When you think about web design clients, you probably don’t think about chefs and fast food and preparing home cooked meals. I hope to change that after you finish reading this post.
A month or two ago I listened to an interview with Brad Frost on the state of responsive design. At one point in the recording Brad made an analogy between responsive design and cooking or eating at McDonald’s that started my brain churning. I liked the analogy and thought I could tweak and expand on it.
Instead of responsive design though, I thought I’d compare choices of how you might get a meal to choosing how a client might get a website up and running. It’s an imperfect analogy, but hopefully you’ll agree it works well enough to take something from it.
Is there any real value in this kind of comparison? Who knows. It was fun to think about and thinking about design in terms of something like cooking can give you a new perspective. For me, thinking about design clients this way, was another reminder of something I think about in regards to the business of design.
DIY Websites and Cooking for Yourself
At one end of the spectrum in having a meal or building a website is doing it yourself. When preparing meals for yourself you have complete control over the ingredients you use and how the food is prepared. Similarly, when you design and develop your own site what goes into it is up to you.
There are a number of similarities
- Both rely on you for the success or failure of the result
- Both have costs in time for doing the work
- Both have significant costs in time to learn how to do the work
- Both have costs in money for ingredients, tools, etc.
The main advantage for most in taking the do-it-yourself approach is to save money. You’ll still have costs associated with either cooking for yourself or building your own site.
- cooking ingredients
- pots and pans and other utensils
- domain and hosting
- design and development tools
What you save by doing the work is labor, which is typically the most expensive part of any project.
Some will genuinely want to learn cooking or design and so this route offers them another advantage. Most of these people will continue learning and improving. Those that are only learning for the specific project still gain an understanding of another aspect of their business that they wouldn’t get otherwise.
Designers and developers can serve a variety of market segments
For everyone there will be a minimum and significant cost in time necessary to learn how to cook or create websites. That minimum time is an amount necessary to cook a meal worth eating or build a website that effectively meets goals. There’s an additional cost in time to do the work. Some of this time will overlap with learning time, but not all.
Even if you accept the time you’re required to put in, you do so with the understanding that it’s time taken away from something else. It’s time that could be more valuable elsewhere.
In the end the quality of the meal or site is on you. You decide what to cook or design and what ingredients go into either. You do the actual prepping, cooking, design, and coding. Whatever the meal tastes like or however the site works is ultimately your responsibility.
If your supply of time exceeds your supply of money, and if you can reasonably improve your skills so they’re greater than the the minimum necessary, a do-it-yourself approach can be a good option.
Free or Cheap Theme and Fast Food
Sometimes you just want something to eat. You aren’t up for cooking or shopping for ingredients. You don’t have the time or want to spend it cooking. You do want to eat and eat soon. So you go to McDonalds or Taco Bell or whatever your preferred fast food establishment.
Fast food is easy. It’s quick. It doesn’t cost much. It’s an easy way to satisfy your hunger and it seems like a pretty good deal as you’re pulling out of the drive through with your food.
You save on the time involved in cooking for yourself. You do have to pay for the meal and you do need to pick up the food. It’s not too different than grabbing a free or cheap theme along with a CMS. The price is similar in context. There’s not much time involved to get the site up and running.
Both still have some associated costs. A free theme probably requires some expense in a domain or hosting. Some customization (hold the pickles) might be needed as well.
The downside to fast food or a cheap theme are similar too. Both limit your results. You can only order what’s on the menu. You can only customize a theme so much before you might as well have started from scratch.
Long term you have to deal with the health effects of eating fast food and you have to deal with the health effects of a site that isn’t aligned with your business, but rather for some generic business that might be like yours.
If both money and time are a concern, this might be the way you get a site. You should take this approach with the thought that you’ll change to something better when either time or money are in better supply. A free theme might not do everything you want or do any of it well, but it does get you started in business.
Commercial Themes and Fine Dining
You could choose a finer restaurant instead of the drive through. The food is probably better, though there’s no guarantee. It’s almost certainly more expensive. It’s hopefully healthier for you than fast food, but again, no guarantees. A lot comes down to your specific choices.
It’s like stepping up from the free or cheap theme and spending a little on a commercial theme with support and updates. There are no guarantees, but odds are the commercial theme will be designed and developed better.
In both cases the more you’re willing to spend the greater the probability of a successful outcome, though one more time, there are no guarantees.
Your choices are still limited. Someone else decided what options you could choose and they aren’t cooking or designing specifically for you. You should get better support whether it’s from the wait staff or from the theme developer. I’ll skip the mention of no guarantees about that support.
If time is limited and money, whether limited or not can be invested, a commercial theme could be a good way to get started or improve on what you have.
Turnkey Solutions and Subscription Meals
Sometimes you have special needs for your meal. You might need to eat gluten free or stay away from spicy food. It’s possible you’re trying to lose some weight.
Why not give Nutrisystem a call? They’ll prepare meals for you to open and heat up. They’ll send meals to you as long as you continue to pay. Maybe not much different than signing up for something like Squarespace, Shoppify, or similar.
The food isn’t tailored specifically for you. It’s tailored to a group of people like you. There’s a small bit of work for you in preparing the meal before you eat it, but that preparation is minimal.
A website service likely has categories of designs tailored to your industry, if not specifically for you. You’ll need to do a little work, choosing a theme and probably giving it a few tweaks. You’ll need to turn on the shopping cart if you need one.
Your choices are again limited, but you’ve chosen a place to get meals or a site more likely to offer the options you need or want. The people who created those options will probably do them well, since they’ve chosen to specialize.
If your time is limited, you have money available for investing, you have specific needs, and you prefer to set it and forget it, this approach could work well.
Hiring a Customer Designer or Personal Chef
You have your favorite restaurants and you don’t mind fast food. Still a home cooked meal is best. Money isn’t a problem for you. If only you had the time. Why not hire a personal chef who’ll give you a home cooked meal every night and probably a better one than you could give yourself?
Sounds a lot like hiring a web designer/developer to build your site. Yes, it’s the most expensive option here, but you get the site you want without having to put in the time or effort to create it.
Hiring an expert removes the limitations many of these approaches have. Whether it’s choosing a meal you aren’t crazy about or having a website that turns away customers, you will at some point wish those limits were removed. Zero limits does come with a price, though.
Like a fine restaurant, price is directly related to a successful outcome and like a commercial theme, there are no guarantees. Still your odds are greatest with the master chef or designer that you’ll get the best meal or site you can get.
In the beginning you’ll have to put in some time and effort. Your expert needs to get to know you and understand what you like to eat or what you enjoy in a site. At first you’ll probably give more instructions, but over time you’ll come to trust your expert and rely more on their expertise.
They’ll know more about what you need in addition to what you want and they’ll be able to guide you where you’d like to go, better than you could on your own.
You have to pay the price for all this expertise. You’re hiring someone who put in the years of time and effort and monetary investment to become an expert. The more you’re willing to spend, the greater the probability you’ll find the right person, but one last time, no guarantees. It’s possible you’ll need to go through several experts before finding the right one for you.
If you can invest the money this is your best option. It’ll lead to the best results over time. You’ll also need to invest some time and effort, especially in the beginning, but it’s far less than if you had to do the work yourself. You instead pay for someone else’s time and expertise.
This is hardly a perfect analogy. I’ll be the first to admit the section about turnkey solutions is something of a reach. Still the overall analogy seems to work well enough and I’m sure there are more comparisons that can be made.
It was certainly fun to think about, write about, and share with you.
What it really comes down to is getting a meal or a site requires costs in both time and money. How much of either you can invest determines which approach you go with. It’s also a very good idea to understand the pros and cons of each approach so you can best choose the one that matches your situation.
It also serves as a reminder to me that as designers and developers we can serve a variety of markets. We sometimes think our businesses can only serve the custom market. It’s important to remember we can also serve the other market segments. We can build the themes and the turnkey solutions and we can teach people to do it on their own.
The cooking analogy also serves to remind that most people will choose one of the approaches that requires the least investment in money. That’s how markets usually work. A lot more families cook for themselves than hire personal chefs. A lot more business owners will attempt to build their own site or find a cheap theme than will hire a designer and developer.
Which option the customer chooses is up to him or her. Which part of the market you choose to serve is up to you.
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This is a great article. Time and money spent, as well as where it is spent is very important to the process. However, some personal chefs are very good at what they “cook,” but have invested the time to get there. Really good read.
Thanks Becky. I thought it was a fun analogy. I know it’s not perfect, but there seems to be enough in common for it to ring true.
Money is definitely an important part of the process and you can find pros and cons in any approach you take.
I’m quite late to this, but to find a good analogy is always relevant.
I’d like to expand it a bit, by stating that the customer offers the meal to *his* clients/website visitors. And so decides *what* to serve to people he *invites* (to his business or whatever).
The ‘quality’ of the meal/dinner corresponds directly with the perception of the quality of this invitation in general: Fast food makes even an excellent ‘location’ felt cheaper. And vice versa, a superb dish makes a park bench a palace ;-).
I hope this makes any sense? As a matter of fact, I try to elaborate the whole analogy for my site (in German). I hope you don’t mind.
Thanks Raimund. And no worries about being late. I’ve been late to quite a few things, including replying to your comment. My bad for taking so long.
Interesting way to expand the analogy. I hadn’t really thought about it beyond the single designer/client relationship. I like the idea of the quality of the food corresponds to the perception of the invitation. It explains context.
Feel free to elaborate on your site. I’m glad you like the analogy enough to want to elaborate.
So, we’re both late to some shows, nice.
Some days ago I discovered an article on ALA, may be you haven’t read it already:
“The Culinary Model of Web Design”
Beneath other things I think it enriches the analogy even further. Quote: “Even a starred chef won’t be able to cook a proper dish with low-quality ingredients. Don’t expect a web designer to do wonders without great content.”
I’m even late in replying to your comment. Maybe I need a watch.
I did see that article, but for whatever reason it didn’t stick with me. I wonder if I accidentally marked it read in my feedreader. I remember the title, but not much of the content.
The ingredients is a nice addition. You know the more I think about it, it’s a pretty good analogy. we have to make our clients aware of the ingredients thing. Maybe we’ll get better content and get it sooner in the process. 🙂