[thelist] Advice on being a development team of one

Antigone Zero antigone0 at gmail.com
Fri Feb 3 21:12:57 CST 2006

I am developing a new website for a new non-profit institute at a
univerisity (I have also started a thread about our ill-fated logo design
contest, but I had so many questions that had nothing to do with the
contest, I am starting a separate thread). I work for a department at the
university where I redesigned, and currently maintain and do some light web
application development for the department's website. I write accessible,
validating, layout-table free code. My sites designs are (in my opinion)
clean and reasonably attractive, but not particularly sophisticated,
graphically, and definitely not 'sexy'.

My development technique up to this point has been to do what I thought was
best. This time, however, I swore I was going to do it right. I was going to
do all the things you're supposed to do, like figuring out who your users
are, designing around their 'deeper needs', and testing your site out on
actual users, early and often. However, since I am and have always been the
only web developer in my place of employment, my only notion of how 'real'
developers go about doing these things (and convincing others they should be
done) comes from articles on the internet (Adaptive Path contributed that
bit about the users' 'deeper needs'). Also, those articles tend to be geared
toward organizations that have more than one person working on the website.

The Institute pays the department that employs me for 6 hours/week of my
work until the job is done. There is no specific deadline for the site's
debut, so it is difficult to know what the budget for this site is, and
therefore difficult to know how much money is justified for things such as
logo design and user testing. I'm also finding it difficult to budget my own
time. I tried breaking down the tasks as I understood them at the beginning
of the project, but that breakdown was based on my old way of doing things,
and it fell apart quickly, partially because developing the structure and
content is proving more difficult that I anticipated, and partially because
of the failed logo contest. I have no idea how long its going to take, and
by extension how much it's going to cost.

I saw a saying somewhere that out of fast, cheap, and high quality you could
have two of those things. They seem to want cheap and high quality, and thus
far they have been more concerned about what it's going to be like than when
its going to come out. Whether they want cheap or high quality more would
depend on what the higher quality website can do for them, which they expect
me to tell them. The problem is, although I know in theory what the higher
quality website can do for them - get the word out about their institute,
impress potential funding sources, and allow people who are looking for
specific information to find it - I'm not sure how much they *should* spend
on that, how much value such an impressive-looking, throughly user-tested
site would add, as opposed to an okay-looking site organized with the users
in mind, but without any imput from those users.

So, does anybody have any advice? How do I define the site's value to the
institute? And how do I, as a web development team of one, develop the
highest quality site that they can afford and I can produce? How do I plan
and budget all of this? And how do I arrange user testing on a site with a
specialized audience that commands a high salary? If I test on users from
outside that audience how do I know if the results are valuable?

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