That was Easy!

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Yesterday I sat down for 20 minutes with a friend who wants his website re-done. Until now he has had what I would call a proof-of-concept version that I threw together years ago as a starting point. (an online equivalent of a paper-based wireframe) I guess he was satisfied because we never subsequently sat down to develop any actual look/feel or functionality requirements. The site just stayed that way - even the bogus content I entered as placeholder text.

5 years, I guess it's time

Since then he has heard from employees that his website sucks and he should get a real one. While I don't disagree, when I ask what's wrong with the current site, I only hear that a competitor's site has a nicer design...with pictures! Okay, okay - I accept that people like eye-candy, but the actual content of the two sites is very similar. (about us, contact us etc.) Naturally I'd like to compare the cost of the two sites, but cost doesn't matter to critics who don't have to pay anything. Anyway, to make a long story short, it was time to put a prettier face onto my friend's site.

Unfortunately, my innate ability to make something pretty ranks at about a 1 or 2 out of 10. Even with a colour wheel and some basic design principles in hand, what I come up with looks more like a grade-school art project that you're forced to put on the fridge. (My skill is in translating that pretty photoshop comp into a working site.)

So, was I going to try myself or find a designer who could come up with a nice look and feel? Bringing in a designer will require actual money and it's not like my friend needs to make a design statement with his site. He just needs a place to post his contact info without scaring away potential clients.

The site is only 4 or 5 pages which, to me, reeks of Wordpress. (I know they say that Wordpress - version 3 - is now a serious CMS rather than just a blogging platform, but maybe the self-validating developer in me thinks that the 5-minute install and ease-of-use make it too easy?!? [hopeful chuckle goes here]) Of course, Wordpress has lots of free or cheaply-available ready-made themes so let's have a look.

$38.50. Are you kidding me?

In this case, too easy was what I was looking for because the small scope of the project makes it more a favour than a source of revenue. My friend and I sat together and looked at some ready-made Wordpress themes. Within about 15 minutes we had found one and bought it for the whopping total of $38.50 CDN. Dave went on his merry way, I downloaded the theme files and had his new site looking pretty good by the end of the afternoon. Wow, that was easy.

I don't want to rain on any designers' parades, but the value you get in these generic, ready-made themes is impressive. Compare $38 to a minimum $500 to run a design contest at 99designs.com. From what I understand, that $500 minimum doesn't get you any code - it's just the look for a one page site. Of course, it's recommended that you offer more than the minimum so that more experienced/better designers will participate.

Let's be clear, the theme we bought won't win any awards and, luckily, that suits Dave fine. For his purposes, as I imagine for many small businesses that just need a web presence, it's great. Before buying the theme we were able to see a live preview so that we knew exactly how it looked. The cost was minimal and it even came with pretty good instructions. Sure, it's cookie-cutter, but most cookies are round, aren't they? A custom-shaped cookie doesn't necessarily taste better.

Why did I bother writing this?

I just wanted to get off my chest how easy and fast the process was to get a new site going for my friend. The needs were modest and luckily, so was the price. Have I done a disservice to people who make a living on the web? After all, now my friend thinks that getting a website costs $38. If I get hit by a bus and he goes to the next guy for a redesign and is quoted 20-30x the amount, will his head blow up from confusion? I don't know, but I think of the times I have seen business managers budget tons of money for the website without knowing what anything could or should cost. I'd like to poll one hundred managers involved with their companies' websites and ask what a site should cost.

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