Latest posts

We all have the same problem

A call to action! If you are a web design agency and feel you want to change the way clients go about commissioning a website - we’d like to meet you.

My brief foray into the web design business has resulted in this conclusion, and the nature of ‘the problem’ will manifest itself later in this article! Lets first have have a bit of background.

I have been involved in quite a few industries over the years from retail opticians to regeneration consultancy. I maintain that all businesses are 90% the same, the 10% being differences peculiar to that field of endeavour. The web design business is no different and I plan to discuss this further in a future article.

The web industry is relatively new but has parallels with many others where there is intercourse (steady now) between creatives, engineers and clients.

So what is a similar business?

Creating a building is the one that immediately springs to mind.

Often the client is drawn to the architect due to their reputation and/or love of their designs. They then have to find a builder to make sense of the design and create something physical.

As the job becomes more complicated other disciplines are introduced. Quantity surveyors, structural engineers M&E consultants, the list goes on. So in many ways this is very similar to our business, but there are some very distinct differences.

In the business of the ‘built environment’, process is controlled by professional associations. In the case of Architects, RIBA not only provide a framework for the ‘design process’, but also specify fees that are usually based on a percentage of the final build cost. They also give potential ‘domestic’ clients advice on how to appoint an architect and prepare a brief.

Inevitably, from the outset, the architect knows the budget of the project before they begin to design and the builder provides a firm cost based on a very detailed and specific brief. Any changes to the original specification is costed and charged as a variation to the original contract.

The budget problem

In our profession, clients approach us in a multitude of ways, many with a poor specification and without a budget. During the design and build process, some expect the cost remain the same, whilst the project spirals over budgeted time due to unclear and changing business goals for the site.

We often get ‘If we tell you the budget, you will work to it’. Or the classic: ‘We don’t really have a budget’.

Buying a car

Man (M1) goes in to a car showroom. The salesperson (S) asks, “How can I help?”:

M1: I want to buy a car please. S: Do you have a budget? M1: Yes, but I am not going to tell you!

S: OK, what sort of car do you want? M1: One I can go to the shops in

You can see where this is going.

Man (M2) goes in to a car showroom. The salesperson (S) asks, “How can I help?”

M2: I want to buy a car please S: Do you have a budget?

M2: Yes, the maximum I want to spend is £25,000 S: Good… Let me show you some alternatives

The salesman can give a series of alternatives to satisfy M2’s requirements. Big car with few ‘extras’, small car pimped to the max, or somewhere in between.

In the event of the less knowledgeable client, the responsible firm will attempt to educate before they even get involved in producing a proposal, resulting in many hours of work that we don’t have a hope in hell of being paid for.

In addition, we are often asked asked to attend meetings, prepare extensive proposals and detailed project plans for the builds that, we all know, will never take place exactly as envisaged. No other profession would do this.

This of course is not really the fault of the client. Unlike the built environment example above, they often have little idea how much a website should cost or how to commission one. In fact some of our clients, who have commissioned a number of previous sites, are more confused than commissioning virgins.

A process

Erskine has managed to create a process now that prevents us from falling into many of these bear-traps. This consists of a combination of being firm with clients from the outset, providing them with a very simple way to understand what they need (as opposed to what they think they want), using agile methodologies during the design/build and finally not going for jobs where they don’t reveal the budget.

What are we going to do about it?

Last week, I was speaking with Mark Boulton at the Future of Web Design conference in London. We were talking about this very issue, coming to the conclusion that we need to meet up to discuss how we can work together to create a way of solving the issue. I then think “Hang on, there are loads of firms out there that face these issues: we all have the same problem”.

Erskine therefore plan to host a get together where we can discuss these challenges (and more) in a safe, informal environment.

So, a call to action. If you are a web design agency and feel you want to change the way clients go about commissioning a website just contact me and we will stick you on the list. Once we have a date, we will publish on the Erskine Socials site. Of course if you have any comments please spew your thoughts out below.

Erskine Design
Published in: