Just Like Starting Over: Why DIY Isn’t a Dirty Word

January 18th, 2016 in Bespoke, Development, Web

I’m going to start with some jargon, because sometimes there’s just no avoiding it.

My term of the day is “technical debt”. No, this isn’t what overly optimistic people might call their overdraft limit or credit card statement; it’s the phrase we use to describe the inheritance we taken on when we use an “out of the box” solution.

Oops. There’s some more jargon. “Out of the box” is the phrase used to describe a pre-existing product that can be purposed to a variety of applications. Think of a website builder – a piece of software that allows you, and many others, to build a very basic website using a limited number of templates.

Equally, as an agency we might be presented by a new client with a solution they have previously developed, and which they would like us to move over to our servers as part of our new service to them. This isn’t an “out of the box” solution per se, but it’s definitely a case of us taking on a previous developer’s work – and very often we’ll need to fix issues and add new functionality to it.

That’s “technical debt”: taking on and working with the foibles of a previous piece of software rather than building something expressly for a new purpose, from scratch. Few people like debt, and unsurprisingly we’ve found that it’s often better for everyone if we just start again – build new software for the new servers and new systems. That way, we understand the code better, and it’s been written expressly for the current purposes and contexts.

We understand that clients can see things from the other end of the telescope: they’ve paid for a system that does more or less what they want, so why should they pay again for us to re-build it? After all, it will take time for us to write the new version of the application and get it to a stage of maturity similar to that which the previous platform has already reached.

But if there’s no tight deadline, we’ve found that in the long run it will work out cheaper to write the code anew. Why? Because the devil’s in the detail: your time-honoured software only more or less does the job, and that means we’ll be constantly trouble-shooting the gaps between what the software can do and what it needs to do. That bug-fixing costs money, and it will continue for as long as we try to use the old system for new purposes.

Imagine that the old piece of software is a square peg; maybe when it was first fashioned the hole was square, too … but now the corners have shifted slightly and our developers are having to shave a bit off the peg, or fiddle with the diameter of that round hole. If we’d just made the peg from scratch, it would fit perfectly every time – and we’d understand the material the peg was made from better, too, so future improvements would be much quicker and easier for us to implement.

Likewise, if one of our developers builds your software, all our developers can fix it – because we share “frameworks”, another bit of jargon that basically refers to a shared environment in which code is written. Your previous developer’s work will almost certainly use a different framework – and from any security vulnerabilities to its quirks of grammar, we’ll probably be able only to allocate one developer to understanding it. That means that if I spend a month figuring out your old software, and then I’m sick for a week or go on holiday, then James will be totally stuck.

So it might seem counter-intuitive, but starting over from scratch is often quicker and cheaper in the long run. Like any other type of debt, the technical kind has to be paid for again and again – and in that sense I suppose that sometimes jargon isn’t so divorced from everyday language after all.

Why Affording An Agency Website Is Like Eating Cake

October 29th, 2015 in Apps, Bespoke, Design, Development, Marketing, Web apps cake Design development Web website

cake-web-advert

I realized the other day that I’ve been spending a lot of time at networking events in recent weeks. This is not just because it’s a great way of scoring free cake (hardly a networking event in the country now does not supply afternoon tea as standard, I can only-slightly-smugly report). It’s because these sorts of meetings offer great ways to meet new clients, and understand how all businesses are thinking.

One of the constant themes of my conversations with people from SMEs is one of cost – or, maybe more accurately, how expensive many businesses imagine a professional website might be.

We’ve all met the small business owner who asked his friend to build a website, and wound up with one that was half-finished; we’ve all probably tried to build a website using one of these ‘out-of-the-box’ services or web builders, and found it just cannot do the job. The fact is, your business’s website is ever more important – and needs to be professionally tailored to the particulars of your business. That takes a proper design agency.

The people I talk with over all those cream teas, however, are always worried that they simply can’t afford an agency. You might expect me to try and convince them otherwise, and, I confess, I do – but it’s a fact we don’t want to hide that, sure, we’re more expensive than using a website builder’s templates or getting your mate to do it.

But you invest a lot in your business, and an investment repays over time. We believe that the little bit extra we cost – and it’s nowhere near as much as many people seem to fear! – is worth the investment, and will help your business be the best it can be.

Come to think of it, it’s all a bit like cake (yes, I have cake on the brain – why do you ask?): the better the ingredients, and the better the baker, the tastier the final product. If you’re trying to impress, you don’t use value flour, you don’t scrimp on the icing, and you don’t ask someone who’s never made a cake before to whip one up for you. Your business will look worse than it is – and be less accessible to customers than it should be – unless you build your website like you’d bake that special sponge.

At Image+, we build a website around your business: we’ll design it to look uniquely yours, build in the features you need and those customers expect, and write the content for you so that it’s all professional and compelling. You’ll have face-to-face meetings with us; we’ll be on the end of the phone whenever you have a question; and we’ll do it all for you – you won’t have to fiddle with a single button if you don’t want to!

Let’s say you spend about £3000 on your website with us – that’s a standard amount for a fully-featured website, tailored for you, though we’ve done cheaper – and let’s say it lasts three years before it needs a bit of a facelift. That’s just £80 per month, which is a great deal given that proper websites, as opposed to bad ones, are proven to generate leads, improve repeat business, and increase your brand’s reach. From this perspective, dealing with a tricky online website builder that churns out a basic cookie-cutter website and doesn’t offer any after-sales support seems like the bad investment, right?

So. Not only is an all-singing, all-dancing agency website cheaper than you think; it justifies whatever extra expenditure it may incur over the cheap-but-far-from-cheerful alternatives. So why not pop in and have a chat with us about what we can do for you? I’ll even bring cake.

How Project Managment Is Like Pizzas

July 5th, 2013 in Bespoke, Development, Web management project Web

It’s easy to get so lost in everything you have got to do, that you wind up doing hardly any of it. Of course, as a business you find ways to manage your work stream – and our bucketful of happy customers goes some way to showing that we’ve made it into something of an art form. But there’s always room to improve.

Pizza App

In fact, so busy have we been in ensuring our customers get what they want, when they want it, that we’ve never quite got around to something we’ve always thought might help them even more. This is a common problem for web designers – when, whilst designing your client’s websites to be the very best they can be, do you get time to enhance your own web platforms? Finally, we’ve found time – and we’re pretty excited about it.

We’ve always wanted our very own web-based project schedule system, a web application with the power to make our project management even more efficient. It’s been designed to offer an easy way to manage projects, schedule tasks to team members, and generate precise dates – even times – when clients can expect to have specific tasks completed.

This precision is helpful to clients, of course – they can plan their marketing and other activities on the basis of very clear timelines – but also to us – because we can clearly plan work streams in such a way that we can move onto to the next project seamlessly and even more quickly than before.

Our clients will receive a Dominoes-style pizza dashboard: at every stage, this system will tell you that your ‘pizza’ is ordered, that it’s being prepared, that it’s in the oven, being quality checked or being delivered. Of course, this equates to the various stages of web design: in development, being built, being tested, awaiting final approval and, ultimately, visible to the world.

This visualisation of the project management really helps everyone understand where they are, where they’re going … and how long they can expect it to take. In today’s business environment, that sort of specificity is invaluable.

So we’re far from busy doing nothing – and we feel like we’ve got more time than ever before to devote to each project, properly and in its place! Everyone’s a winner.

Fancy a slice of pizza?

Why Web Design Is Like Parallel Parking

May 7th, 2013 in Bespoke, Design, Marketing Branding Design marketing SEO

James and I were over in Belfast last week meeting with a client. Instead of boring you with a field report, though, I thought you’d find this video more interesting. Filmed in Belfast, but nothing to do with us, we only watched it for the first time when we got back home. Put the kettle on, grab a tea or coffee, and settle in: this one takes a while.

You have to feel sorry for the poor woman (and let’s not make a point about her gender, lads – we’re all above that). She’s obviously just found herself in that zone where nothing you do quite works. We’ve all been there, and nothing’s worse than being watched while you’re in that kind of mood. It only makes things worse!

But you also have to kind of admire her. Not for her parking skills, maybe, but certainly for her persistence and refusal just to give up.

We were in Belfast about a website – of course. We build these things all day every day, for all kinds of different clients selling all sorts of different products to all kinds of different people. The one thing all these sites have in common, though, is the need to keep working on them. Whether it’s an e-commerce site or a blogging site, a straight brochure design or something more bespoke, there’s a simple rule of thumb that works for every site we build: keeping going back, don’t give up.

Sites are like anything else. The first draft might not work. You might put it up and not get the traffic you like. It might work brilliantly for a year or two and then suddenly no longer suit your business. The trick is to understand that a website is always a work in progress.

The powerful thing about the internet is that it’s always changing, constantly updated with the latest information. That means that your website should be tinkered with almost daily – and that it’s worth persevering to ensure you get things just right.

Growing your business and your website together doesn’t just make sense – it’s easy once you get the persistence bug. Change your colour scheme with each marketing campaign; tweak your copy so that search engines direct users to your site more regularly; tweak the design so that it looks its best on every platform. Keep going back, don’t give up.

So, like the lady parking that car, you should keep at it. The Image+ team promise not to turn up at your offices and make a YouTube video about it – but over the years we’ve become adept at helping ease your website into the right space.

And They’re Off: Web Apps And The Competitive Edge

April 4th, 2013 in Bespoke, Web App Bespoke Web

Whilst putting together this month’s newsletter (for which you can sign up here), I looked back over our post about the Cheltenham Festival and SEO… and reflected that time is moving so quickly that we’ve already reached Grand National weekend! Time flies when you’re making websites, as the old saying almost goes.

742787371On which note, it’s worth pointing out to you some of the projects which have seen us glued to our screens recently. In particular, two new web applications have taken considerable effort, since they were built from the ground up, bespokely fitted to our clients’ needs.

Web applications are essentially modules you can plug into a website in order to achieve a certain effect or functionality. Many websites are required to fulfil a series of functions which can be applied ‘out of the box’: common demands such as blogging, interactive menus, video galleries and the like have tried-and-tested solutions which we can implement very smoothly, drawing on our experience of the range of options available.

But it’s also true that a website can achieve a great deal more, and if a client wants their online platform to serve a very specific, even unique, function, we’re always excited to help them achieve that. The code which makes websites work can be written from scratch – and the bespoke solutions we devise together may well become the ‘out of the box’ options of the future.

The first of the new applications we have recently developed is an order processing system for a courier company, Pro 21. Pro 21 had some very particular requirements, including the capacity to allow customers to book directly online, monitor the progress of consignments in real-time, and receive invoices smoothly and efficiently. In order to achieve this, the system has to apply a unique customer ID to each user, and handle an array of data, as well as boast an intuitive interface for customers and administrators alike.

Likewise, the web-based facilities management system we developed for Diamond FS had to handle a wide range of variables in such a way that the data outputted to customers made sense to them quickly and cleanly. Facilities management is a key element of any business with significant infrastructure, making not just the services Diamond FS offers, but the medium through which they are requested and monitored, crucial to both their own success and that of their clients. That made this web application a key element of their offering – and worth doing both properly and bespokely.

In fact, like the Grand National racecourse, which is famously tweaked and tested rigorously and continuously, web applications are all about detail: understanding the specific demands, challenges and opportunities of a given ‘course’ – and fitting the solution to them carefully and with a commitment to ongoing improvement. In this way, we can add real power to your website’s elbow – and give it a USP that will keep users coming back for more.