At Bronco we redesign our own website almost yearly, in fact we’re in the process of doing it again. We (or maybe just our designer) get a little bored of the old one, want to make changes and implement new advances so that our website is a shining example of what we’re capable of. Even before clients see our portfolio they see the shop window that is our website and gain an understanding of the kind of work we can produce.
Some agencies however will turn to external designers for help in updating their own website. This might be simply through consultation but at times this can be the full design.
The problem I see with doing the latter is that the new agency website isn’t an example of the work that agency produces. In the shop window analogy it's like putting products in the window that aren’t available to buy inside. So in doing this do these agencies deceive their clients?
I posed this question on Twitter and got a range of responses.
@keanrichmond absolutely. Hiring another company to do work which you claim is your expertise?! Downloading a WP theme is almost as bad.— John Sanchez (@johnmsanchez) July 11, 2013
John's view was very much like mine was initially. If you outsource your own website to another designer, who won't ever be involved in client work, are you selling your services on the back of someone else's expertise?
@keanrichmond People would expect the same quality of design for their own site - if you can still offer that I don't see it as so deceptive— Zoe Piper (@zoepiper) July 12, 2013
Zoe mentioned that if the quality of the website is indicative of what the agency is able to produce then it wouldn’t be deceptive. Though the agency didn’t design the website it isn't beyond their ability to have done so and could then offer their clients the same level of work.
However designs aren't just about quality it’s also about design style which some designers will develop over the years as their own likes and dislikes influence the work they produce. Even if the same quality of work can be produced in-house the same style may not, even when a designer has an example in front of them
@keanrichmond Not deceptive. In fact, it might be good for a web design agency to be on the other side of the boardroom table.— Lee Baillie (@leebaillie) July 12, 2013
Lee observes that some agencies can benefit from becoming the client, gaining knowledge of the process or other techniques and processes from an external source. This makes perfect sense and this knowledge can then benefit the clients but I'm not sure this resolves the original issue of an agency selling off the back of a design that they didn't produce.
I've still not made up my own mind on this. I see the problems and benefits from an agency point of view. Hell I'd love to maybe see what someone else would do with the Bronco website. We actually outsourced our logo a few years back and it was really interesting to see the process and the result was fantastic.
However if it's not made clear that an agency website hasn't been produced by that agency then I can see the problems for a client. If they see an agency website and in part choose that agency due to the quality or style of that website then the client would rightly be miffed if the website they received doesn't display that same quality or style.
The solution is more about what happens after the client gets in touch with an agency. If they remark on the design of the website then the agency should inform them it was outsourced. If instead they hide this fact then I think that's deceptive.
You have to be open and up-front with a client and manage their expectations, ensuring they understand as early in the process what they will receive at the end.