2 steps to bett er projects

Bjarne Chris­tensen talks through a billing plan that works for your clients and your bud­get

net magazine - - CONTENTS - Bjarne (@Arni­i_dk) is cre­ative di­rec­tor and a part­ner at Stupid Stu­dio. His fo­cus is on adding value to brands with de­sign and cre­ative dig­i­tal so­lu­tions across plat­forms and tech­nolo­gies

Bjarne Chris­tensen talks through Stupid Stu­dio’s novel billing plan

We love our clients, and we love de­sign­ing a cre­ative online pres­ence for them. But a few years back, we didn’t know if we could con­tinue do­ing web projects at all. Up to two-thirds of our projects lost money, usu­ally due to pro­duc­tion cost over­runs. What’s more, mak­ing tem­plates felt like putting on a colour­ful Band-Aid with­out di­ag­nos­ing the prob­lem.

We didn’t want to be tem­plate ven­dors: we wanted to un­der­stand our clients’ busi­nesses in a way that would re­ally move the nee­dle for them and for their cus­tomers. So we stopped mak­ing tem­plates. We re­duced our Pho­to­shop use dras­ti­cally. And we de­vel­oped a sys­tem that makes us and our clients much hap­pier.

The cre­ative phase

We di­vide projects into two parts: an ini­tial cre­ative phase, which works on a fixed bud­get, and a sec­ond pro­duc­tion phase with an ag­ile bud­get.

The cre­ative phase be­gins with an in­quiry from the client and a meet­ing over cof­fee. On this free ‘cof­fee date’ , the client and I see if we have chem­istry and if the project is some­thing we’re ex­cited about. I ex­plain that if Stupid Stu­dio is go­ing to re­ally pro­vide some­thing of value, we need time to get to know the client’s busi­ness, strat­egy and mar­ket po­si­tion. A com­pany’s online pres­ence is of­ten its face to the world, and cre­at­ing it re­quires a part­ner­ship be­tween them and us.

When I frame it this way, the com­pany usu­ally says, ‘Of course you can’t de­sign for us be­fore you get to know us’. And the fixed price gives them a sense of se­cu­rity that the process won’t drag on for­ever.

Once the cus­tomer has signed on, I re­turn for a meet­ing with the team and ask my ‘100 questions’ – ba­sic in­for­ma­tion about who they are and where they’re go­ing. I take the an­swers back to my team, so we’re pre­pared for our first work­shop.

This is where it gets fun. We plan two half-day work­shops with the client, in which a de­vel­oper, a cre­ative, a de­signer and my­self (as cre­ative di­rec­tor) visit the cus­tomer with a ros­ter of games and mind­bend­ing ex­er­cises de­signed to get them to think about how their online pres­ence can serve their strat­egy and their brand.

For ex­am­ple, we ask clients to draw their own com­pany’s logo. A lot of grown-ups don’t draw any more, so ask­ing them to use this part of their brain gives them and us valu­able in­for­ma­tion about how they see their brand. We also ask the cus­tomer to bring in songs that ex­press where the brand is now (maybe a for­get­table 2003 Brit­ney Spears hit) and where they think they’d like the brand to go (maybe slow jazz or edgy elec­tron­ica).

The pro­duc­tion phase

Af­ter the work­shops, we cre­ate a de­brief doc­u­ment with ev­ery­thing we’ve learned. The cus­tomer has paid for this and it be­longs to them, which means that tech­ni­cally they could choose an­other agency for pro­duc­tion. Usu­ally they choose us, and we be­gin to build the site.

About 80 per cent of our projects are built di­rectly with code, in the browser and on the rel­e­vant plat­forms. This means we get very few of the sur­prises that used to re­sult in pro­duc­tion cost over­runs.

For the pro­duc­tion stage, we use an ag­ile bud­get. We list what we think will be the num­ber of hours re­quired for each task, plus an ‘un­cer­tainly fac­tor’ of 1 to 5, which gives us some el­bow room if tasks prove to be more com­plex than ex­pected.

Listing pro­duc­tion tasks by pri­or­ity al­lows for flex­i­bil­ity if an idea for a great new func­tion­al­ity ap­pears half­way through the build. It also helps the client see the fi­nan­cial reper­cus­sions of new re­quests from their side.

Our two-part billing struc­ture al­lows us to build bet­ter web­sites while mak­ing sure we get paid for ev­ery­thing we do. Our num­bers have im­proved, and our clients are happy too.

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