We have some really fantastic clients here at LevelTen and have worked very hard with them to explain how web development works. We find though that there are many people that just have no idea what the process is about. Over the last couple of years of working with a fantastic team here at LevelTen, it has occurred to me just how similar building a website is to building a house. Turns out this analogy helps a lot in explaining what we do and how we do it. It also helps set expectations along the way.
If you were to start building a house today, would you start by hiring an interior decorator? Of course not! You also wouldn't ask them to design the structure of your house and yet this is often what happens when building websites. It is important to gather together all the right people necessary to build a website just like when building a house.
General Contractor/Project Manager
First there is the general contractor. For a house, he is the main contact that you, the customer, will have with all of the other people building the house. You may talk to the other people but at the end of the day he is the one responsible for the whole project, and to make sure that everyone has what they need and works together. At LevelTen we call this person the Project Manager.
Next up you would probably go talk to an architect to design the house. What's interesting at this point is that no one is really talking all that much about the color of the paint on the walls and which pictures go where. Generally you are just trying to get an outline of the house, which rooms go where and how big they are. Then there is the engineering of making sure everything is livable and works right. At LevelTen, this is the Information Architect/Wireframers we have. Their main job is to talk to the client, get a good idea of the breadth of the project and then design the whole thing so it will work.
It is really important when talking to an Information Architect to make sure that you don't leave stuff out. Could you imagine getting near the end of building your new house and then remember that you wanted a media room right in the middle. How much would it cost to squeeze another room there? That happens all the time in the web world. If we don't know what is going on up front then we can't plan for it and it is going to take a lot of effort (read time and money!) later on.
The next person who builds a house is the actual builders. They lay the foundation, raise the walls and make sure everything the plumbing and wiring is done. In typical house construction this usually takes about 40% of the budget to get the foundation laid and the walls framed. This again is very similar to web development. At LevelTen we have a very talented group of developers who use Drupal to build some incredibly feature rich websites very quickly. These are the builders of your website. They are going to be building the content types and views (roughly like rooms) and make sure that all the modules are set up (roughly like plumbing and electrical).
It's at this point that a web shop that really understands Drupal is going to stand out. It takes a while to really learn how to build a Drupal website the right way. We've seen plenty done the wrong way. So finding someone who can do it right the first time is important. Would you hire someone who only has experience building brick buildings to build your wooden framed house? I sure hope not.
Interior Decorator/Graphic Designer
Once the building of your house is done the Interior Decorator takes over. This is the person that picks out the colors, bricks, furniture and finishing touches for the site. So much of this process is dependent on the preferences of the person who will be living in the house that this is a bit of an art to get right. Again we've got a couple of very talented designers here at LevelTen that can make amazing designs for websites. They will pick out the colors and pictures (kinda like furniture!) and make sure everything looks good together.
Of course once the whole design is in place you are going to need The painters and movers to actually get the house looking like the design. This is analogous to our themers. It actually takes quite a bit of work to get all the images, colors and everything set up so that a very dynamic site will always look good. This is one area where I'd say the web world is actually harder than the physical world. Mostly because everything has to be done in such a way that it looks good on hundreds of pages instead of just one room. Luckily we've got a great themer with an eye on detail and a complete understanding of all the different browser quirks.
At this point the house and website are more or less done but there is still one thing missing and that is the occupants! In houses people live in them, move around in them and are constantly doing things. With websites that is the role of the Content Authors. In order to have a really great website you need to constantly create and update your content. This is very much like the people that live and breathe in a house. You are going to need some people to live an breathe in your website as well. At LevelTen we typically don't do a lot of the content authoring since that is so specific to the company that it turns out much better when done by someone internal. We do, however, do a lot of training using the newly built website and how to best write for SEO and social marketing.
Security and Maintenance
There is one other group of people that is important for houses and websites but is often overlooked. They are the people who secure and maintain the house. Think of the security monitoring firm and the handyman. Websites need the same monitoring and maintenance. You wouldn't build a house, furnish it and then not look at it again for 3 years would you? Websites are the same way. You need to keep them secure and maintained. LevelTen also offers a support contract that handles this, which allows our expert team to keep your website secure, up to date, and working.
So next time you think about building a website, be sure to not just look for some pretty designs but find a team that has all the skills necessary to take your project through the full process to create a successful website. I can honestly say that our team here at LevelTen is the best team I have ever seen for building websites, and it is an honor and privilege to be working with them.
Photo Credit: wscullin