A long long time ago, back when there were mages and orcs, the website mages used runes and magic to create living websites. However, as the time of man began, the website mages became fewer and fewer, losing their knowledge over time until there were no longer any true website mages. Unfortunately, it seems that some people today still remember the old tales of websites designed in hours – website creations evolving from just one word. They often get website wizards mistaken for the mages of old, placing the same demanding expectations on them.
It is no surprise that when engaging a client early on, they often ask “How long will it take?” I have discovered over time that this question is a double-edged sword. In fact it took me a while to decide how best to answer this question, as there are many common pitfalls:
Yes, there are some people that really seem to believe the silly fable I began this article with. They really believe that we wave a wand and a website is built (or so it seems).
Often when businesses decide to upgrade/create their website they get very excited and decide that they want it done really quickly/urgently. This passion is infectious and many times I have been caught out giving overly optimistic deadlines based on the fact that everything is going to run smoothly and our communication, inspiration, development is perfect. I have learnt the hard way that in order to manage our clients expectations we must clarify what type of date we are giving.
Most web design companies will include in their disclaimers that deadlines are not guaranteed. However, often they do not relay this onto the customer. In fact well over 90% of deadlines we give are more targets then actual dates, we may deliver the website earlier (which is great) or due to other mitigating issues we may not reach the target date.
The time taken to gain the necessary inspiration to create a unique design is really hard to estimate. Sometimes after the brief we come up with a style and hit the road running, other times it takes days of trying different techniques until we have decided on the best style. I have to ensure that our designers have the appropriate time to create something that our client will be happy with.
A small website might contain a home page, text pages, blog, testimonials and a contact page. When forecasting the completion date we have to estimate how long it will take to strategise, mockup, design and develop each of these pages including any widgets used throughout the site. Through experience we have been able to gain a good estimate on how long typical tasks take, however one small area of waiting can have a domino effect.
Most agencies work within a very small team structure. Whilst this has many benefits it does mean that illnesses and family emergencies can affect deadlines on projects.
In my experience I have found that the largest area to cause delays and misunderstandings during a web design or graphic design project is communication. We need to be sure that our clients expectations are inline with ours (AFX’s). Looking at some of the previous pitfalls this might be by explaining why we cannot guarantee delivering to a set date.
Regular communication throughout the project is vital – clients tend to get most frustrated at not being regularly updated. For example, we recently worked really hard to deliver some work to a client at a very fast pace. Whilst the client was fully aware that we trying to work at a much faster pace for him – he became frustrated when we didn’t update him on the planned completion date. From our perspective we were so close to finishing that we didn’t want to deliver bad news – we had perhaps a couple of hours of work to finish. And we were wrong!
Sometimes we need to suck in our pride or tackle our fears and update our clients with the dreaded news. On this occasion the client wasn’t particularly happy that we missed the date but was very pleased when we got it done only a day later. We apologised for not updating him and assured him that we learnt a lesson from this. Thankfully it all ended well.
I believe that due to our honest approach to work and our obvious hardworking attitude our client gave us the benefit of the doubt. But it would have been so much easier if I had emailed him to update him!
I am afraid it would be unfair to talk about how a design agency can improve communication without looking at the client. For the large majority of projects that go beyond the original deadline the client is the largest root cause of the issue. Many businesses completely underestimate how much time is needed to create quality content. Additionally the larger the business the more decision makers there are which in turn delays critical feedback that the designer is waiting for in order to progress the project.
When engaging a design agency it is important that any business ensures that they have the necessary resources to provide timely responses when needed and that they can work on content throughout the duration of the project.
My recommendation to businesses engaging a design agency is:
A shrewd business person would ensure that they get the most out of their design agency. Often if it takes longer it isn’t because they didn’t do what they said but are in fact doing a lot more. They are ensuring that the website is of the utmost quality. You are able to discern quickly through the designers enthusiasm if they are simply lazy. Deadlines are good , but for progress updates. By ensuring that you are kept regularly informed you are able to make the decision on how important it is that an action is completed by a certain time. It may be on such occasions that the agency might charge you more to work over night and weekends. But at least you will understand fully how much time and resources it really took rather than relying on an estimate delivered at the beginning of the project which was really only to give you an idia of when it might be completed.
Its better to find someone that is passionate, honest, hard working and skilled then someone who is so concerned about deadlines that they take advantage of shortcuts.