How do you know when a site is done? How do you know when the design is finished and it’s time to launch? I want to answer this question with some thoughts about when you might launch and the pros and cons of launching sooner or later.
Even though I asked the question about websites, this question really applies to anything you can design. Maybe it’s a logo or web app you’re deciding when to release. Maybe it’s an industrial product or a blog post. At some point you have to decide if it’s ready for the public. The question is when?
By done I don’t literally mean finished completely and forever. Websites are never really done and neither are most products and apps. What I really mean by done is when is it ready to launch to the public.
The Minimum Requirements to Launch
A client of mine asked me to redesign her site a couple or so years ago. The design has been ready to go for about a year. All that’s left is adding what remains of the content and we’ll be able to launch the new site.
In fairness to my client, it’s not the kind of content that could be finished in a week or two. Still it should have been ready by now. I receive content in bursts and in between my client’s attention goes to a section of the site we agreed was done. She thinks of ways to make those sections better or just more to her liking.
I generally agree with the improvements and do want her to have the site she wants, however, I keep reminding her to focus on what absolutely needs to be done so we can launch. We can improve things when the site is live. We both agree the new design is better than the current one and even those things that could be improved are better as is than their counterparts on the current site.
I share this story because every site, every product, every project has a minimum set of requirements that should have been determined when defining the design problem. At any point after these minimum requirements are met it’s ok to launch the site. You can continue to improve it, but once the minimum requirements are met it’s ready for public use.
What Happens if You Wait to Launch?
What happens when you wait longer to launch? What are the pros and cons of waiting? I’ll start with the cons.
Waiting could conceivably lead to financial loss for both designer and client. Waiting and trying to perfect, means more work for the designer for what is likely no additional pay. It’s possible some of the additional work is being paid for, but experience suggests most isn’t.
The client stands to lose because their site can’t be making money while waiting. If the client doesn’t have a site then the site needs to launch before it sees revenue. One would hope any redesign is an improvement so waiting means not selling as much as you might. In either event there’s an opportunity cost in waiting.
There might be a missed marketing opportunity. Some ideas have a limited shelf life or a sort of popularity shelf life. Waiting could miss either. It’s possible in waiting competition emerges making it more difficult to enter the market.
The longer you wait to launch the easier it is not to finish. The easier it is to accept the non-launch status quo. With my client’s site we’ve both been using the new one for awhile and it can seem like it has been launched when it hasn’t. My client even shares urls on the new design as though it has been released to the public.
Waiting can make it harder for you as designer to work on the site. It’s easy to forget which file a line of code is in or how exactly does that CMS output some element. It’s easy to forget even if you’ve done a good job commenting your code and documenting the work you did.
Some good can come from waiting too. Maybe you aren’t missing a marketing opportunity, but waiting for the public to be ready for your idea. Many products were simply released too soon before the public was ready for them.
Waiting can also make sure you’re truly ready to go and all the bugs have been fixed. It gives you extra time to make a great first impression that ideally wows potential customers and inspires brand loyalty.
What Happens if You Launch Sooner?
What about releasing sooner? What are the pros and cons of launching before you’ve dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s?
As you’d expect you run the risk of not being as ready as you should be and possibly making a poor first impression. The sooner you launch, the less time to meet minimum requirements.
Potential customers might see your product as not yet ready and that could be the message that sticks to your brand. Even after you’ve fixed everything and are truly ready, people might still think not ready when they think of your brand. It can be very hard to change brand associations.
It’s possible you could turn people off to your site. Releasing too soon might leave navigation a bit confusing and the site might give a not quite finished impression. Whenever I see sites with coming soon pages or sections I think
- that page shouldn’t be on the site until it has some content
- that page is unlikely to ever have content
On the positive side releasing earlier will get you more feedback and get it earlier in the process. You might be able to build a market around your product while it’s being developed. You can release the minimum viable site and improve it based on feedback from your audience.
You could even release nothing more than the idea of a product and begin by testing interest and gaining feedback before you even start designing. For example you could let people know you’re working on a book and see whether or not people are interested.
If they are you can ask them for feedback and make sure to cover all the topics your readers want to see included. If people aren’t interested you can move on to another idea without having wasted time and effort. it gives you a chance to learn about the chances for success before having to do the work.
When is the Right time to Launch?
Perhaps the best time to launch is early given one caveat, that you release only to people you know are loyal to you. You can release on a limited basis to some of your audience or customers.
These are the people most likely to want to help with good feedback. These are the people most likely to spread the word and generate buzz. These are the people least likely to be concerned with their first impression of your product.
It also doesn’t hurt that a limited launch can help create desire in those that aren’t part of the launch.
Your loyal customers will understand they’re using a beta. They’ll be more concerned with helping you get to a last impression than worrying about the first one. They understand the launch isn’t the end of the project, but only one stage in an ongoing process.
It’s unlikely there’s a single right answer about when to launch. Most of the time I’d say it’s when you’ve met those minimum requirements, but it really depends on a number of things. It depends on what you’re going to design and for who.
I think you do need to meet and exceed minimum requirements when releasing to the general public. The downside of not being ready is greater than the potential reward of releasing sooner. If you release to a smaller group of people who understand you’re showing them an unfinished product, you can release sooner, but otherwise make sure everything works.
In the end I think you have to balance a few things and decide where to make tradeoffs. Are the extra details that might wow and create brand loyalty more important or is it more important to release before a competitor does? Is a good first impression more important or is the earlier feedback more important?
If you have an audience or a customer base it can be a good strategy to release to some before releasing to all. You gain the benefits of releasing early (the feedback) without the downside of making a poor impression.
You do want to understand the market landscape to make sure you’re launching in a good window. You don’t want to miss an opportunity by waiting too long or releasing too soon. A day or two in either direction won’t make much difference, but a few months or even years certainly will.
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