I have done many website design and development as a freelancer and over time, I have my own set of "business procedures" to properly (or so I thought) determine project scope and budgets before signing of the contract. However, recently I was engaged by an interior designer and things got sour because we could not agree what phase we are in. So, I want to know and relearn: In web design and development industry, do you do the design before signing of contract so that you have a something to create your project baselines estimates, or do you design after signing the contract and accede to the client to experiment with different designs until satisfied?
I told him that as I understood in this case, the development phase starts when the contract is signed and from that point onwards, I should not be getting requests such as "[looking at another website] Oh this looks nice! Can you make something like this and let us see?". I explained that I can accept if he affirmed "No! That is not what I agreed to, [this] is what I wanted!", but I simply cannot create actual web pages one after another to let him choose and pick like shopping.
The interior designer insist that he knows better since he is in the design industry longer than I am (he is probably 15 years more senior at least). He maintains that the design phase comes after the signing of contract. He said he would sit with the client, go through several revisions, sign off the designs, before getting down to development phase. He also doubts me because he thinks it is not feasible to commit time and effort at the design phase without a contract.
The main source of confusion in this episode is a Design Intent document provided by the client. I normally come up with my draft designs before meeting the client but this time, they have done all the "screenshots" in the Design Intent with detailed text annotations. I thought I am supposed to follow the document, I even clarified my doubts extensively, but after signing the contract, they said it is "for design intent only" and anything can change!
The main problem I have with his practice is that I find that it is impossible to draw up the schedule and cost without first having a clear understanding of the scope. Therefore, the steps I normally take would be like this:
- Client looks for me by word-of-mouth and asks "How much do you charge?"
- I ask for requirements such as nature of business, purpose of website, target market, reference websites for look and feel and functionality.
- Client gets back to me with information and I decide if I am capable to meet expectations. If I am not confident, I let them know and decline the job, otherwise;
- I will offer "Can you let me come up with a/several designs and see if there is anything you like?". This takes about 1 week and will usually include as many different page layout as practical and usually the more important pages like product, about, contact.
- If he likes it, I will let him know a rough quote and then set up the first meeting with them to explain and agree on the design and also check if there are additional/hidden requirements. This meeting will usually uncover further functional requirements which I will add to the rough quote.
- Finally, I return home and draw up the schedule and cost, using the design JPG (which is now final) as scope, and get the contract signed.
- During development, I normally do not accede to major change requests without additional charge especially if they affect schedule.