No, Web design is a core competency for the network economy , so you need to build up your own organizational knowledge in the area.
For an Internet-focused company, the Web is the primary way it communicates with customers : the Web design takes on a role far beyond any advertising campaign or marcom brochure. The Web design implements the business model; sometimes it is the product itself. The site plays the combined role of the company's sales force, storefront, delivery system, customer support and service program. Considering the strategic importance of the Web design and Web usability for your ability to interface with your customers on the Internet, outsourcing is a bad idea.
Web projects are sufficiently different from traditional projects that all companies invariably make the same mistakes in managing their first Web projects. As long as projects are outsourced, very little organizational learning will take place in your own firm, and so you will be doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again. By taking primary responsibility for your Web projects, you will learn how to do better the next time instead of simply paying another company to build up these skills.
In particular, you need to maintain control of, set directions for, and learn how to effectively execute :
- Internet business models
- online services that customers will want to use
- information architecture
- overall site look-and-feel standards, templates, and navigation
- usability processes with a tight feedback loop between user needs and site design
It is hard to attract and hire qualified Web staff, so while looking, it certainly makes sense to outsource urgently needed tasks. It may also make sense to outsource special projects that exceed your in-house resources or require skills that you don't yet have. Even in these cases, you need to maintain responsibility for the overall strategic direction of the design.
It makes sense to get advice from strategic consultants as long as you maintain control of your own destiny and future on the Internet. As with any type of senior consultants, there is great value to be gained from the broader perspective and insights of a seasoned expert. But no consultant can tell you how to run your business on the Internet: nobody knows for sure at this time. Also, you wouldn't want to have a consultant take charge of the project, just as you wouldn't hire a consultant to serve as CEO. The consultant is your sparring partner, not your management.
Even though your basic Web design strategy should stay in-house, many parts of a Web design project can be outsourced:
- Usability: Partly
Usability engineering must be tightly integrated with development engineering for a project to be successful. Indeed, integrating ever-faster user feedback loops into your Web development processes is one of the key ways to achieve major improvements in site usability. Only when usability specialists participate in every project meeting and give feedback on every major design idea do you get a perfect Web presence.
Thus, full-time usability staff should be part of every Web team. Also, the company's overall usability direction and methods must be managed by an in-house usability strategist . It is perfectly fine to get outside expert advice on this strategy in order to fine-tune it or ensure that it is leading-edge. It is also very useful to request design reviews from outside usability experts since their fresh eyes often provide a perspective that is impossible to gain from the inside.
Finally, many specific usability activities can be carried out by outside contractors as long as they are managed by the usability strategist as part of the overall usability methodology. For example, it is often easiest to outsource a user questionnaire to a survey firm and to have a focus group company recruit usability test participants.
- Illustration: Yes
- It is nice to have a few illustrators on staff to design graphics for breaking stories or complex information that is hard for outsiders to understand. But most illustrations can be outsourced to people with visual design talent. In fact, a site often needs so many different styles of illustration that a small in-house staff of artists will be insufficient.
- Writing: Maybe
- In principle it is easy to outsource the writing of specific stories, product descriptions, press releases, and other textual content. Professional writers do not need to be on staff to write a good set of pages. The main problem is that the required writing style for the Web is very different from the traditional writing style for paper publishing. If writers move back and forth between writing for online and for print, then print style will dominate their work and their Web pages will have low usability. Thus, there are great benefits to having full-time writers who write solely for the Web.
- Copyediting: Yes
- As long as you have a single style guide for your site, there is no reason why an outside copyeditor cannot edit pages to comply with that style.
- Translation: Yes
- The linguistic aspect of creating an overseas site should be outsourced to professional translators. Since translators are not skilled in interaction design or usability, it will be necessary to subject the translated site to an international usability study which can be outsourced to a local usability specialist (but should be managed by the in-house usability strategist).
- Software development: backend Yes , business logic No
- You should not implement your own operating system, database, HTTP server, encryption software, or programming and scripting languages. Similarly, it is best to outsource standard back-end software that does not determine your business processes or customer relationship. Examples include credit card verification (and other payment systems), inventory management, and search engines (though you may want to design your own user interface to the search engine's features, focusing the user on those features that help using your site). You do need to keep control of your business logic software since that is the embodiment of your business model on the Internet. For example, if you implement a frequent-user bonus program, then you want to have control over the rules used to decide what customers gets what benefits.
- Server hosting: Yes
- Response times are of utmost importance for Web usability, so the closer your server is to the main Internet backbones the better. Often, the best solution is to host your server at a well-connected datacenter rather than trying to pull enough T-3 lines into your own building.
See reader comments on this Alertbox: what types of ecommerce business model my advice applies to; the need to retain independent Web development companies.