There are thousands of design and development shops out there, and when you first start your web or app project, it may be difficult to know what you should look for. So we put together a guide for how to pick a vendor to get your app off the ground and on the shelves.
Shop around and explore all your options
You wouldn’t buy a house after looking at one or two neighbourhoods. Make sure you shop around and explore your options a bit. There are not only thousands of shops, but also dozens of different models. Each of the various options have pros and cons, so it’s less about getting the best one and more about getting the best one for you.
The general shop structure includes:
Let’s look at these in a little more detail.
Single-function design or development
These are an excellent combination of extremely talented people (and thus end project) and a fast turnaround for what you’ve requested.
Single-function shops are also fairly agile, in a way. They can respond to changes within their area of expertise extremely quickly, and single-function shops tend to be a little smaller.
A partner shop is when the design and development team comes in and works closely with your existing team to achieve your goals. Partner shop projects can take lots of different forms. It can be a dev team coming in to help your UX crew turn their front-end ideas into a back-end reality.
It can be supplementary designers or UX pros coming in and providing extra hands to round out a strategic plan or a couple wireframes.
It can be programmers being brought in to take some work off your internal team’s plate so that they can focus on strategy, leaving the execution up to the helping hands.
The idea is that you know your needs and requirements better than any external team, and you have some internal resources you don’t want to waste. Whatever your configuration, and whatever your situation, a good partner shop will slide in and help you fill any gaps you’ve got until your project is done quickly and efficiently.
This is the least expensive of the development and design options. Development in particular is shipped frequently, often with one point of contact located stateside to act as project manager with the real development happening elsewhere.
While off-shoring development seems like it can save you some money, you’ll likely pay for it in time and revisions. Communication barriers between you and the developer, problems with time zones, and miscommunication as messages get passed down the line can lead to a very frustrating project.
Freelancers are the most agile of these options. They’re generally reasonably priced, they can respond extremely quickly, and they can be incredibly talented (hence why they struck out on their own). The flipside is that finding a good freelancer can be a mission.
If you do your project this way, make sure you vet the freelancer extremely thoroughly, calling previous clients with similar projects to you
if you can.
Finally, freelancers are a one-man band – they have a lot of different things on the go at any one time, so they’re not going to be a dedicated resource to you. If you have an urgent request or bug that needs to be investigated, there’s no back-up team to fill in. For some freelancers it’s fine, but some can really struggle to manage their time.
Ask all the right questions
Once you’ve shopped around a little and know at least which ‘school’ of development and design you want, then you need to narrow your options down to a shortlisted few. Here are a couple questions that you should be asking to help you narrow your search.
Can you point me to your previous apps?
Developers in particular should be able to show their app development experience. Ask them about it. For designers, most will have an online portfolio, just ask for the URL.
Do you have experience on Apple/Windows/Android?
Make sure you ask how much experience they have on the platform you’re building on. It’ll save you headaches later on getting someone with the experience you’re after.
How will you manage the project?
For this early in the qualification process, you’re probably not looking for a detailed plan. But what you do want is a pretty fast and clear answer, demonstrating that the designer or developer has at least thought about it before, if they don’t already have a full-fledged project management team.
If they hem and haw, that’s probably the same type of project management you can expect, with all the delays and frustrations that go along with it. Find out who’s liable for what – even though it may change as the project continues, it’s good to get a rough idea from the start.
Grill the final few
Now that you’ve narrowed your search to a final few, it’s time to really grill them about your specific project. And while quick answers are great, it might be worth giving them a few days to think through some of these questions. Because at this point you really want someone who’s going to listen, take on board, and respond with the right answers, not just respond quickly. So what do you ask them?
Can I get a comprehensive quote?
Before you get to here you’ll probably have a number in mind for what you want to spend. Tell the developer and designer! If you’re way off base, then maybe revisit your options.
So how specifically are you going to manage my project?
This time, ask them for details. Who’s going to do what? What programs are you going to use? Can they walk you through the how? Is there a buffer zone for unforeseen challenges?
Who do you call if things go wrong?
You’ll want a pretty clear map of when stuff is happening, what the stuff is, and who’s doing it before you sign any deal. You’ll also want to get together with both the design and development teams simultaneously at this stage. This allows teams to meet and organize amongst themselves.
Make your final pick, and get creating!
Have some more design/dev questions? Drop us a line and we’ll see if we can help (or point you in the direction of someone who can)