Thursday, April 2, 2009

Lessons in Web Design – ‘dihari baandhna mat bhoolo’

In Indian parlance, dihari is the daily wage you pay a wage worker. That is exactly what we are as web designers and subsequent to some one of my projects not going well, these are some lessons I’ve learnt and would like to share.

1. People don't know what they want. Resist giving a quote until this is figured out in a significant detail.
2. People don't understand why are they being charged as much as they get charged.
3. Don't undersell yourself (Do #2).
4. Disclaimers and scope are more important than you think.
5. A few hours spent earlier will save you spending several hours later.
6. Never start working without an advance.

1. People don't know what they want. 80% of the time people just know that they want a website, but they don't know a) what they want in it b) what they want to achieve with it or c) even what it should look like.

Thus it's very important to help them think through this to simplify your work in the future. Using one of my projects as an example:
a) The number of features needed kept increasing. Music on the home page, a small Javascript tool, additional pages, an 'offer of the month' section etc. Now our obvious reaction is - mat karo, this is not what we had been decided, however, from the client’s perspective, who is starting a new business - and constantly coming up with new ideas this is completely natural. However, if the details had been worked out in the beginning, it would be easy to charge extra for any new features requested later.
b) The number of design iterations were more than 4-5, and were still not approved. Again, by reining in the tendency to design and concentrating on content first would reduce this. A book I read recently (Head First Design), also recommends using a lot of paper before going ahead with an actual mock-up in Photoshop.

2. People don't understand our work. Unfortunately, unlike the print business where a 'unit' is very clear (per sheet, per mug etc.), we guys sell 'hours'. Plus, our hours are spent on various activities: design, converting design to HTML, resizing images, checking if this works across all browsers etc. It is of the utmost importance to tell your client how this process works, because otherwise they will always think that they are being overcharged. Spend some time breaking down the hours that will go into each module of the website, once you're through #1 above. This is true even when you're not charging your customer per hour. Work out the dihari.

3. Don't undersell. You will definitely get a project if you quote less. But the question is, 'Why should you quote less?'. I think the popular wisdom is that 'people buy things that are inexpensive'. The popular wisdom misses one very important element - 'Whose money is it?'. People will always buy something that gives them the maximum value for their money. Thus, if you have #2 covered, you will stop underselling yourself. The notion that your client may have is - 'I can get the same thing done cheaper'. Your answer shouldn't be 'Oh. Okay, I'll do it at that price', it should be 'Sure, you can. And you should.' and then tell them what all they should look out for in this new vendor. Even if you don't get the project, the client should go away thinking that he has learnt something from you (e.g. how to evaluate the next vendor).

4. Disclaimers and scope. After you have worked out the client requirements and said anything more is chargeable, reiterate the point, reiterate the extra hours you will put in if the requirements change. Keep it transparent - and your life will be easy.

5. Hours saved. Again, if I had done #1,#2,#3 and #4, we would not have spent additional hours on the mentioned project, and when I woud’ve, I would have charged money for it.

6. Money in advance. I started working on two projects after a verbal commitment. This was mostly because I thought that we didn't have a body of work in website development and so the first bit of work, e.g. the design mock-up would convince the client that we mean business, that the project is on and they would be confident about our capability to finish the project. It was a way of giving the client a sample piece of work so that they 'buy-in'.

I still say 'do something so that the customer buys-in'. But let that be #1 above. You have helped your client figure out what they want - and that's good enough - you have already given them a service. If they need more, ask them to pay up first.

Don't be embarrassed about asking for money (as long as you have #2 covered, that'd never be a problem) – this in fact (to not be embarrassed) is an important person lesson for me.

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