Web design goes global


Last month, we decided at Ksplice that it was time to redesign our website. We had a very clean website that we had developed in-house, but we’re finally selling our Linux security product directly on the Web, we’re beginning to seek greater publicity, and it was time to make a website focused completely on selling Ksplice-Uptrack-the-product rather than explaining Ksplice-the-company and Ksplice-the-technology. This time, we also wanted to get the design from a professional web designer, to see what they do differently.

In the olden days, I gather the way a company might have done this is to find a web design firm in SoHo (or maybe Beacon Hill or Brookline for us) and pay them $20K to make an array of gorgeous mockups on their 30″ Apple Cinema Displays in their loft offices, display them in a presentation for our admiration and our selection, and then turn out perfect XHTML.

I’m not sure it ever worked quite like that in the real world. But in any case it turns out that’s not the world we live in anymore—a good thing, too, because as a bootstrapped startup it’d be hard for us to justify spending $20K on a website at this stage. Instead of a firm, we hired a freelancer. Instead of SoHo, he lives in Sri Lanka. Instead of $20K, we paid on the order of $1K all told—and it would have been under $1K if we had started with a clear sense of how much things should cost in this market. And instead of a theatrically delivered client presentation in our office, the mockups were delivered in a string of emails as I communicated with our designer—let’s call him “Sajith”—over Google Talk to iterate through designs while North America was deep in the night. It’s not hard to see the logic that drives this new way of doing things: $1K is six months’ worth of per capita income in Sri Lanka. Sajith is making a nice living for himself on fees that even a cash-conserving startup like us can easily pay.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Post a project on a freelance job board—I used
  2. Wait for bids. We were running on our characteristic tight schedule, so I set a 24-hour deadline, and in that interval 26 people and firms offered to do the project.
  3. Pick someone. Most of the bidders’ portfolios were terrible, some qualified as mediocre. I went for the only one whose portfolio looked good.
  4. Get mockups and iterate. This was the next-to-longest stage of the process. I spent many late hours with Sajith as he presented a mockup image of the page, I made comments, he went off for a few minutes to implement them and I half-worked on something else until he came back, etc. One of the pitfalls: English language skills may not be what you hope for. I learned to give instructions in short sentences, and gave up on trying to get text right in favor of us correcting it later.
  5. Slice. This is apparently the word for taking a mockup and producing an HTML document, CSS, etc, that implements it. More on this step below.
  6. Integrate and polish. Our sites comprised a Django application with a handful of distinct pages, and our mostly-static main website with a large number of pages, of which we were only redesigning/adding a few of the most critical for selling our product. Taking Sajith’s static HTML and turning it into Django templates that behave in all the right ways, getting all the right text in place, and dealing with final improvements to the HTML and the CSS to the point where we were happy, consumed about three person-weeks of engineering time on our end. I knew there would be work to do here, but we were completely unprepared for how much work it was.

I’ll close with the episode in this process that really made me feel I was living inside a Tom Friedman book. We were humming along on our aggressive schedule, and one day Sajith failed to deliver on a deadline: he was to get a page of sliced HTML to me that morning, his evening. I pressed him as the hours passed—OK, I understand some details aren’t finished, can you get me what you have? We want to start on integrating it. Eventually he confessed that he wasn’t doing this work himself; rather, he had himself gone out and found a subcontractor, somewhere else in the world, who had promised to do the slicing, and the subcontractor had failed to come through. (Apparently he had done the job and then accidentally deleted it—someone needs to learn about source control.) After another failed subcontract attempt the next day, Sajith gave up and did the slicing himself. Maybe the outcome of Sajith’s experiment suggests we don’t live in Friedman-flattopia just yet.

Written by Greg Price

February 8th, 2010 at 5:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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4 Responses to 'Web design goes global'

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  1. I expirienced almost the same in the past. Working together successfully with people in Asia – India in particular – is 90% understanding intercultural communication.
    Sometimes it was really hard to understand their view on project plans or how to organize work.
    However once you get over this “stage” you could get high quality work at really low prices. And maybe even with a low stress level! ;)

    Alberto Audi

    5 Mar 10 at 9:41 am

  2. I really don’t think it matters to be honest. If you’re paying for work at that price you should expect issues along the way.

    My old company outsourced a lot to Asia, but they also had a translator, so I guess it was not as tough.

    Mark Jillop

    7 Mar 10 at 7:51 pm

  3. Outsourcing design and some of the coding can be good especially if you get a competent freelancer. The problem is that picking the right one usually takes a few projects to get right. I know freelancer and similar sites have a ratings area but I have found that even with some good ratings, you don’t always get a good job without a lot of back and forth emails. Tedious if you already very busy.

    GTP Web Design

    9 Sep 10 at 8:13 pm

  4. I’ve been approached by several companies in India that want to do design and development work for me but I have to admit that I hesitate because a) I can’t risk the quality of the work or the time if it isn’t right and b) Many seem to more expensive than you would expect sometimes 75% of what I could outsource it locally.

    Bret Webeau

    24 Oct 11 at 10:00 pm

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