Don’t split design and CMS – lessons learned from a web relaunch

My organization is currently working on a major web relaunch: we are moving our public facing website and our two extranets to a CMS and will give them a new, similar look and feel. In a series of articles  I will describe what I have learned during the process. This is the first part.

Lesson learned: Don’t split the contracts for the design-part and the technical implementation!

If I could go back in time and do one thing differently, this would be it.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the CMS we bought, I think the design company has done a great job and I think the company that is implementing the CMS is also doing their part wonderfully.

However, I totally underestimated the amount of time and coordination needed on our side for the design company and the implementation partner to work together effectively.

Even though both partners have been trying to do their best to overcome all problems, we still lost a lot of time, energy and ultimately some money because the process was much more difficult, than if it had all been done by the same company.

Different interpretations

The main problem was that the two companies frequently had very different interpretations and expectations regarding what each side’s responsibilities were.

Sometimes, when A heard that B was going to do X, there were very different definitions of X. And in the end, we as a client were stuck in the middle. This is not the fault of either party, it’s just one of the things that happen. Or maybe it’s our fault for not spending more time on defining exactly what each little thing means. Then again, if you wanna define every little detail then you will spend a year writing the contract.

However, my point is that if both design and technical implementation were done by the same company, then this wouldn’t even be an issue. In that case we could simply say “We don’t care who inside your company is responsible for this detail. It is your responsibility.”

The original rationale – find the best for each part

The original decision to give each part of the project to a different partner sounded good at that time:

We wanted to find the best design company independently from their technical skills and the best technical solution independently from their design skills. And while it should be possible to implement any (not too extravagant) design in any modern CMS, it would have been extremely helpful for everyone if the design company had been familiar with the product.

Thus, the next time I’m doing this kind of project, I’ll make sure to get it all from one source.

Have you had similar experiences when relaunching existing or creating new websites?

  • Hi,
    I did the same but liked the fact, that standards and ideas had to be explicated through exact concepts and papers. We had to setup a clear interface between all participating companies and freelancers with – lets say higher transaction costs, but a higher output from qualitative perspective. But I also did integrated IT-Projects where concept, design, usability and cms implementation where done by the same Company. The disadvantage in this case is, that the concept is written knowing all (low) potential of the operative CMS-programmers.
    There are problems doing it this or that way …

  • What you have experienced is not that out of ordinary if the process is not designed from the start. I have done a lot of large scale projects where many companies have been in charge of various aspects of the deployment. The only way a project of this type can be done is through lots and lots of discussions at the beginning. Programmers (& I am one) are typists. We can’t write a book but we can type it.
    It is hard to find a great design firm that can do both design and programming. In most cases design firms will do the design and contract the programming to other firms, after all it is not easy to have programmers that know every programming language or CMS or server environment on payroll. At Click & Pledge we use several design firms simply to keep our design fresh and program the interfaces and sites ourselves. This approach ensures the design is fresh and we are confident the code is secure. Our site brought together 2 companies that did the design of the site and the Flash screens while working with our internal programming team to bring it all together. I will not do it any other way.

  • Thanks Gerald, thanks Kamran! I really appreciate your feedback.

    Right now I feel like I will have a nervous breakdown if I hear the word "Change Request" one more time!