Ballpark estimate vs. proposal

When ordering web design services, people tend to miss the point of the medium. What makes it different from other platforms, products or services is its flexibility. Not the flexibility in just updating the content in a blink of an eye, but the ability to quickly change the user experience, improve it, make it better. A website or application is a living thing: it’s adaptive and it is constantly evolving.

Due to the nature of the Internet and a broad range of possibilities for any given project, it’s impossible to provide clients with a fixed quote based on an e-mail with five bullets that should supposedly describe the project.

What a designer can do?

Respond with the best guess estimates instead of proposals, simply to encourage agile development and deal with unavoidable scope changes up-front.

A tip for clients: Inability to change the scope, based on new knowledge and insights gathered during the project, create frustrations on both ends. A fixed contract or a limited budget will tie your web designer to deliver what was previously agreed upon.

With estimates clients get better picture about how overall scope and tight deadline affect the budget and can plan costs for each step accordingly. I found it that it’s easier for clients to decide about the priorities when they have better picture about what they really need.

The benefit of a ballpark estimate is that you usually end up doing the essential parts of the project first, and rethinking add-ons later, if it turns out both parties have enough time and budget.

Essentials vs. Add-ons

The best possible investment for clients is to hire pro photographer and copywriter to take care of the content first. Content that describes products, services and the company is a must. You need to have that, because this is what your visitors are interested in.

Office photo gallery or office furniture, newsletter system or custom made contact form, blog or forum is an add-on. User comments might be essential, but user registration or activity logs are add-ons. A simple send video link might be important, but in that case custom made video uploader is an add-on. The later will also render higher storage and bandwidth costs, since you have to store those uploads somewhere.

A tip for web producers: The quickest way to filter serious projects is to simply reply with a ballpark costs, for instance:

“Such sites usually cost between X and Y hundreds, thousands or millions <insert prefered currency here>.”

Production of community based interactive web site with file uploads based on WordPress can indeed take from a week to a couple of months to develop. If a project is urgent, a studio or an agency might need to double their staff or double their shifts. In either case, the price will go up.

Web design packages

Some web designers are offering pre-made packages where a custom made website is needed.

The problem is, we are not in a car industry. You don’t manufacture 1000 pieces of the same model each year, so you can’t create equipment packages and optimize production. You couldn’t possibly analyze the costs of every single optional feature with a dozen of projects a year. The sample is too small and the variety of options is too wide.

When buying a car you don’t go to a car factory and negotiate about wether the logo should be bigger or a little bit more on the left. You only get what’s offered. Unless, of course — you are a buyer who is not asking about the price. With cars it’s easy to create packages and set the prices, but with websites virtually everything is optional. Except the domain name.

What to do?

Web design industry is still not completely formed, and the number of possibilities is still not finite. We have to educate clients about the varieties possible and the different levels of engagement. Each project is different, because clients have different products and services as well as different audience.

Simply put, every website out there should meet different combination of business goals and user needs.

Marko Dugonjić is a designer specialized in user experience design, web typography and web standards. He runs a nanoscale user interface studio Creative Nights and organizes FFWD.PRO, a micro-conference and workshops for web professionals.

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