Over numerous blog posts, we’ve discussed the positives of undergoing custom web design projects for both your company and your users. However, we haven’t really covered how to responsibly set expectations for both yourself as the client and your company in terms of timeframes. Custom web design has its benefits, for sure, but it also is a bit more time-consuming. In many ways, design is the part of the project that the agency or designer controls the least. The unknowns that can crop up are difficult to predict – if we could predict them, then they wouldn’t be unknowns, right?
With that said, however, there are several steps that you can take to plan accordingly and give yourself enough time to proceed with the process of custom design. Also, there are mechanisms that your designer or agency can make to make the most of the time allotted. Let’s dig into these items to make sure your next custom web design project is planned well from the get-go, so you and your company can reap the rewards of such an initiative.
The first thing you need to do is be realistic. Custom web design is just that, it’s custom. Bespoke. Built for you. So, it isn’t reasonable to think that a project can be done in a couple of weeks. In fact, custom web design projects can take many weeks or months, depending on complexity.
When you approach a series of designers with an unrealistic timeframe, one of two things will happen. First, they will tell you that it isn’t possible. And in this case, they are probably right. If you ask enough designers, though, then eventually one will tell you it is possible. And that’s the second case – designers who agree to anything, despite knowing it isn’t possible, because what are you going to do when it gets delayed, anyway?
Be realistic, and you’ll get the right responses from designers. And if you aren’t sure what realistic is, then just ask the designers you talk to about what timeframe makes sense for your project. Or, read onto my next point, where I’ll highlight the process from the beginning.
Understand the Process
Custom web design takes time, and that’s because it requires a process that flows in a waterfall fashion. The steps needed to complete a custom web design project include:
- Discovery: Understanding requirements, understanding your business, defining who your users are and what they are, therefore, understanding what a “conversion” looks like and what the end definition of success is for the project. Finally, defining what pages and/or templates are required by developing a sitemap or information architecture. Planning alone can take weeks if the project is complex.
- Wireframing: I believe this is a bit more optional these days, but, the phase of developing wireframes to position UI/UX elements can be completed at this stage in the process.
- Design Comps: Custom design requires the presentation of original concepts. In our practice, this means we design 2 or 3 ideas and present to the client for review. That review can take time, especially if there are many stakeholders.
- Revision: The comps presented must be revised based on client feedback. This back and forth communication can take days or weeks depending on workflows.
- Additional Templates: At this stage, when an initial design has been chosen, it’s time to design all of the new templates that were identified during discovery.
- CMS Integration: Taking those front-end files and integrating into the content management system of choice is the back-end development stage of the project.
- Testing/Quality Assurance: Yeah – you probably need to test everything.
- Deployment: I’m making this easy and skipping like 5 steps in between. But after you worry about SEO considerations, content migration, additional testing, then finally you can deploy the complete project.
With this process in mind, you hopefully have a more unobstructed view of why these projects take time. That is because each of the above steps needs professional attention and thorough planning, execution, and testing.
Consider Internal Politics and Policies
All-to-often we get requests from prospective clients who promise speed and agility throughout the above process. We propose an aggressive timeframe and get to work. After presenting designs, though, it isn’t unusual for us to see a slowdown on the client side, as they are waiting for all levels of management and various stakeholders to give their feedback on the design work.
This is unfair to almost everyone – the client wants to get the job done, but they can’t because their politics prevent things from progressing speedily. And the agency feels burned because they counted on a quick resolution to the project and positioned their revenue projections accordingly.
This is why it’s so important to both us the agency and you the client to ask about and understand the internal political situation when planning a project. If it takes a week or more to get feedback on a deliverable, then the above process can take many months to work through. Typically, unless the project is being undertaken by one individual, projects are slower than predicted. Instead of saying that a project will be any different, it’s better to just plan for this and set reasonable expectations from day one.
Plan Revision Procedures
One way to work around the problem of internal politics is to predefine procedures around the creation and transmission of revisions to the agency. An excellent first step is to make sure only one person is the primary point of contact that communicates with the agency. This prevents communication problems. Secondly, having a series of procedures for handling each design that requires feedback is essential. For example, when a design is sent to the point of contact, having them present the designs to all other stakeholders on a live basis and collecting feedback instantly via a conference is more effective than sending it out via a blanket e-mail and waiting for feedback. And, that’s an important side note: E-mail is just not a way to accountably involve everyone on your side into the process. Finally, work with the agency or designer to get an understanding of how quickly the revisions will be turned around, so you can plan accordingly to reschedule a time to review internally again.
The most important thing is to make sure you have consensus on designs at some level internally, enough so that everyone has had their concerns at least heard, if not integrated into the design. It’ll make final approvals easier.
Remember all of the Steps Above!
Many times, people simply forget about everything that goes into crafting a custom web design. The most overlooked steps are typically content migration, content creation, and proper QA or testing. Also, it isn’t enough to remember that you have to do it, you also have to consider that these items can take time. It isn’t fair to approve designs 3 months into a 4-month project and then assume that an agency or developer can do all of the remaining work in the last month. In fact, we like to give development estimates on timeframes that are based on the conclusion of design, rather than from the kickoff of the project.
The rewards of custom design are non-disputable. However, those rewards only come after the process is allowed to be completed in a way that is comprehensive and well thought-out. That comes with planning, and planning can only happen if you are aware of how long things really take. Freakonomics has a great podcast episode about why projects always take longer than initially thought. I recommend listening to this episode and comparing those points made with this post. Having this information in mind, you’ll have a much better chance of successfully running your project and achieving the goals your company has set out to accomplish.