27 Complaints About Web Design Companies

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Andy Crestodina

People like to complain. And since I talk to people about web projects, I hear a lot of complaints about other web design companies. I regularly hear horror stories about long delays and failed projects. So in 2011, I started keeping a notebook next to my phone. And when I remembered it was there, I would take a few notes.

So far, I’ve collected 27 complaints about web companies (to see the full list, scroll down). Although not exactly a PhD thesis, there is enough data to draw a few conclusions. I’ve put the complaints into three groups:

  • Planning and Service: includes all complaints about communication issues, such as listening, managing expectations and meeting deadlines.
  • Technical and Programming: includes capabilities complaints, technical limitations and hosting issues.
  • Design: includes alignment with brand, lookin’ good.

Some of the complaints were wide-ranging and added to more than one category. This chart shows the percentage of complaints for each category.

web design complaints graph

It’s immediately obvious that service is the biggest problem clients have with web design companies.

Why do web design companies suck?

Here are some of the main reasons:

  1. Web design firms are project-based, not account-based like traditional ad agencies or IT support companies. They may not have the people and process in place to provide the kinds of ongoing enhancements and support that clients inevitably need like a support team or account managers.
  2. This is an industry where almost anything is possible, so clear communication is desperately important. Dozens of options may be discussed, each with pro and cons. This means misunderstandings are common…and sometimes disastrous.
  3. Web designers are busy. Clients often need months to get comfortable enough to sign a proposal. That makes it very hard to manage capacity. And it’s a growing industry. A lot of web companies, especially the very cheap and very good ones, are slammed.

So what should clients do?

First, keep this in mind: when choosing a “web design team,” you’re choosing a project management approach, a process, a help desk and ideally, a long-term web partner. If something goes wrong, it won’t likely be a design or programming problem. It’s all about service and communication.

I once wrote a post called 5 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Web Design Company, but I’ll save you the click and summarize it here.

  1. Check References. Just pick up the phone and call some people! As with job candidates, the best indication of future performance is past performance. Have a genuine conversation with companies the vendor has worked with. Or at the very least…
  2. Read Reviews, but don’t stop there. Search around for a few minutes. Go to the Better Business Bureau website and see if there are any complaints.
  3. Get a Demo. Of course, you’ll want a demo of the content management system, but also get a demo of the project management tools. Wait, they don’t use project management tools? Bad sign…
  4. Are they taking notes? There may be indications of vendor chaos in the first meeting. They should be capturing goals and requirements in an organized way.
  5. Meet the Team. Again, just like a job interview, nothing replaces the face-to-face meeting.

Lessons learned…

Many web design companies just aren’t focused on service and don’t know how to keep a project on track. A good designer and smart programmer can start a web company and make websites – Barrett and I did. But they may not truly realize what it takes to offer great service – Barrett and I didn’t at first. But we figured it out.

  • Vendors: Focus on communication, process, project management and support.
  • Clients: Carefully vet companies for service and commitment, listen for direct answers

The 27 web design complaints

Inept, Old Technology, Slow, Non-Responsive
Non-Responsive, Disappears
Too Slow
Doesn’t Listen, Incompetent
Misled, Poor Communication
Technical Limitations
Never Delivered, Overpromised, Missed Deadlines, Offshoring
Non-Responsive, Offshoring
Rude, Short, Doesn’t Exist Anymore
Design Problems, Relaunched Site without Approval
Database Crashed
Company is gone, can’t access the site
Vendor was always slow, one-person shop, now retiring
Slow to respond, Poor Service
Overpromised, Over their heads, Going Out of Business
Out of their Capabilities
Couldn’t execute, Overpromised, Lack of Capabilities
Non-responsive, not committed
Didn’t explain Flash, SEO problems
No control, Developers won’t give access
In over their heads, CMS constraints
Can’t find developer
Had amnesia, Missed Deadlines
Hates their vendor, $20k to add a Flash piece, Bad project management
Delays, Lack of capacity, Over-promised
Communication problems, Designer fell off the earth.

NOTE: Two of the complaints mentioned that the vendor was using offshore resources, but the complaints weren’t about programming or technical capabilities, they were about service.

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Comments (56)
  • Unfortunately, you have provided no details. Many people here are very smart and know the business well, but they would have to know the details.
    I myself would have, as the first question, do you have a contract? Is it properly signed?
    Have you checked to see the checkpoints and/or if the deadlines have been met? What exactly were they supposed to do for you? Do you know anyone you contacted to make this purchase order, as in, do you know the salesman, the company owner, anyone associated with your contract? Who have you been speaking to on the phone?
    These are questions a lawyer would ask, but they are also questions people here would feel comfortable knowing to talk to you about your problem.
    Unfortunately, the Web Design industry is no different than any other, and has it’s characters that will take advantage the first chance they see. Try not to be too discouraged. Set down, and answer those questions, and know the answers . What would really be a great help is if you wrote a report of your complete interaction and keep it updated until you get your money back.
    I would tell you it is difficult to have the conversation without any details at all.

  • Planning is the most important skill while doing anything, But some people just lack this skill in general. Thank you for sharing

  • Good afternoon.

    I have been a programmer and web designer for more than 5 years, I have worked for 9 companies over the course of those 5 years and of course, I have had to deal with many clients.

    I think that companies do not know how to give a correct feedback with the client, but they ask for some requirements and they only remain with those requirements until the day of delivery; If the customer gets a product that does not meet their needs, many companies simply ask for the money or increase the price of that work. Because they must invest more time and resources .. BUT THAT IS NOT THE CUSTOMER’S FAULT AND WE CAN NOT INCREASE THE PRICE IF NEVER WE ASK FOR A REVISION BEFORE DELIVERY.

    I learned that in a company called Virtually Present (www.virtuallypresent.net), the best agency for which I have worked and those tips have served me throughout all this time, and with very good results

  • Nice article.
    Is there any aggregated portal or marketplace available for such Agencies / IT companies to review and rate each agency and provide you the best options for specific set of requirements like on stop solution? This helps reduce overall research and screening and on-boarding process.

  • This is amazing, looking forward to seeing a more relevant article like this.

  • I have hired a person I referred business to, and constantly happy to meet with me. Since the hire the restructure and inexperienced project co ordinator have become my problem. And Ryan the CEO who won the business can never take my calls or reply to my email, when things started to go pear shape. Very unethical. I hired them on false pretence that we had a working relationship, and now that there are delivery issues that relationship is totally dissolved from their side. The company promised a custom design when they can only deliver hybrid basic designs. The project co ordinator has worked for 12 mths in IT mths of them learning on my project. The company is Agent Point Pty Ltd a realty web provider. They have a lot of my money and I am5 months past launch of business and site, in my years of business I have never come across any one so unethical, what do I do. I have not signed off on designs because I do not want to build now with them. Where do I stand? Lisa.

    • Very sorry for your trouble. Going forward I think people requiring a complex project should insure they understand the nature of their own project. Also, if you aren’t going to spend the big, big money with a big design firm, you should perhaps, delegate small portions to be completed first, and then, once complete begin to put them together. I am sorry to hear of the
      of this kind of problem from a client of a design company.
      I graduated in a technology firm associated with a college, and as such, adhere to all business ethics and principals. That was in 2001 and I am still still learning, upgrading the knowledge.
      I think the problem the design firm you hired was they were going to use a template, thinking it was as easy as replace and plug and play. It isn’t. You actually have to know what you are doing even if you use a ready made template. I think this they did not know that.
      I hope you have better luck next project. A website is a wonderful piece of marketing for a company to give their message on. Websites are as important as any other marketing vehicle.

  • I just stumbled on this website as I was searching for how to report or file a complaint against a Web developer!

    I paid a Web developer in 2013 to help build a website using 3 domains linked to the website.

    As at 2016, the website was still incomplete with Latin word left on the home page slider, social media buttons not working and payment gateway disabled.

    I offered a partnership deal to keep his interest but he declined and offered to introduce someone else. I did not respond to his offer as he was the only person I met face to face during the 3 year on and off development.

    It’s 2018 now, and I have been using my minimal knowledge of web design combined with intelligence to slowly upgrade the website at WordPress back office.

    I recently updated the blogs authors to my name and when I logged back a week after, noticed that some one has scattered the about the author notes at the end of the blogs and changed my name back to Administrator.

    I logged back in, changed my name back and corrected my author notes on the blogs I wrote. Then changed my Administrator password.

    I just checked the website today and saw that a sadistic jobless loser has removed my blogs from the website home page!

    What should I do? I have not yet contacted the Web developer. There needs to be some sort of international regulatory body for Web developers that I can report or file a complaint.

    Please help!!!

    • Dear sir,

      I am sorry to hear of your agonizing experience. However, I regretfully must point the finger at you. You did not know. I have been designing websites since 2001. And was surprised when I got hacked. It mad me mad, but I could not avoid seeing in my research That I was the main culprit in my being hacked because I did not know what I should have known to protect my site, and I additionally aided and abetted my attacker by thinking that he would be uninterested in my site site.
      You sound like you picked up learning about websites as you went along, and also sounds like you were using a CMS, say WordPress.
      There are methods you need to learn from this day forward how to protect your site.
      Now it sounds to me you are blaming this person for taking your material. Well, I don;t where you are writing from but in America, the person who creates a thing owns it. So, maybe, this person thought he had a right to take what was on your site. Unfortunately, I cannot address that, as it is done.
      In the future, if you give some one full admin rights, #1 never tell them your password information, and #2 if you have full admin right and that person should no longer have admin rights, remove them from access. It’s too late in this case, but in the future insure you know this.
      I don’t know the details of your situation, however, I would say this. Start over. get clean. Take a web design course, but a book and study and do your own work this time. You have Google, and you can ask any question you can think of and get an answer.
      If you are starting an e-commerce site therre have company you will have everything you need. However, you still need to know what you are doing. If you are going to swim in the digital ocean learn how to swim. Once you begin a digital education it doesn’t after the last chapter. It goes on and on.. And you need to have that mindset to understand that.
      Last hing on hackers. You can;t stop hackers. But come in all degrees and most are what are known as script kiddies. I tracked the guy that hacked my site to his site and it’s like a trophy room and sites compromised. There is even a website that verified that the hacker hacked the site he said he hacked! I made mistakes I no longer make. You can offer a site a great deal of protection but, you must always have the site backup offsite in case you ever get compromised , so that you can recover from the digital vandal. Be always learning.

  • I’m not sure exactly what you are saying, but if I get it right, The guy says that responsive coding will cover everything from desktop, to tablet, to mobile phones and all screens in-between . This true and not rue.

    Responsive coding will cover everything but it is not always the best solution. Right now Google has a mobile solution called AMP. I am studying it now, because Google says that if you want to rank in Google, you need to code specifically for mobile, and you need to use AMP specifically.

    You don’t have to be a code robot like me and immediately set off to learn this new language.. As of right now, AMP is lagging in adoption by most folks. the point is there is a language designed specifically for mobile phone, and check this out, it scales up to desktop.

    So, instead of designing for desktop down to mobile phones, in AMP you design for the mobile phone and it scales up to the desktop. Its kind of cool. When I finish training I’m going to make a website built entirely of AMP and see how much trouble it causes.

    I currently like jQuery as a mobile specific language, but I think I need to know AMP now.

  • Simply stated, there are two sides to a coin. You have presented one side. Look onto the other side and see why some things are a result of client misuse, misunderstanding, and not knowing what there want, and always coming with last minute changing, despite agreed upon process..

    The problems you mention are valid, but there is another side, it isn’t so one sided as you present.

  • Be careful! Many promises and many don’t deliver. I’ve checked references, done background checks and got samples and I got nowhere. Everyone I know goes through this. Wish you luck.

  • This must be an old article I just popped into. I’ve had the worse experience with different developers. I’ve paid over 500k to get my business going and come to find each time we are ready to launch that the developer is behind the times, not flowing or user friendly. Much more than that. I’ve been working seven years on my concept, design and developement and I currently have nothing to show. It’s a nightmare to work with developers. Each person or company claims to be the best, know what they are doing, can say they will fix the problem and so forth… I’ve had nothing but promises, paid out so much money and have nothing. My concept doesn’t even exhist to this day and I can’t pay any more money out after loosing all that money. Anyhow, I feel better I can have someone read this and relate. Thank you for allowing me to vent. Take care and good luck to anyone who uses a service or hire their own developers. Cheers, Christine

  • Challenges are both sides. We’ve come across many clients who learned the hard way. Can’t blame anyone.

  • I wish i had come through this article before going through this nightmare with a website developer company. They haven’t shared the admin access after multiple complaints and requests. Is there a legal way i can take it up if so pls share how can i tackle this as all our marketing activities are carrying the website address created by this fraud company.

  • GoDaddy web design would not refund my funds because I went 4 days over their 30days policy. The web design was set up by a former partner. I hadn’t use it at all and the saw the amount for renewal charged to my credit card. They would not even prorate the amount. Their customer service is non existent. They are thieves !

  • I hired a webdesigner to create my website who on completion when denied to hand me over the ID and password of my website and hosting domain. so after repeatedly asking he asked me $250.00 as a transfer fee I think it is because, as I have already paid him 75% of the cost 25% is still need to be paid. But I denied it as I think it is a cheating as he should not buy my company domain on his name. 2nd there is no domain transfer fee as godaddy.com confirmed. He put my website offline. Can anybody tell me where I can complaint

  • I can not get them to stop calling me. I have requested them to take me off their list and I literally get called about twice a month for the passed year. It is absolutely annoying when the representative is reading a script and barely speaking English. If this is the way they conduct their marketing I’d hate to see what the rest of the staff is like.

  • What about ownership. Have you had complaints about the desinger holding your web and adword information hostage?

    Our contract states that the designer/manager will retain ownership of all information it deems proprietary to its company, including online marketing accounts, campaigns, bidding strategies, keyword lists, negative keyword lists, online ad copy and associated technology behind landing pages and online campaign destination sites and pages.

    Is this standard for the industry?

    • Hey, Ryan!

      That is NOT the industry norm. You, as the client, should have complete control over all of your accounts, especially your AdWords, Analytics, Tag Manager and Search Console accounts. If they are using some proprietary tools just to keep your accounts under their control, I’d find another company.

      We set up all of our clients with Google Analytics, Tag Manager, and Search Console. They are the admins and we are added as a user on their accounts.

      Hope that helps and good luck!

  • Design is one of the most essential elements for a website. A well designed website goes a long way in helping a business prosper by converting a visitor into a customer. However, sloppy web design can be detrimental to the company’s prospects, and hiring a professional web design services provider is essential.

  • I agree with some of the pointers on this article, but it surely brings down all designer and chews them up. Too cynical and negative overall.

  • Can you list the web developers against whom the complaints are made?

  • I dealt with smegoweb who are also seonext who are also digital web solutions and it was the worst experience of my life. Reading the article here is funny though as they achieved 27 out of 27 so they have achieved 100% on the web complaints blog.

  • Yeah – Ive had my fare share of horror stories with webdesigners. First, I hired someone recommended by a friend, and we used GoDaddy. Well, that didnt go well, cause the site kept crashing. Then, we switched over to a Prime Blue Web Server, and the site did a bit better – but then I got tired of it all, and hired a web designer from Prime Blue Web to re-do and fix the parts of the website that were broken, and now it works fine.

    Annoying and crazy journey – but eventually you will get there!

  • DO NOT HIRE this http://siddhiinfosoft.com/ company.. Rushabh promises everything and his work his only partialy done. I had to spend thousands of dollars to fix all the mistakes.

    Beware of the weekly program – I was quoted $3300 and by the time the job was done it was over $8500 – I had to dispute charges with my credit card company and Elance won’t help because you
    paid weekly.

    Yes my site looked pretty when they were done but it was not functional. It would not stay live – they had loaded so much extra files and junk into the backend. It took me months of no business to find out what the problem is.

    Do not let them touch your website!!

  • I recently had my website designed by a company and we discussed a budget but they’ve gone over it by £1100 without any communication or advice or guidance. However he did offer budget advice on the business cards etc and managed to come £10 under budget there. I’m left with a bill almost twice the amount originally discussed with a great looking website but feeling deflated about it. What can i do? They’ve done the work. I didn’t get any info until the website was completed, no opportunities to keep the cost low or advice on best option to stay within budget nothing. How do I resolve a problem where he is claiming also to have given me a discount on a cost that is over budget.

    • I’m sorry to hear about those additional costs, Hayley.

      Well, since they didn’t give you a quote first, then you didn’t agree on the price and you aren’t actually obligated to pay. But probably, it’s best just to settle. I would explain that since you didn’t agree to the overages, you are not willing to pay the full amount. If it’s possible for you and acceptable for them, you can just split the difference.

      It’s never OK for anyone in any business (car mechanics, plumbers, home builders) to incur additional costs without the approval of the client. Additional costs must be approved first. No one can afford to write a blank check!

      • Thank you for your feedback. Do you think it would be acceptable to ask for the cheaper options now? This person was well aware of my budget as he referred to it and has insisted that he has already applied a discount on the price he’s given. My gut instinct is that he knew that he wanted £4000 out of me before work commenced and he worked towards that with all of the marketing ideas. He just never guided on the website price.

  • We’ve been trying to get a new web site up and running for 5 years now. The first company we hired went into liquidation after taking a hefty deposit from us. The second company (who seemed to have good reviews and made all the right noises) took a hefty deposit, went a year behind schedule, wouldn’t answer telephone calls, fobbed us off on email and then told us they had made a mistake and tried to triple their original quote. Now, our third attempt (again with a hefty deposit being paid) is 18 months behind schedule, testing brought to light several serious non working but critical component parts (e.g. Searches, payment gateway functionality, etc.) of the development and the developer has now announced that they now don’t have the time to invest in completing the project to a given time frame.

    This whole experience has left a very nasty taste and we do now feel as if this industry is out to fleece the small unsuspecting business owner. How on earth do we find a reliable, trustworthy web designer who will actually deliver what they promise and won’t just take our money and run? We have now spent well over what we had in our budget for a new web site and have absolutely nothing to show for it. Mostly all web design companies ask for an upfront payment and we have paid this three times in good faith. As a small business it will now be very hard for us to make this leap of faith again if we have to start afresh with another web developer but I guess there must be some good guys out there if we could just be lucky enough to find them.

    • I’m very sorry to hear this story, Violet. This post has turned into a mini-support group for companies that have been robbed!

      Most of my advice is in the article: check references ad qualify possible partners carefully. Here’s a post that may be useful. It’s an article with a list of 5 questions that very few companies ask during the qualification process, but everyone should:

      It’s likely that the companies that you’ve hired (and have taken your money) either did not understand the project, or had not done a similar project before. You can reduce the risk of becoming a learning experience for a web designer by hiring a company that can show you a completed website with similar features, or by simplifying your project to make it very standard.

      Finally, I’ll leave you with one more post. This one is called “How NOT to Hire A Web Designer in 10 Steps” https://www.orbitmedia.com/blog/how-not-to-buy-a-website/ It addresses a very common issue, but one you haven’t seen yet: the post-launch drama.

      Best of luck to you, Violet. Let me know if I can help you in any way…

  • Most web designers are honest, but not 100%. Beware of hackers once things turn sour. Your email starts to send out spasms while your home page goes haywire. Look at my home page, now.

  • Interesting article and thanks for putting it together.  Based and personal experiences, I would say the chart looks accurate enough. Although it’s always a complex problem of chemistry, just like any other business relationship, I’ve had an incredibly frustrating time with my web project and am now on the third developer.  It’s been bouncing around for TWO years now and the losses have been tremendous.
    Largely my experience has been lots of over-promising and not being willing to admit when something is over they’re head.  This leads to strings of outright lies, eating months and months of time producing nothing but BS. Then, after trying to extend good will (and eating losses),  when you try to apply the SLIGHTEST standards as an informed client (who has done web dev before), they continue to lie to the point where they go completely silent then disappear altogether.  This has happened more than once on several projects, both domestic and overseas. 
    As a business provider, all I can say is scumbags who take money for a project and aren’t even remotely sure if they can deliver, should be liable for not only the cost of the project, but projected losses as well.  It’s no different than manufacturing cars, and suddenly the tire manufacturer just disappears, leaving thousands of vehicles useless and wheel-less off the assembly line.  You can be damned sure someone is hurting because of that irresponsible behavior and just because someone is “creative” or views themselves as an “artist”  of programming doesn’t make it any different.
    No matter what the reason, lying to people, over-promising, deliberately stalling projects, and treating every client like an ignorant technical idiot makes a large portion of the web development industry dysfunctional.  If you can’t do the job, don’t take the money then make excuses for it later.  You know who you are.
    I’m sure not every web developer out there is like this, but unfortunately there’s more than a few and it makes a bad name for the industry as a whole. Hopefully one day, this won’t be a problem but until then..people choose your web developers carefully. 
    Follow the advice on the original post and take ANY time estimate tehy give you as so optimistic, it’s probably BS.  Quadruple everything they say to give yourself enough room and even then, don’t be surprised if its goes wrong.  Also, consider working in non-performance penalty clauses into contracts.  If the developer is SO SURE it will only then 2 or 3 weeks to complete a job, then let them put their money where their mouth is.  Horrible way to have to render a contract, but it may be costly if you don’t…especially if the project is big enough to loose large amounts of money.

  • @jpelker I completely agree, and I talk about ROI all the time. I don’t agree that the web design firm is responsible for the answer to all of those questions, but they should have good answers to tough questions about traffic and conversions. Great web design companies can show potential clients the actual Analytics of similar projects.
    I’ve written a lot about this topic. Here are two posts that help make your point. The first includes a general formula for projecting ROI…
    The second explains the problems related to the typical process of qualifying web designers. It explains the risk of not asking the questions you listed above…
    Thanks for your comment and the reminder to everyone to keep their eyes on the prize.

  • I can’t believe you don’t mention the idea that a website–like all other advertising campaigns–should provide its client a return on investment.
    Would you really throw $10,000 in the trash as long as long as your were hand-held throughout the process?
    If you pay $10,000, you need to clear at least $10,000.01 in revenue for the project to have made sense to pursue.
    Andy, design is the art of solving a problem. Most businesses’ advertising problems boil down to one thing: “how can we get more paying customers?” Any web design firm that doesn’t approach the project from that angle is wasting their client’s money and time.
    To quote Ben Hunt, “If your web designer can’t provide robust answers to the following ten simple questions, fire them. Today.”  – “How much is the right amount to spend on my website, and why?”
     – “How much traffic will I get, and what’s the average earning per visitor?”
     – “When will I see a return on my investment?”
     – “What will you do to maximize my ROI and minimize my risk?”
     – “How do you know the new site will do better than the old one?”
     – “How will you make my site perform better over time?”
     – “How will you research my competition and my prospective market?”
     – “How viable is my proposition in this sector?”
     – “How will we prove the viability of this project?”
     – “Should I invest in content marketing, social media, video, mobile, pay-per-click, local SEO? Why?”

  • Yes, it’s all about the two perspectives of the relationship.  I need a new website, and I don’t have much money to spend.  And I know I have grand visions for it and know that I have opinions about how it’ll look/function.  All of which means I have high potential to be one of those awful unreasonable clients because I don’t understand web design and how long it takes to do something.  But I REALLY don’t want to be that client.  So, yes please, post about the complaints about clients so that I can learn before I get into it and annoy both of us!

  • Yes, it’s all about the two perspectives of the relationship.  I need a new website, and I don’t have much money to spend.  And I know I have grand visions for it and know that I have opinions about how it’ll look/function.  Which all means that I have high potential to be one of those awful unreasonable clients because I don’t understand web design.  But I REALLY don’t want to be that client.  So, yes please, post about the complaints about clients so that I can learn before I get into it and annoy both of us! 

  • I’ve heard many of these same complaints about marketing providers, and personally have many of these same complaints about service providers in general. As a matter of fact, the biggest surprise for me when I made the move from the global corporate marketing world to the independent local marketing world, was how many service providers there are here in Chicago – many with relatively successful track records – who sorely lack in all four of the lessons learned for vendors listed in above: a focus on communication, process, project management and support.
    Some of these providers even get high marks from their clients simply because when it comes to areas clients don’t understand or are afraid of (as BookSwaddler commented) – like social media – they’re eager to listen to, even put their brand’s reputation in the hands of, someone (anyone) who confidently tells them they’re an expert. There’s no communication, no process, no nuance, no learning… Sure, you can move one ‘done’ column, but costs are high and benefits are low, and the opportunity is lost.
    So your lessons for both vendors and clients are right on. I talk about process incessantly during all pre-engagement conversations and in the proposal, and process is inherently a part of nearly every subsequent conversation I have once they become a client. Sometimes I even hear complaints about all the process and project talk (just do it), until the project is actually delivered on time, on budget, and to the delight of the client. Some clients even tell me they plan to apply the lessons they learned to their own business processes.
    So for providers, maintaining a focus on service regardless of your core business is simply good advice. And for clients in search of service providers, so is confirming a provider’s commitment to service.

    • @jumnus Thanks for the input. There are a TON of service providers in Chicago. Naturally, they don’t all emphasize process and service. And you’re absolutely right: clients trust them just the same. In the end, it means the bar is set low for service standards. 
      The creative process should be enjoyable. The finished product should be profitable. But too often, clients and vendors are just glad when things don’t blow up. It will take good work and integrity from many companies over many years to set those standards higher…

  • People who do not do web stuff do not realize how hard it is  to do well. And clients, whether in public relations, advertising, or any other form of marketing, come with expectations that exceed what they are willing to pay for the service they have purchased.

    •  @Dileep Gangolli This is often true. It’s what makes this industry so challenging, but also so rewarding. Great designers are also great communicators. Great developers are empathetic to visitors. Great strategists are also great teachers.
      Education is an enormous part of the web design business!

      • Excellently said and so true.

  • Thoughtful insights from a pro. Great writing, Andy…as always. Cheers!

    •  @TReederBlazon Thanks, Tim!
      Veteran creatives with strong service ethics like yourself are what this industry needs. Hope all is well at Blazon!

  • Speaking as someone on the client side of this issue, I wanted to mention a major difficulty that I think a lot of clients get embroiled in. I call it executive-centered design. Executive-centered design can kill a project or double its price in a matter of moments. This process is told from the perspective of the twentysomething kid-out-of-college who has been tasked with building a new web site for his company. Here (pasteurized and homogenized for general consumption) is how it works, and how to avoid it:
    How it works:
    1. An executive hires someone, often straight out of college, with “social media experience” to maintain their web site and get them on Facebook. They do this because they are afraid of social media, and afraid of web sites, and just want it handled. Also, their last web lacky just moved to California with his girlfriend–someone has to keep the old site updated.
    2. After awhile, that executive asks this kid-out-of-college to “build them a new web site”.
    3. The kid-out-of-college gathers some basic requirements and then goes and finds a web design firm.
    4. The web firm gets fairly far into requirements gathering, wireframes, and even possibly development work before the executive looks at the web site project again with any real interest. The executive hasn’t been paying attention because he doesn’t know how complicated web sites really are. He also hasn’t been paying attention because he considers this kid-out-of-college to be a fairly unimportant member of his staff. It just hasn’t been worth his time to check in on this project, or talk to the kid-out-of-college in general.
    5. The executive hates the new web site. He hates it in part because his expectations have not been managed, but also because he has not been involved in any part of the design process and does not understand what he is looking at.
    6. The executive says something like “I don’t know what I want, I just know I don’t want this”. He then spitballs some radical design changes that alter the scope of the project hugely. That night, kid-out-of-college cries to his girlfriend.
    7. When the changes get made, they hurt the final product because the executive had not thought carefully enough about what he wanted and how it really would affect the goals of his company. In the meantime, his web site is 6 months late and hugely over-budget.
    The solution:
    The solution to executive-centered design lies first with the client, and in fact with the kid-out-of-college. For large web sites especially, I believe that careful requirements gathering, rough wireframes, and executive signoffs are necessary in-house before contracting out to a web design firm. This is especially the case if the client has big, rambling dreams about a totally re-imagined web presence, and/or, kid-out-of-college senses that they have some volatile executives to deal with.
    Preliminary design and requirements gathering should happen in-house, so that radical scope change also happens in-house. Better there than at the design firm, where the project can be dead within minutes. If you cannot afford to plan your huge new web site in-house, and if your executives are unable to envision or sign off on the new web site that is wanted in-house, then the web site should probably not be built.

    •  @BookSwaddler This is indeed a common and serious problem. The final decision maker hopes to delegate everything in a leap of faith, then finally gets involved in the end and the project goes off the rails. Pretty soon, kids-out-of-college are moving to California, dejected.
      This frequently happens during scoping for proposals. The executive leaves it to the 20-somethings to qualify and select a web team. The 20-somethings dream out loud over several meeting and the project scope becomes huge. (“Wouldn’t it be cool is the site combined the best features of Ebay and Facebook?”)  Pretty soon, the proposal is up to $100,000 and the executive falls out of his chair when he sees it.  Then the scope gets pulled back and weeks of time were squandered.
      Interesting how the comments on this post have highlighted problems with clients. Maybe that should be another article. “27 Complaints – The Problem with Web Design Clients”

  • Yep – over-promised in terms of capabilities. That’s our biggest complaint with your current web design project!
    I think each industry has their perception issues; the “vocal” minority who make the rest look bad. Honestly, I don’t hoe they stay in business! Must be because they aren’t following your first two pieces of advice: Check references and read reviews.  

    •  @Lisa Gerber Whoa. I just noticed I have a minor typo with a major difference in my intent. I meant to say, “that’s our biggest complaing with OUR current web design project, “which unfortunately, is not with you guys. Because if it were, we wouldn’t have the complaint to begin with. Sigh. 
      I think I had some major auto-correct going on or something. I also meant  – “I don’t know how they stay in business.” 

  • Wow. 
    I’m not shocked by any of what I’m hearing here but….
    As someone that has tried to steward a website design shop through the worst recession in 75 years, I have to say that the effort to empiricize customer dissatisfaction but it really only captures the client side of the story.
    I’ll elaborate with a business anecdote.
    Last year we were asked by a an existing client to design a new website for a new brand of theirs. Things went swimmingly until the client started asking us to redesign components of our layouts to which they had previously agreed and signed off on in meetings. After a few “how much clearer could we have been with you regarding project mgmt procedures” and “didn’t you read the proposal you signed” sorts of discussions, the client paused for a bit because their internal workload was preventing them from spending any resources on their new site.
    They went away for five months, a five month period when, like many others, our workload had been exceedingly variable. After laying one employee off, we were then slammed with work. When the client called us back, after taking a completely unexplained hiatus, they were upset that we couldn’t put our work down immediately and give them our complete attention. This began a rocky three month period, during which their principal — who had previously met with us several times — suddenly was unavailable. His inattentiveness led to a protocol of our executing silly ideas via his administrative assistant.
    I’m sure if you interviewed them, the feedback they would give you would square with your general findings. But, here is my takeaway from running a business for ten years and over the course of a recession (when the bulk of our client base rested in the real estate economy…
    1)Client expectations can only be managed if the client is attentive and reasonable. If a client is expecting that you sign a fixed fee contract but then balks when multiple revisions and changes in scope necessitate revisiting the original costs, it might be time to look for a new client.
    2)In this economy, it is probably as important for website design firms to be spending as much time looking for new clients as it is for them to be spending tim massaging their relationships with current clients. Yes, I’ve heard the canards about the cost of getting a new client vs. the cost of retaining an existing one but I personally believe that in a business that is so determined by relationship and communication, it is crucial to find clients who share not only your creative and marketing outlook but also share a common view about protocol and project management.
    We beat ourselves over the heads to figure out what we’re doing wrong when a client relationship goes bad but, in some cases at least, we should just realize that some clients are not meant to be. The economy right now is filled with as many clients whose expectations in all regards — pricing, quality of service, etc — is unrealistic. We need to work to find the clients who demonstrate faith in our work and share similar outlooks on process.

    •  @Dave Hitt You can’t please all the people all the time. This is true. And I’m glad you used the word “reasonable” If a client (or anyone) is unreasonable, there’s nothing anyone can do except gracefully end the relationship. You can’t help crazy.
      But having said that, the issues you mentioned are built into this business and are very common. Here are a few you mentioned:
      – Clients setting aside their projects for months (wait…)
      – Clients coming back to their projects and wanting to rush (…then hurry up)
      – Clients changing their main point of contact
      – Clients approving something and then requesting changes to it
      These issues are so common, that it’s the job of the web company to be ready for them and adapt to whatever extent possible. You’ve got to manage the crap out of the projects and client expectations! And a lot of tough love is necessary. We sometimes have to defend the project from the client.
      I recommend extremely thorough communication tools, formal sign-offs, documented and visible goals, insistence on a single, consistent point of contact, strong proposal language and constant reiteration of anything that “may have cost and budget implications” like going backwards during a project.
      So yes, there are inherent challenges in any creative services industry. But in the end, we have to take responsibility as web design companies, for the success of our clients …despite our clients. It’s the only way to get a A+ every time. 
      Still, most of those complaints were from good clients talking about bad web design firms. A lot of web companies stink.

      •  @orbiteers Agreed!

    • I use to work with them. Cancel the hosting its all crap. Hence I dont work there anymore.

    • Excellent feedback. I know it’s many years going now, but I completely agree. When I first started reading I thought it was going to be another “poor me” comment from a fellow dev/business over, but then I was surprised by how level headed your assertions. After doing a lot of reading about conventional service companies, and ad agencies – it’s absolutely a part of the long-term game to continually be adding new clients at the top and I’ve gotten used to the idea that clients come and go and you simply can’t please everyone. This is a very interesting industry!

      • It certainly is! The challenges are continuous for both sides, vendors and clients. But ideally, it’s more of a partner relationship than a vendor relationship!

    • The company I signed with—ignorantly, admittedly—asked what I wanted to sell and what background color I wanted. They took example pictures I emailed from my PHONE and “maroon” and that was their questionnaire. Then followed a 45 minute sell on being an Amazon associate. After 7 days (their full refund period) I asked for any kind of signs of progress. An opening page. Font suggestions. Outline—storyboard?—of how the website might run, i.e., categories down the left side vs. top line. At 7 days, end of workday, they could provide me none of those. I even offered, “Well use your phone and message me a screenshot of something your boss says he’s been slaving away on for a week.” Nothing. They asked if they could have a few more days. Since this would clearly invalidate my 7 day refund right I declined and insisted on the refund. I followed to the letter each requirement. Refund denied. After my complaint to the AZ BBB the company rep said I hadn’t done this…a claim that was NOT in his own contract. His lie allowed his company to really quickly put up a website AFTER I’d cancelled (the posting dates confirm this). The first 30 pages or so garbage, template pages, which were never run by me before going live. I have my cell phone on me at all times, day and night. And, infuriatingly and embarrassingly, the actual products I sell were on page 30 something plus one under the heading, “If you want one of these contact me”. I’m still on the losing end. Add them to your “embarrassed to be in the same business” file.

    • 4.95 a month 500 is nonsense. Do you work for pennies per hour in your business or something. A good programmer can easily get paid 100k a year. A custom accessible, responsive website with a nice clean modern design and a little bit of functionality can easily take a few hundred hours to do right. 4.95 is a typical price for a coffee. Of course someone can roll out a cheap wordpress site riddled with plugins that might kind of work load slow be inaccessible, waiting to be hacked and look like every other site but its still going to take them 20 hours between meetings, planning etc. Even if staff is paid 20 per hour a business would never break even on this. We consider 5k project small where i work.

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