This past weekend, the Lansing State Journal ran an article in their business section about entrepreneurs taking their companies to the next level. And, what do you know? It featured Brian Town of our partner Michigan Creative and our own Craig Tucker (CEO of Tucknologies) talking about how they are able to move from start up to sustained business and discussed some of the projects we're working on...including The Foundry Web Program. The Foundry Web Program is a partnership between Michigan Creative and Tucknologies that creates affordable, professional websites that are launched in 30 days.
Tucknologies announces the release of a new website that we built and deployed for Force by Design.
We get asked ALL the time...what does a website cost? Well, as both consumers/customers and producers/sellers we thought we would like to clear up this question once and for all:
I'm sure you probably both expected and feared that answer. So, instead of telling you what every developer ever told you...I thought we'd try to clear it up. Because, you probably don't have experience building a website...and that's probably why you are here right now!
For the purpose of this exercise, we are going to use the analogy of a domicile or a place where one lives. It'll be easier to explain things this way, as we all live in and have had experiences with housing of some sort. We'll start at the most basic, and work our way up. Don't worry, not only will we explain what a website is, what kind of web design it takes, and what kind of web development is needed...but we'll also give you pros and cons for both!
A lean to...a refrigerator box...or an abandoned freight car. The shelter is your most basic form of domicile, if you can call it that! This is a one page post-card type website. It's usually sold as "Free" or "Starter," and sometimes comes with a limited number of other pages or some kind of page cap.
Users won't ever find your pages because there is no depth to your content. Users also do not trust too little content. It means to them that you didn't put enough thought or effort into it...or are too small to provide a better user experience. This means that the presentation screams to users "Hey! We don't really care about the information we put here. It's short sighted, and it just shows you what you might expect from us. Cutting corners and no attention to detail."
Oh, and just pray you don't have something go wrong...they aren't exactly quickly to respond to your issue.
A step up from the basic shelter is the cabin, or trailer. This will suffice for those who want a few more amenities, like running water and a stove to prepare meals. And, like the analogy these websites will give you the ability to do a few things like add blogs or other content. Think of it as Economy e-Commerce.
They'll tell you have you have a TON of options to choose from, but those options are all still pre-defined. If your round logo doesn't fit the square hole, then oh well...there is no one to help you at this cost. Despite being a bit more modern in style and design sensitivities, it still comes across as looking cheap to the users. And, if you want to update your site, it's going to be a problem as you'll have to wait for the system to allow you to do it.
There are fewer features, and certainly only choice for technologies. For instance, you often can't use a shopping cart technology of your choice or a slider that supports video...if you decide to go this route. Remember, it's a trailer. It doesn't even have a foundation...
Being on someone else's server makes you a slave to your provider. If you ever do decide to change or disconnect from the provider, it can be a hassle getting them to work with your new development team.
We always insist that a company that does business has control over their own server. Not with someone who has your website on their own server...and holding all the keys!
These sites aren't expensive. They run between $5.99 and $14.99 a month. And, you can do multiple pages and sometimes can do menus and categories. But it's limited in terms of functionality and originality. And, sometimes you might not even have your own domain...though you will see things that are on other more developed sites like fancy animation and better, more current interfaces.
The first real step up to a real business class website is to look for a site that you control the server, control the log in, and control the content. This means that a professional web design firm sells you a solution to put up a website. These are normally based on a popular CMS (Content Management System) like Drupal, Joomla, Wordpress, or Magento. These CMS-s allow the user to control the basic levels of content for the site such as pictures, galleries, blogs, and other media.
What we're talking about here is a Template Website. What that means is someone makes the design for a Content Management System and a development team or solo developer puts it together on the server, and appropriately adds/creates and adjusts content.
The downside to this approach is that you don't usually end up with a unique design...unless you are prepared to buy the design out-right from the developer. This usually means a purchase of $2,000-$6,000 for the exclusive rights of the design. The site may also fall prey to outdated and not updated technology as you are often reliant on 3rd party plug ins and software. If the CMS doesn't fit with the plugin, you may have a site that no longer works.
The Templates can be easy (by professional standards) to swap-out. So if your site gets old and tired looking, and you don't want to lose all that content...you can switch over to a new one. That keeps it fresh and modern and keeps your site from looking like no one pays any attention to it. Because if it looks like no one pays attention to it, then no one will!
The CMS based development communities that develop the templates, the plugins, and the software are relatively active. This means that they are constantly acting to update and upgrade the functionality of the system. This keeps the software and the tools that run on it fresh, and pushes the CMS to be able to do more as time goes on. There is also a lot of support for these systems, as a lot of users have adopted this way of production.
And, since there are professionals working on the software all the time there are a lot more bells and whistles to customize your site with. Don't like the shopping cart you are using? Choose a different one. Don't like the drop down menu animation? Swap out that plug in for another one.
This also makes different versions for mobile a possibility as designers are making their designs functional across different platforms. And, since you are essentially picking out all of the decor at once and applying it to your foundation and skeleton, it's usually cheaper than custom made.
If you are a business with an annual gross income of less than $150,000 then this is probably the best solution for you. Of course, if you have designs on being larger, growing to compete nationally and internationally, then this won't work for very long.
Our discussion on website development has brought us to the last on our list: The custom made "Enterprise Class" website. These are, as you might assume, expensive to build. They take top designers sometimes millions of dollars to develop robust, integrated e-commerce solutions. You likely already have used one, if you like Amazon or Zappos or host of other multi-million dollar/year consumer shops. Or, if you've used a service like Priceline, Hertz, or happened to look for a new car over at Ford.
The Enterprise Class of website is a site designed from the first pixel to the last PCI Compliant bit of code for a single unifying purpose: To serve an organization in conducting their business and increasing sales. They are investments as important to the company as new machinery, research and development, and hiring and retaining the right talent. Often, these types of websites will consume entire development firms for years. Or as often is the case currently will hire entire departments and produce the online experience.
This can cost a firm millions of dollars to build--either by outsourcing or in-sourcing.
To do a large Enterprise Class website you'll need plenty of funds and patience. It'll take highly skilled and high demand talent to pull it off. That means, it won't be cheap to get that competitive advantage. Making the website have an acceptable ROI (Return On Investment) means putting a lot of development through the disciplines of psychology, consumer behavior, economics, marketing and computer sciences. We're usually talking advanced degrees, technologies and fresh-from-the-lab software.
Because of all that is put into it, an Enterprise Class website won't change that fast. The technologies change only when the company can ensure a competent and consistent user experience. So, that sometimes mean dancing on the knife's edge trying to keep current and relevant while trying to get a better ROI out of your last capital expenditure.
You are also taking a chance on your idea. Sometimes doing something that has never been done before means taking the risk that you will have to change what that is.
As with anything that is one of a kind, it is special. Getting something no one else has gives you a measurable competitive advantage. Any way that you can differentiate or substantiate yourself online you should.
And, since it is unique it is built to your specification. That means the time, money and effort needed to sustain a long and sometimes expensive endeavor. To get exactly what you want and done exactly the way you want it, it means paying for skilled labor and the time it takes. Since it is built to your specifications: A proper Enterprise Class website can integrate with your inventory, marketing initiatives, data harvesting software and can greatly increase your revenue.
It is also most likely to be a leader technologically. This will add to your intellectual property rights, and can be something you can license down the road. Which is always a good thing!
You retain the highest percentage of profit. You don't have to pay vendors' fees since you did it yourself. Your enterprise class web design means that you aren't beholding to plugins and components that may (or may not) be supported tomorrow. The only real considerations to make with an enterprise class website are the credit card percentages. Which, in such rarefied air is not such a bad problem to have!
In the end it all depends. It depends on what your needs are. It depends on what your budget is. I hope that our guide gives you a frame of reference. Of course, prices change and are widely varied. This blog represents what we think in our best opinion is what a site of the corresponding magnitude would cost to build...or at least what it cost when we published it.
There are ALWAYS exceptions. Tucknologies recommends that you pick a site to suit you and make it your own!
Once you have decided to make your new website, you have to decide where to host this beast. It’s not just a consideration of “well I should go with the place I bought the domain” though there is nothing wrong with that. It all depends on what you want out of your service. That’s where server considerations come in.
You need to think about costs, and growth. These are the two biggest variables that you have to realize when you plan what type of service you should use. Costs can range greatly from one provider to the other. Some of them are enterprise class, like Liquid Web, Google or Amazon Web Services. Some, are just fly-by-night operators...or big companies that really don't care for anything more than your wallet.
Anyone can do it. Search for the term “website hosting services” and you’ll get over 112,000,000 results. That’s because there is little to no regulation for hosting or ISPs in the United States. One of the few remaining “wild west” parts of the WWW. Your local coffee shop can be a host. You could, if you had the hardware.
But would you want to trust your business to that?
Web Design is one of the most pertinent decisions that anyone faces. What do you want from a website? In your “mind’s eye,” what do you see? Knowing what you want from a website is a good start.
Knowing what you don’t want is more important. Because trying to get what you want only gets you half of the picture, if you aren’t familiar with the more technical side of building a website. (That’s right…code)
(Say it with me…UGH!)
The problem is that most people forget that there really are two camps to conquer when presenting business communication online. The first constituency you have to please is the human that is trying to get information. The second is the communications technologies that enable that communication.
Without careful consideration to both sides, they will be are in conflict unless they both complement each other. This is what is commonly referred to as “User Experience” (UX) and the more fluid you make the interactivity the better the experience. It leads to the “wow” or “cool” factor.
These sites, posted yearly by Vincent Flanders give an example of what can happen when what is desired is not communicated:
01A flash intro or picture gallery that is not optimized
02No text or information to tell the viewer AND the computer what is relevant about this site
03No way to connect through other media
04Very little content
05Nothing of value for the end user
06Not asking anything of the user
#Tucknowledge. To make your mind up as to what you do and do not want...spend some time looking into other websites. There are design ideas, or functionality that you might want on your website. While no designer can outright steal something...there is nothing wrong with using an example to show a website designer kind of what you want.
This website unfortunately doesn't comply with many of the "what not to do" list of web design:
This chamber of commerce website is a good example of what not to do. It's unfortunate, as I grew up here and the area is very nice and a great place to raise a family. But does the website portray that? There are a lot of things organizations need to do *yesterday* in order to step into the 21st Century.
This is part of our informational series on custom software development and web design. These are designed to inform the public at large about the process of software development. As such, these are written in plain-English without a lot of technical jargon.
In our last blog on custom software and web development, we discussed some of the general parameters of development. Today we're going to focus on the nuts and bolts of developing a solution. We'll discuss how to estimate the cost and scope, why it's important to have a detailed production plan, and some good management tools to use. We'll also discuss milestones in terms of their importance, and we'll touch on a little of Agile Development. Of course, anything that is done right is thoroughly tested, and we'll also talk about considerations you'll need to have in order to launch your website or software system.
First of all, you need to know the entirety of the project you will be working on. That requires a Scope of Work (SOW) submitted by the client (you) before your developer starts. This is a tricky piece, since the you many not often do not know the details of your requested systems. Not everyone is tech-savvy enough to break down the scope into the appropriate steps. This becomes an issue when we are talking about general statements such as “user logs in,” for example. What may not be clear is that you want different permission levels, and desires some behavior on the user by the type of user. (For instance, user class #1 sees one type of content, user class #2 sees another). This may not be clear when give designers the SOW. Only a qualified and experienced developer can sniff out those discrepancies between what’s written and what’s expected.
Scope of Work documents do a few things. They allow the developer to accurately quote the work, and the allow the client (you) reasonable expectation of results based on what’s been bid. The devil is in the details. Technically, that’s up to the client to come up with the scope, not the developers. Some firms will assist you in preparing an accurate scope of work, as we do here at Tucknologies. It’s important for both sides to know exactly what needs to be done.
However, there are instances where you want to have software to complete a goal or to support a concept. That is when you have to expect that there will be decisions made about how to accomplish those goals that are made by the firm you hire. Some clients like this approach, and it does offer the development firm a little more flexibility. There is always “more than one way to skin a cat.”
So determining exactly what needs to be done is paramount to start. One can’t even have a complete bid until the software developer knows what they will be building.
Once the scope has been determined, and both parties agree, then the firm should put together some kind of detailed production plan. This is accomplished a number of different ways. At Tucknologies, we approach it with a creative-first approach. It’s not the only way, but it’s the best way we’ve found to operate.
Because all of us lead with our eyes, and we know what we like when we see it; that makes for the rest of the development dependent on the creative. So, we conduct a creative audit. In the creative audit, we determine all of the collateral material that the client has: Past marketing campaigns, logos, style sheets, brand standards, copy, and any other creative work, etc. Then we determine what creative is missing and set a plan to acquire those things or creative them. Out of this, we’re able to set a schedule, determine the style and look, and start working on the mock-ups and information architecture.
Next, we determine the Information Architecture (IA). What that is, quite simply, is the art and science of organizing and labeling data including: websites, intranets, online communities, software, books and other mediums of information, to develop usability and structural aesthetics. That includes how the server will operate, what protocols the website or software will use, and how the database is structured. This can also include R&D into 3rd party features such as plugins and purchased software components to build the requested software. As you can imagine, this requires specific knowledge and experience in order to get it right. Architecture is a very appropriate word here, as this is akin to an architect building plans for your residence. You don’t want some person that hasn’t done it before!
Then content gets developed. This is where the coding takes place, and leads us to the next topic we’ll be discussing today:
Content gets produced, and if you are a full-service firm like Tucknologies you have specialists working on each piece. For instance, we have a team of graphic designers and they will work on the artwork as the engineers and programmers work on the code. This requires a management system, unless your developer is a one-man-band who works out of his momma’s basement.
Some developers do it Ad-Hoc, creating a management system as you go. This works with small teams at boutique firms, who are all in one place. For full-service firms, who have multiple employees each working on a different piece (sometimes in different locations, at different times) this won’t work. Each time a programmer downloads a piece of code to work on, and uploads it back to the server, it will overwrite everything that was there before. What if more than one person is working on it at a time? Suddenly, an ill-advised update of the server will wipe out all of another team member’s work. Ouch. Nothing like having to pay for it twice!
We use project management software. Some of the most popular web-based ones, that we have or are using are Basecamp, Apollo, Asana, and to name a few. We aren’t going to break down the features or compare the project management software here, but we do have a link for you to check out that is done for you. We prefer to use the online PM software because we can access it at any time we have a connection. There have been times when being able to check a project’s status via mobile phone has been life-saving. We have used other types of systems, but these are the best for what we do. Some of the great things about using these are that all of the project’s materials and resources are brought to one place.
You like to know what your developer is doing, and see progress right? Of course you do. That’s where milestones come into play. A good developer will have an idea of what will be done by when; meaning they will be able to provide you with a reasonable time frame for each step in the process. Milestones give both sides an important way to measure the effectiveness of the development. As a client, you probably want it tied to pieces. As a developer, they will want it tied to time. At Tucknologies, we do a hybrid of both. There is an expectation of pieces/time period and we recommend any client or developer to adopt this position. A developer can’t work without compensation, and the client shouldn’t pay without results. Both can be attained, if the software and web developer is experienced.
Testing is probably one of the most important components of developing any type of technology. It has to work, and that’s what the firm you hire should care the most about. There are two ways to test: One can build the entire thing and test it, or a firm can build each piece and test it. The problem with building the whole thing is that you can’t test the system until it’s done, meaning if there are issues it takes a lot of effort to re-do pieces that have already been built. For obvious reasons, this is a type of testing that doesn’t work with large systems. Small pieces, such as a contact form, or payment processor may not need to be developed using Agile Development. Large systems like e-commerce and database integration make it necessary to test as you go.
Agile Development, for the layman is a way in which developers ensure quality. Each piece is broken down into “sprints” which get assigned a time, resources, and other inputs necessary for it to be produced. Then, as the piece is produced it is rigorously tested to make sure that it works, before the team(s) move onto another piece of the puzzle. It has been adopted by most firms, and is especially relevant for custom development. However, there are some instances (like a template based website, complete with frameworks and plugins) where Agile makes less sense. These however, are the exception and not the rule.
It’s not just testing the expected user experience. If you are building a shopping cart, a software development firm will make sure that the quantities and totals add up, and that it shows and processes the right product. That’s the expected result. But at Tucknologies we also test what is NOT expected to happen. What happens if the user enters in a negative number? Does that mean that the company now owes the consumer? What about a request of a million items? These are unexpected results and have to be tested thoroughly under any condition.
Once your firm has finished the testing, and the product is ready to go you are getting close to launch. This is when the marketing department takes over in the product lifecycle and begins to promote and advertise the product. If your custom system was made from the beginning with marketing the product in mind, then this period is relatively smooth. If not, then there is a mad rush and a gnashing of teeth on both the engineering and the marketing departments.
As you can probably guess, it’s best to build with marketing in mind. Marketing will inform you as to what your customers want, how they interacted with you in the past, and what goals the system is trying to accomplish. These things need to get built into the software or website or mobile app. For instance, if none of your customers care about a feature that the new system has, why should it have been built in the first place? Perhaps the target market needs fonts that are clearer or larger. These considerations need to be part of the development process, and some development firms don’t have the experience to do these things. That is a consideration you want to make, well before you launch!
This is part of our informational series on custom software development and web design. These are designed to inform the public at large about the process of software development. As such, these are written in plain-English without a lot of technical jargon.
This position is perfect for someone who wants to learn more about web development, but has some skill set that will enable them to learn new technologies and be proficient in programming them. The Developer is a programmer, who is a member of the engineering team, who will be assisting in developing new software. Developers are expected to work closely with more experienced developers on a regular basis. Developers will regularly be able to submit inputs and are expected to stay abreast of the latest technologies and coding techniques relevant to their work and apply them when possible.
The Developer will be under the supervision of the Lead Engineer, who is a World-Class Engineer. Previous holders of this position have gone on to work for internationally recognized technology companies.
The Junior Developer will be responsible for the following:
Research new applications, algorithms and functions
Assist the development team
Design and implement new features
Maintain and resolve bugs
Document features and implementations
Strong written and verbal communication skills
Practical knowledge base of software requirements
Practical knowledge base of software development
Experience with database and online/web applications
Education in Computer Science and/or Engineering
Experience with MVC framework is a plus
Pay commensurate with experience.
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