The High Cost of Bargain Design

Oct 29th, 2009 | By | Category: Case Studies

I’ve often wondered why it is that people don’t understand the axiom, “You get what you pay for.”  People who don’t understand a process universally seem drawn to the lowest price.  In the case of a known quantity, such as a car purchase, it makes sense.  If you’re in the market for an iPod, you don’t necessarily need to know how an iPod works to buy one.  You can rest assured that the one you buy is almost exactly like the others of the same model.

What about an unknown quantity?  What if you house needs painted, or you want to have that iPod we talked about repaired?  Now we come to an issue.  You can go with the place that offers the lowest price, and you may get lucky.  Odds are, however, that you will get what you paid for.  About 60% of my clients are what I like to call re-treads.  What does that mean exactly?  It simply means that they went the cheap route and decided it was too expensive.  Write this down.

Price is only an issue in the absence of value.

I don’t know who originally said it, but I’d love to meet him.  Did you write it down?  Well, go back and do it.  I’ll wait…

Future design re-tread

Future design re-tread

I recently had a conversation with a future client who fell victim to this all-to-common issue.  She went with a guy who talked the talk, but when challenged played the non-disclosure card.  He kept telling her that he couldn’t show her examples of artistic work and SEO results because of competition issues.  This is absolute hooey, but sounds good when you’re on the receiving end.  She has recently decided that the bargain route was too expensive.

Many potential web design clients have the “instant gratification” mentality.  They think that arriving at a good design is a trivial matter that can be accomplished in an afternoon.  This is FAR from the case.  Being able to work Photoshop makes a person a designer the same way knowing which end of a screwdriver to turn makes one a mechanic.  I can do some amazing things with Photoshop and Illustrator, but many of them make for bad design.  The difference between a designer and a hack is knowing the difference.

What happens in nearly every re-tread case is, they eat up most of their budget on the bad design and have to pick and choose features for the re-design.  Here’s a quick list of things to help you avoid this problem.

  1. Do your homework: Look at the designer’s portfolio.  If there is no portfolio, don’t hire that designer.  If the portfolio looks like it contains a bunch of work from the late 90’s, don’t hire.  If you don’t like what you see in the portfolio, don’t hire.  Ask for references.  No references…  Well, you get the point.
  2. Expect good communication: If you don’t get a return call or e-mail within a reasonable time, assume this will be the norm.  If you value communication, hold out for a good communicator.  Some techies have bad people skills.  This should be pretty easy to spot.
  3. Sign a contract: Would you let a builder start construction on a house without one?  So why wouldn’t you do the same for a HUGE part of your business?  If you don’t sign a contract, you’re dealing with an amateur (on both sides).
  4. If you see a design menu with prices, run: Pre published price lists may seem like a good idea, but you get the same results as walking into a tattoo studio and picking a tattoo off the wall.  It isn’t yours, and it isn’t unique to your business.
  5. Ask questions, expect honest answers: No one knows how to do everything.  If you find a designer who can’t do everything you want, odds are he can sub-contract the parts he’s not good at.  It shouldn’t matter to you, but disclosure should.  Find out what your designer’s strengths and weaknesses are.  We all have them.  If we didn’t, you wouldn’t need a designer.  Remember, if the answers you get sound like BS, they probably are.
  6. Know the difference between Design and Development: Designers typically do the visual part.  Developers typically make the site do things.  Don’t hire one to do the other.  Again, ask for the one you really need.
  7. Don’t hire a relative: Ever…  Even if it’s free…  Enough said.
  8. Tables are dead: No modern designer worth his salt uses tables.  If your designer doesn’t use CSS for layout, you’ll need to redesign very soon anyway.
  9. Expect to pay for services rendered: Asking a designer to “whip something up” and let you take a look so you can decide is like asking a restaurant to make you a meal and let you pay for it if you like it.  What would you expect the waiter to tell you if you asked a question like that?
  10. Don’t make hasty decisions: The statement, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine” should be taken to heart.  Think things through and realize that there is time to do it right.  If there isn’t, you’ll invariably have to do it again.

You don’t have to hire me, but please, hire someone competent.  I have a list…  If you don’t understand the above, ask me.  There’s a handy little “comment” block at the bottom of this page.  Use it.  Is there something else you want to know?  Ask.  There’s also a contact form you can use if you don’t want anyone to see what you’re saying.  Feel free to go that route.

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