A decent website design should not be a template ‘picked off of the shelf’, but should have considerable care and attention to make sure that it does not only ‘look pretty’, but also delivers the goals outlined in the website’s brief. These goals may include sales or conversions, increased (or decreased) page view times, increased traffic, or ease of use.
Although the aesthetics are important, the effectiveness of a website is crucial.
To produce an effective website design a web agency should be using their past experiences, researching in to the sector, and crucially liaising with their client in order to ensure that the goals and their solutions are optimal.
A client may not necessarily like their website’s design; but they should understand that it is catering for their users and not their own personal taste.
From time to time we are contacted by companies asking us to produce a mock-up of how their website will look before they decide to proceed with us, and this is not a service that we offer.
This is known as speculative design work, and there are several good reasons that reputable web agencies do not do it.
Most importantly how could a web agency produce an effective website without collaboration with their client? They would need to understand the business’ unique requirements in detail which are usually obtained during discussions rather than a generic brief.
If a client had several speculative designs they are likely to choose the one that is close to their personal taste, and experience shows that this is not necessarily the solution that is best for their business. It also leaves the website designer in a tricky situation; should they design a website that will be effective, or one that is more likely to win them the contract?
There is also the more obvious reason of cost. For a design to look good it needs to be ‘polished’; it is very difficult to half-design something. If a web agency are choosing a design from a template then ‘knocking up’ a design is easy, but for a custom website design it is likely to take days.
This cost of course could be considered a marketing expense; but this is not the case as, in the end the clients will pay. If a web agency is producing a speculative for a client and they win the tender, it’s likely that they have produced other speculative designs for tenders that they have not won. The web agency need to pay their designers, and at the end of the day still make a profit, so the cost for this work, in one way or another, will be recouped by their clients. In fact, their clients are worse-off financially as they will be paying their share for unsuccessful tenders…
So what is the best way forward?
Ideally clients should be able to choose a professional web agency that they can trust based on their reputation, previous work and references. Once two-way trust has been established the project is likely to develop smoothly and the design will naturally be effective. A web agency should happily discuss the project with their prospective client and alleviate any of their concerns from the outset, and should involve their client with the design process.
However for some projects we have found that a reasonable amount work needs to be completed before we can produce an accurate proposal. In these instances we start a research project which is a smaller billable task that will answer any questions that we, or the client may have. This is usually for larger web development tasks, but it can also be part of the design and planning phase.
What happens in these instances is that the web agency will create a mini-proposal that just focusses on creating a design (or styles), wireframe and sitemap. Just as much time and effort will be put in to this as a full project, and the same level of client collaboration will be expected. At the end of this the client will know how their website will look and function, but can rest assured that this is a well thought of strategy that will benefit their business, rather than a speculative design that has been quickly made to win a tender.
Most web design agencies will then allow the client to use this information as they wish, even if they decide to move elsewhere , this means that the fees for this project can be considered an investment rather than an expense.
Hopefully this article has explained why speculative design work is not only a bad idea for the web design agency, but also for the client.
In web design and development, as with most industries, there are often shortcuts to achieving goals, but these may not necessarily be cost effective in the long term.
At Webbed Feet UK we’ll happily talk you through all of the options and ensure that our clients know what solutions are available to them and the implications of each.
 It would be worth noting that it is worth asking for the designer’s terms nd conditions as some web designers who retain the copyright for unused designs that they produce.