How to save thousands of dollars on your next web development project
Filed under: Advice for Startups, Provo Labs Academy, Web Design and Usability
My friend Spencer Rogers came to the Provo Labs Academy last Wednesday and gave the finest presentation I have ever seen on how to outline your website using Word and then build a user flow version of it (without any look and feel elements) in Powerpoint before spending a dollar on designing and developing the site.
By disabling the Advance slide on mouse click option (found under Slide Show/Slide Transition) and by making objects clickable and linked to other slides, you can design how the site is going to work before sending it to developers. You can show where navigation elements will appear and carve the web pages up into feature and content areas. You basically outline the functionality of the site page by page, leaving the design to someone else.
Spencer worked for years in industry designing software for clients. He has applied these rapid prototyping concepts to web site design and has been responsible for the design of dozens of websites in the last few years.
After seeing one of Spencer’s Powerpoint web site mockups two years ago, I blogged about the need for wireframing before developing a web site. But I didn’t know the depth of Spencer’s approach until last week. I just kicked off a new web site project where the developer did wireframes (he was already familiar with Spencer’s approach). And I’m working on my first Powerpoint currently for the next generation for one of my web sites.
Spencer showed us his Powerpoint outline for the relaunch of EverySingleHome.com that he made a year ago and then showed us the new site that just launched, and how closely it followed his Powerpoint design.
It is so costly to design a web site without a clear road map. Design it on paper first before getting into coding it. If you aren’t careful, feature creep can totally wipe out your budget. Working in HTML and doing actual programming as the site is being designed can be enormously expensive. If you take a new direction, as you almost always do, you will throw out a lot of code and waste a lot of money.
Nail the actual site architecture first, and then pay for the design and coding. There is a scriptural concept that says things should be created spiritually first and then physically. And another one that says you don’t build a house before counting the cost of it. This is only possible with prior planning. And the Powerpoint approach seems appropriate for most projects, since most of us know how to use it and already own a license to it.
By the way, EverySingleHome.com is an amazing real estate web site that lists every home for sale in Utah County and has a photo of each one. It has an Alexa ranking of about 45,000 which is incredible since the site is only in one market. It is a very comprehensive real estate site that anyone who is buying or selling real estate in Utah County should be aware of.
I can’t finish this post without commenting that the best product manager that ever worked at MyFamily.com (who is now an incredibly successful internet businessman) used Powerpoint whenever he designed a new feature or service. While other product managers were writing the dreadful 20-40 page MRDs (marketing requirement documents), he would do screen captures of the existing design and add links or components to show what the new pages should look like.
He was super fast at this. Way faster than those who were writing the long books. And more importanly, his visuals communicated instantly and clearly exactly what the site would do, while the MRDs were time consuming and communicated very poorly. You had to plod through the MRDs to try to find anything useful. I absolutely hated the MRDs, but I loved these Powerpoints. I’m not sure what happened to the product managers who used MRDs, but my Powerpoint is one of the most successful internet entrepreneurs I know.
Like Spencer, he has used this skill to great benefit.