they are pleased to do. The modification rate is very reasonable.

They will also design a whole website around the script which is a little expensive, apart from the to-ing and fro-ing necessary to finish it.

Simple CMS

They also have free scripts. One of these used to be a Simple CMS.

This is a fantastic little system. It’s not a full architecture but can be bolted on to any part of any page. It uses a MySQL database and the FCK editor so the backend is like WordPress’s. Now, they charge $28 for it.

cmsMost of their scripts have two licensing levels – User, for a single application and Developer for up to five applications. The Developer licence is about three times the user licence.

© Durban Web Designers 2013

OMB Web Designers

I’ve not seen any figures as to the employee numbers of web designers businesses either here in South Africa or overseas. However, I would hazard a guess that a good 25% of the businesses are OMBs (one man bands).

The calculation would be complicated by the fact that website design is sometimes not the principal endeavour of the business and may exist along with hosting, marketing, design and printing.

The Choice of Website Design

durban web designers businessI worked in a university environment for many years and when I left I was faced with the ‘What now?” question. Universities get technology very early on. We had email from the early 1980s and the web from around 1995.

I remember my friend bursting into my office in 1982  telling me that he’d found a way of writing a letter on one computer and getting it read on another remote computer. I thought “This’ll never take on”. Remember that there were very few people who could read the letter. Mostly those in other universities.

In 1995, there was only a single browser and you could have the website background any colour as long as it was grey. Nobody knew what direction the ‘Internet’ would take – or even if it would take any direction at all.

The Hardware

durban web designers computerWeb design is not demanding of hardware. All you need is a computer and an internet connection.  Even the computer can be a very simple one. A Pentium P1 would probably handle the programmes I use.

You don’t need clean air, three phase electricity, running water, cooling towers. You don’t even need anyone else. An aircon is nice though in Durban.

The Brainware

What you do need is a knowledge of HTML, adequacy with a graphics programme and a good understanding of usability.  Common sense in other words.