I have had a lot of experience building and renovating both homes and websites, and I am often struck by how often I give the same advice whether my colleague is redoing his kitchen or his home page. Since construction analogies work well to explain common problems with the website design process, I felt inspired to assemble the following list:
1. The planning and strategy stage should take more time than the execution phase—not the other way around. Both homeowners and business owners are eager to rush into the building phase of their project, often at the expense of careful planning and needs assessment. As a result, key requirements are often missed, driving up costs.
2. Don’t get too crazy about the language of the contract. Don’t get me wrong, both a clear scope and price are very important details of a contract. However,if a conflict escalates to the point where you need to consult the contract language, you are already in trouble. In most cases, the payment schedule will be more important than the contract minutia. Payments and work accomplished should track fairly evenly.
3. A fixed price bid may give you peace of mind, but it’s not necessarily best. Most people like the idea of a fixed price contract, but it may cost you more in the end. With a fixed price deal, the developer or contractor has to include enough padding to come out ahead—which means that ANYTHING you forgot to include in the fixed price spec will be extra, and the contractor or developer may cut corners to make the target number. For construction, I prefer an open book cost plus agreement so that all costs, fees and adjustments are transparent. For web design and development, a weekly team-based fee combined with an hourly/weekly estimate of stages can give you more flexibility. Working this way takes more trust and management, but it may cost you less in the end.
4. Every project will be approximately two months late and 30% over budget & you will have change orders. Expect the unexpected. Despite the best of intentions, most projects run over budget and finish late. It’s better to know this and plan for it than get caught without the resources to do the job right. It’s also easier to make changes while construction is under way. So, resist the urge to rush forward under the pressure of a big house or launch party. You’ll just end up with more problems to fix down the road.
5. Function comes first, then form. With a home renovation, you want to focus first on where the rooms are going and on such less sexy but important elements as the building envelope, rough wiring, framing and plumbing considerations. Then you can focus on paint colors and cabinet handles. Likewise with a website, getting the right wireframe and strategy for your website needs to come before any discussion about colors and images. Everyone wants to focus on what’s fun, but in each case, misplaced construction will be very expensive to fix.
6. You will love your contractors in the beginning and hate them by the end.This has a lot to do with #2, but the lesson here is not to get too excited in the beginning and to remember that many of the changes that add to the cost and time are a result of the failure to heed lesson #1. Also, it’s good to keep some distance: try not to hire friends or become too chummy with your contractors until the project is over.
7. What’s easy to design can be expensive to build. If you are requesting something unusual, make sure you understand what is involved in building that feature—whether it’s a suspended staircase or a sliding search bar. The ease of design is often misleading. Be sure you know what you are committing to from a cost standpoint to actually build it.
8. There is going to be a punch list. Make sure to discuss the process and time frame for fixing things that are not right, as well as who will incur the cost.
9. Understand how subs work. If you are not hiring the subcontractors, make sure you have no liability for their payment and that their contract is with the general contractor (GC). Also, make sure you understand how communication will work and if everything needs to go through one person. Many GCs and development firms prefer to work through one point of contact.
10. Specialists are called that for a reason. Home and business owners tend to think they can do most things themselves, even if they have no experience. Yet, an architect can bring a lot of value to the table by helping you to define your needs and design for reduced construction costs. A kitchen designer or lighting designer will know these areas better than even the architect. Bottom line, if you really care about an area, find someone to help that just does that really well.
Similarly for websites, firms promise they can do everything—from strategy to design, development, and search engine optimization (SEO). Unless you are hiring a big firm and have a six-figure budget, the reality is that most firms don’t do all of these things well. Find out what your contractor is good at and then get specific help for areas like SEO and wire framing if you feel that the strategy is still not defined enough to be ready to design.
The number one thing that most people who have built a website or a house will tell you is that they wish had the gotten more specific help in areas they didn’t know well and paid more to do their project right the first time.