Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Website Redesign: In-house or Outsource?

Last week was memorable: the website I currently work at finally launched the redesigned version, after an entire year of effort. From identifying the need to redesign, to finding a design firm, to design and implementation, we made mistakes and learned valuable lessons.

After identifying areas to improve based on user feedback, we had two options: have the in-house designer to make gradual changes, or hire an external design firm to make focused efforts.

Generally, user experience design and graphic design are at the core of consumer interaction, and would be best if product team, UX and graphic can work closely together to brainstorm and refine product features and requirements. There were also concerns about cost, and on paper, design in-house was many times cheaper than outside firm, especially that we operate on a regional distributed model (aka cheap resources overseas).

We decided to use an external design firm, for three reasons:
  1. Our team doesn't have UX / IA expertise, and was based on another continent from the product manager. Hiring a new IA and more designers required time to ramp up, and we may lose valuable time-to-market.
  2. In-house designer may have better insight to the site functionalities, but since he was deep into it, he may lack the out-of-box thinking that we needed for the redesign.
  3. Our primary target market is female, but our team was mostly consisted of single guys, who may view design and user experience differently from female. We felt that we would benefit from the industry and user experience expertise of an outside firm.

It looks like a no-brainer now, but we went through a lot of discussions to make this decision. Sometimes in startups, especially lean startups, cost could be a daunting consideration. My advices to startups in similar situation are:

  • First, evaluate objectively the capabilities of existing team, what potential bias they may have and whether they can get pass that.
  • Try best to have product, UX, and creative work closely together, preferably in the same room, if not, at least try the same time zone. Communication is key.
  • Evaluate not only cost on paper, but adjusted cost over time, as well as the cost of potential loss of market timing. Sometimes, you may find the more expensive option actually turns out to be the more economical and effective one for the long term development of your startup.

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