A few months ago we received a request to help build a new website.
Naturally we were very excited, but after taking a closer look at their request we noticed something important: they wanted to build a complete website — from scratch — in three weeks.
We immediately realized something important: they didn’t understand the web design process, nor their role in it.
Of course, since you are an avid reader of the Akamai Websites blog, you already learned all about the design process. But even though you know about the four D’s of the web design process, you may not be aware of where most of the time on a web design project goes.
Where does the time go?
Believe it or not, almost all of the time required to build a website is a result of the client’s role. Whether a website takes weeks or months is almost always based on the client’s participation in the web design process.
The reality is, most web designers have their skills locked in.
They know exactly how to quickly build and design a website, and have the tools to get it done in record time. What they don’t have are all the things clients bring to the table: an understanding of the audience, brand, content and their timely (and helpful) feedback.
If a web designer didn’t have to worry about any of those things then, yes, the website building process can be quite fast. But that is never the case. (No, really. Never.)
Because a website is just a content delivery device. Without the content, and the work it takes to craft that brand-aligned content for a specific audience, then building a website is a moot point.
Got your ducks in a row?
“But I’m prepared!”, you might say. “I already have all of my content, brand and audience information worked out. It should be quick, right?”
Well, yes and no.
Having that information worked out ahead of time will definitely trim some of the fat off your timeline, but there are other issues that many clients are not aware of. We call these “time sucks” because they suck away productive time from a website project.
In fact there are five primary time sucks that are worth bringing up. Knowing them will help you avoid unnecessary delays in your website project (and cement your place as “Best. Client. Ever.”).
Time Suck #1: Feedback
You already know that web design is a collaborative process. Naturally with any collaboration there is an exchange of information.
Information from the web designer to the client is typically in the form of design submissions, status updates and requests for feedback.
Feedback is vital to a project because, without it, a web designer has no idea whether they are properly representing your brand message. Since you are the expert on your brand, you are the best person to make sure this aspect of your website is accurate.
Examples of Feedback
Let’s look at two examples of feedback.
Pretend that a web designer just sent you a design mock-ups for your home page. Which of the following do you think will move the project forward:
“Yeah, it looks good, but it’s not quite right. Can you change it around a bit? It feels too stiff.”
“I like the typographical treatment and colors, since they match my established brand. I would like there to be more space between the elements on the page, and more organically flowing elements – perhaps more curves or sloping lines to represent a looser, artistic feel. I’d also like the images to have less people in them and more elements from nature to accentuate that organic feel. I’ve attached a few screen grabs to show you what I mean.”
You can probably tell that the second one is better, but you may not totally understand why. So we’re going to clarify by saying something that may sound a little harsh:
The first feedback is lazy.
Rather than spend the time to really think about the design and identify the aspects that need improvement, they opted instead to put that responsibility on the designer.
But as we’ve said before, a client is the only one who can keep things in alignment with their brand. A designer is there to support that vision, but they can’t make it for you.
It is important to respect the process of design, and that is done by putting in the time and effort to make sure that the designer has all the information necessary to create something amazing.
How to give good design feedback
“But I’m not a designer. I don’t know what looks good.” you might say.
“Hogwash”, we say back (in a Victorian English accent). “You do know what looks good. You just need to articulate it.”
An art degree isn’t required to provide great design feedback. You just need to be thorough and thoughtful. The more specific you are with your feedback, the more information the designer has to work with, and each round of design will get significantly closer to what you want your website to be.
In other words, the worse the feedback, the longer the project will take.
“But I trust my designer. I’m sure whatever they come up with will be fine.” you might argue.
To which, we would say “Noooooo!”, as we collapse on the floor in a puddle of angsty frustration.
Yes, you can trust your designer’s skill, but never give up control of your website’s future to someone else.
Would you drop your kid off at a friend’s house and say “Oh, I trust you. Just raise my child however you like. I’m sure they’ll turn out fine.”? Probably not. Take responsibility for your website. That means being an integral part of the design process.
It is important that we not to confuse control with micro-management:
Micro-management means not allowing those you work with to do what they are best at.
Control, on the other hand, is exercised through providing great, helpful, thorough feedback to your designer, allowing their skills to shine, and your project to move forward in the right direction.
Time Suck #2: Media
Media are any images, audio, video or other “assets” you want to have on your website.
These aren’t just logos. You should provide every image (or provide direction on where and how to find the right images) to your designer.
If you come to a web design project without any of your visual elements ready, then you’re going to add days, weeks and (seemingly) years to your project.
A lot of folks don’t realize that asset production is something that should be done before you start working on your website. Otherwise the designer has nothing to work with.
The Akamai Websites Process
In our process at Akamai Websites, we give our clients a slight buffer. While working on the site map and interactive prototypes, we use placeholder images and graphics on the site. It is during this time that the client is collecting together their assets, because once the design phase starts it is too late. They already need to be in hand or the project will stall.
This is more than sticking your logos in a Dropbox folder and sending them to your designer. That is like giving your interior decorator a color swatch and telling them to furnish your whole house.
Here are some examples of the types of assets you should have worked out for your web designer:
- Team members
- Color palettes
- Audio files
- Video files
- Font files
- Logo files
- Graphics related to your brand or business
- Plus lots more …
In today’s web design world, with huge hero images and impressive background elements, it is important to have your visual elements clearly defined. Yes, a designer can work with you to find images (we do it all the time), but you need to understand that it is a process that takes time and consideration.
Start collecting your media now
If you want to cut some time off your design project, then start going to image depositories and curating images and graphics for your website.
Here are a few resources that we like to use:
- Unsplash [http://unsplash.com]
- Raumrot [http://ramrout.com]
- Picography [http://picography.co]
- Foodiesfeed [https://foodiesfeed.com/free-food-images/]
- Gratisography [http://www.gratisography.com/]
- Super Famous Images [ http://images.superfamous.com/]
And while this is just a small sample of the websites where you can find images, we’ve only talked about photos. We still haven’t even touched on videos (such as location walkthroughs, product demos, tutorials videos), each of which you should have already produced and “in the can” prior to the start of your website project.
Oh, and did we mention podcasts? Yup … that’s a part of this too.
It should be pretty clear that a lack of media can potentially cause huge delays. So, do yourself a favor and start collecting those now. Your future you (and your future web designer) will thank you.
Time Suck #3: Content
Content is (for the most part) all the non-graphical parts of your website.
In other words: words.
We’ve mentioned before that your designer should not be responsible for creating the content for your website.
Unless you happen to have a designer who is also a copywriter, the only person who should be writing for your business or organization are the people inside your business or organization. Having your designer write your content is like having a cabinet builder tell you what clothes to wear, or having a travel agent tell you how to have fun on your vacation.
Words are important. How your organization talks about itself needs to be consistent across all your platforms. And that consistency comes from within (not without).
Having said that, you often won’t know what copy (words) you need on your website until the structure has been determined through the prototyping and design phases.
In this case, you can front-load some of the work. You already know the general sections that you’ll have on your website, so write copy for those. Then, when you know more specific content requirements, you can fine tune what you already have. That initial work will pay off huge dividends when it comes time to produce your content.
Making a list, checking it twice
With our web design projects, once the visual design phase is completed, we provide our clients with a checklist for all of the copy that will need to go on their website. While we are busily hunched over our computers for a few weeks building the website, our client is simultaneously busy writing all the copy that will go on the website.
Checklists are great since you can see exactly what needs to go on each page and how it all works together. This takes a lot of the uncertainty away from what you need to write and you can also delegate out specific areas to different people in your organization.
One thing to keep in mind with copy for the web: less is more.
It can be tempting to write volumes, but websites are not read, they are skimmed.
Shorter paragraphs with succinct information is best for a website. If you want someone to read reams of copy about your business or product, then save that for a downloadable PDF or in-depth blog post. Your website copy should be the cliffsnotes version of your business.
In the past we’ve had projects where we had to wait months for a client to finish producing content for their website, delaying not only their final payment, but our ability to start working with other clients.
As a result we have a pretty strict “if the content isn’t ready, that isn’t our problem” policy.
That sounds harsh, but it basically means, if everything else on the website is done but we’re still waiting for the content from the client, then your website, as far as we are concerned, is done.
Don’t delay things by being that client who never finishes their part of the process.
Time Suck #4:Fear
It can be scary to pull the trigger on a website launch. What if it isn’t perfect? What if people don’t like it? What if it doesn’t help your business?
You can preoccupy yourself with “what ifs”, which seem legitimate, but eventually they will delay your project.
As we’ve said before, don’t look at a website as a “finished” product. It is a living thing. Would you be upset if you gave birth to a child and they didn’t already have the ability to walk, talk and support themselves through a meaningful vocation?
No website is perfect at launch. Actually, no website is perfect, ever. So, rather than aim for perfection (impossible) aim for excellence (possible) and then iterate for continual improvements.
Avoid day-old bread
The other thing to keep in mind is, the longer you wait for your website to be “ready” to launch, the more stale your website becomes.
You remember sliders? Everyone used them on websites about 5 years ago. Today? They’ve gone the way of leg warmers. If you wait long enough, whatever design you have on your website will become outdated, and with technology moving as fast as it does, you won’t have to wait too long.
So, bite the bullet, launch your site, and then work to make it better each day based on the feedback and input you receive from your customers and audience. Be proactive, rather than re-active, and get that website out the door!
Time Suck #5: Scope Creep
We’ve mentioned scope creep in other posts, but this is essentially when a client wants to keep changing the scope of the project to include new technologies, or significantly change the structure of the website.
To be honest, a lot of this falls on the designer.
The more experienced the designer, the better they will have worked out methods to avoid scope creep in a project. This usually comes from creating clear lines of communication, and setting up a project with specific “points of no return”.
Still not sure what scope creep is? Here is an example:
“Hey, the site is looking good, but I was wondering if it would be possible to just add in a calendar of events? I just realized that we probably need something like that for our customers.”
“I know we’re almost finished with the visual designs, but could you go back and change the page layouts on the product pages? We feel like it would be better to have everthing in a grid format instead of in a list.”
An inexperienced web designer, being the accommodating person that they are, will probably say “Oh, sure. We can do that.” But that is a major disservice to both you and your website.
Backtracking and re-doing things that have already been approved can add weeks and months to your website project.
The Point of No Return
At Akamai Websites we build in specific “points of no return” into each project.
There are two of them, actually:
- The first point of no return is at the end of the interactive prototype phase. This is the point at which the page layout needs to be firmly established.
- The second point is at the end of the design mockup phase, which is when the visual look and feel of the pages are determined.
The reason we have these two points in our projects is because the decisions made at the end of each of these phases creates a foundation for everything that happens next. Going back to change something means any work done after that point becomes irrelevant. It is essentially resetting the clock.
We don’t move forward to the next stage of the process until we receive a final approval on the previous stage. That means, making sure the client is completely happy and okay with everything that is delivered up to that point.
If you’re working with a web designer who doesn’t provide those sorts of clear-cut processes, then you will need to make sure that you don’t inadvertently cause delays by going back and changing things once they have already been established.
For most of our clients, we’ll let them know what is and isn’t possible. There is nothing wrong with wanting to add a new feature to the website, but if it wasn’t clearly identified at the beginning of the project, then it will have to either wait until a future project starts, or the scope of the project (and the timeline) will have to be adjusted.
The most important thing is to be aware of the consequences of your decisions and requests.
So, how long does it take to build a website?
Now that you are more aware of the typical causes of delays, let’s look at how long it takes if you don’t run into any of those issues.
As you know, Akamai Websites goes through four main phases with our web design projects, each taking a different amount of time. Here is our general timeline, depending on the complexity of the project:
- Discovery: 2 – 3 weeks
- Design: 3 – 6 weeks
- Development: 3 – 6 weeks
- Deployment: 3 – 6 weeks.
Even if you have all your ducks in a row, there is still a minimum amount of time necessary to build a website. Even on a streamlined project, you’re looking at a minimum of 11 to 12 weeks.
And yes, if you’ve done the math, that is three months. Minimum.
We’ve been making websites since the mid-1990’s, and can say for sure that this is the minimum amount of time necessary to have a GOOD website that does what you need.
But my web designer said they can do it in a month!
If you are proposed a website project that is significantly less than that, then a few things are probably happening:
- Your designer is cutting corners and skipping important steps
- Your designer isn’t going to allow you to provide necessary feedback
- Your designer doesn’t know what they’re doing
Your web designer should be a collaborator, working closely with you to design an intelligent solution to your online challenges.
If your web designer approaches a website like a product — an exchange of money for goods — then there is a good chance you (1) won’t be happy with the end result, (2) won’t feel like they listened to you, and (3) your website will not effectively fulfill your goals.
We said that 11 to 12 weeks is the minimum necessary to create a GOOD website, but if you aren’t worried about your website being good, then, yes, you can have one made in much less time. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you. #buyerbeware
Actions steps to help your website’s time frame
So, now that you understand the time frame that a (good) website requires, what can you do to expedite that process? Here are 3 tips to help you out:
- Plan for the unexpected. Delays happen even in the best of projects. Put a buffer into your schedule and be flexible with how things progress forward.
- Don’t make assumptions. Talk to your designer. Communicate. If you make assumptions about what something means, or how something will work, then you may end up with some disappointment down the line. Remember, this is a collaboration. So, collaborate!
- Do the work. Be prepared to put in the time and effect necessary to build a website in the right way. “Make a website for me. See you in three weeks.” is a great way to have a horrible life four weeks from now. You aren’t lazy, right? Do the work and you’ll get the results.
A rushed website project is often the result of starting too late.
Rather than push out a website like you’re cramming for a midterm the night before the test, decide if having a bad website is worth the pain, anguish, time and MONEY it will cost you do re-do it again in a few months from now.
Time for some Real Talk
Is it possible to build a website in 3 weeks? Absolutely.
Is it a good idea? Absolutely not.
We’re going to be completely honest with you: Those who come to us with unrealistic expectations on how long it will take to build their websites will, almost always, not be accepted as our client.
What you might not realize is, that by telling a web designer you want a website in three weeks, you are inadvertently placing yourself on their “do not work with” list.
Because that time frame is a clear indication that other aspects of working with you will also be challenging and a possible deal-breaker. We do great work, and we only work with clients who we know come to a project with the right expectations and attitude.
If that’s you, wonderful!
If it isn’t? That’s fine, but we’re probably not a good fit.
We turn people away on a pretty regular basis because we know exactly what will and won’t bring about the best results. We knock our web design projects out of the park because we do things correctly and give them the time they need.
You wouldn’t expect a baby to be born in 6 months because you were in a rush to have a child, right? Give your website the respect it deserves to develop and mature in the right way.
We’re sure you will find a web designer out there who will promise a 3 week website. But when you realize just how poorly that website was executed and decide to do things the right way, we hope you’ll look us up so we can build you something amazing.
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