Has this happened to you?
A business friend or colleague reflects you to someone who has just designed their new or revised web site. You're told what a wonderful job the designer did and how pleased everyone is with how the site looks. Knowing what you do about the referring party, you call the design studio and shortly thereafter award your project.
Way too often this is a big mistake. Only last week did I hear again how the decision to go with a referral was going to result in terrible consequences. The site, which is to sell specialty dog products would be months late and may not be ready for the prime selling season of the Holidays. Inventory had already been purchased causing the delayed launched to burn a whole in the site owner's pocket.
ALL WEB Sites ARE NOT THE SAME !!
If there is a truism about web design and production, it is that, like all businesses, all web sites are not the same. Web development, design and production is multidisciplinary. Some agencies are great at marketing but fall short on creating usable interfaces. Some designer studios render wonderful interfaces but lack the expertise in developing server-side programming requirements. Be careful when you hear the words "Web Designer" as that means different things to different people.
Many web sites require extensive back end integration with back office operations compared with others which are simple brochureware web sites. All designers and developers do not have the same skills and experiences and you may unwittingly choose one who is not capable of delivering your site on time and on budget.
Web sites that will miss their launch dates, like the one i referred to above, means lost economic opportunities for the site owner.
FIVE THINGS TO CHECK OUT WHEN HIRING A DESIGN STUDIO
1. Note that design studios have core competencies and outsource the skills needed beyond their knowledge base. That can have a down side as free lancers may not be available to the studio and their commitment to the project may not be as keen as the studio itself.
2. You can not tell what a studio did for a web project just by looking at that web site.
Most studios showcase their work but frequently do not make it clear as to exactly what they did. When reviewing compositions make sure you know exactly what the studio itself did and what work was subbed out or done by others.
3. Ask what Content Management System (CMS) will be used for your site. Will it be an open source solution (like WordPress or Drupal, for example) or something that will be customized or made proprietary for your use. What kind of CMS training will be provided so you will know how to manage and develop the site after it is launched?
4. Ask about the design optimization testing that will be used for your project. What browsers, screen resolutions and viewport size testing will be done to ensure design integrity? What legacy browsers will be tested? What about handheld devices and the possible need for a mobile site?
Find out if your designer follows the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards which has become the main stream approach to web design and assists bullet proof your site against future technologies.
5. Definitely take references and check them out in your vetting process. Ideally, speak with a business owner who's project is similar to yours. That's an ideal way to find out how the studio did the work and what bottlenecks occurred so you can be prepared if you choose that studio.
DO THE RIGHT THING BEFORE YOU HIRE A DESIGN STUDIO
Before you ever approach anyone to work on your project develop the requirements for your site on paper much as you would a business plan. Organize all the requirements of your site into a Request For Proposal (RFP) document. The better you can articulate what the deliverables are the more likely it is you'll be successful in finding the right studio,
Use your RFP to set up a competitive bidding process between a small number of studios you have pre-selected. Yes, you can use the referral your friend cave you but have them submit their bid, along with others, so you can have proposals to compare. The RFP carries all the advantages for you including getting studios that may otherwise pass on quoting your project interested in what you are doing.
Conduct your search just like you would a design contest. Make sure no one has an unfair advantage over another studio. And NEVER declare what your budget is or what you are willing to pay. That puts the single biggest hurt into a process which should end up with a lot of satisfied people if properly ordered.
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