The trap of multiple vendors in website design and development

Summary: If you have a big or important website to build, do not – under any circumstances – built it using multiple vendors.

Problem: Your company needs a website of some kind and you have not enough resources or expertise to build it yourself.

So you want to hire a company that does that sort of things. What general options are there and what are their strengths and weaknesses?

The three general types of companies that could help are:

  1. Advertising agency
  2. Web consulting company
  3. General technology consulting company

Here is a little table that tries to capture their pros and cons:

CompetenceAdvertising agencyWeb consultantTechnology consultant
General technologyLowMediumHigh
Web technologyMedium/lowHighMedium/low
Web domainMedium/lowHighLow
Web strategyMediumHighLow
General marketingHighMediumLow
Visual designHighMedium/highLow

This is of course a very simplistic and subjective table. There are always exceptions and individual differences. Many companies cannot be put into these categories.

The choice is pretty easy if you need a simple website and can make compromises.

It gets harder if you need, say, a visually stunning website with a scalable back-end.

What do companies usually do in these situations (and sadly, often when they do not actually need to)? They buy the specification work from one company, visual design from another, and the actual implementation from a third company. In the specification or the visual design phase there usually is not yet an understanding what the technology platform will be.

This leads to multiple problems:

  1. Communicating design decisions becomes extremely time-consuming and error-prone.
  2. The implementation will cost a lot because the limits of the platform cannot be taken into consideration beforehand.
  3. Developers and designers get unhappy because their chances of making a difference is lower.
  4. The probability of success is lower – the forced waterfall model does not easily allow correction of mistakes made in the beginning of the project.

So basically: you will have a website that has some weaknesses (from a single vendor) – or you will own a generally bad website that cannot be fixed easily (from multiple vendors).

So what do I suggest?

You find a single company that has the best record of delivering great websites in all areas that matter to you. Usually that is a company, that specializes to web development and design. Remember that a lot can be fixed afterward, but it is harder, if the basic design decisions were wrong. Money should be reserved for that too. The more players there were in the development for the website, the more the corrective measures will probably cost.

A website is never done. It should be constantly analyzed and developed further. Perfection is a forever moving target. Don’t try to nail everything at once.

4 Replies to “The trap of multiple vendors in website design and development”

  1. Interesting post, and I agree with many of the points. I would like to highlight one more aspect: Finding a single company isn’t necessarily the right advice when taken literally. There are large software companies that offer all these services, but still cannot bring their act together. Finding a single team is the solution, but of course far less easy to do – comparing companies at least seems easier.

    My advice would be that once you’ve narrowed down your company choices to a select few, call each of them – separately, of course – to a meeting where they must be able to envision a reasonable concept of the site in a two-hour workshop (this should make them bring out their best of each art). If the team struggles in bringing their technological vision together with the actual design, they are not your team. If they come in burgeoning with new, good ideas and still manage to listen to you, sign the contact outright.

  2. I found you because I was looking for stuff on Web development. I am a linguist . I was born in Brazil and have been living in the US since the Napoleonic wars, it seems. Did undergraduate and graduate studies in the US (MA in linguistics).

    Here’s why I’m writing: I’ve recently volunteered to be the webmaster of, a Vietnam Veterans organization (I’m a veteran myself). Needless to say, I’m over my head, especially now that we are selecting a Website developer to create a new look for the Website. But I’m not writing to inquire of your services as a Website developer. That’s not it.

    I’m writing to offer you something–for free: editing of your English-language written materials. I know how to edit stuff to be published in English. Have quite a bit of experience in that, Chicago Manual and all.

    So I thought to myself: Aki Björklund writes about Website development, and I want to learn about Website development; it is also true that people who edit other people’s stuff learn quite a bit about the stuff they edit. Thus, if I had a chance to edit Aki Björklund’s written materials in English, I’d learn about Website development–which is what I want to do.

    ERGO: I decided to make you this offer. If you are interested, you may do a test: send me some small material, and I will return it to you, edited, with a plan on how to get the collaborative work going (using Google Docs, Skype, and the like).

    But of course, I realize this idea of mine may not interest you at all. If so, sorry for taking up your time, and I apologize for the intrusion.

    Regardless, thank you for your time.

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