You can have the most useful product in the world, but if your website looks like crap, people will devalue your service. That's why I decided to spend some big bucks on website design.
I've worked with a lot of design people over the years. It takes a special relationship to communicate what you want to a designer. No one comes to you with a blank slate and no one can read your mind. I've often found it useful to work with designers using the following steps:
1. Tell them about your product/service using lots of emotional terms
2. Show them a site that has the look and/or feel you're looking for
3. Once they deliver something, make sure your get all the source files
4. Redo the whole thing yourself
Now step 4 may seem a bit cynical, but in this high speed, immediate gratification world we live in, it is a total pain to call a design guy up and wait two days for a delivery just to make the smallest changes to your site. You should know how to graphically edit your site just like you can programmicly edit your source code. Why not just do it myself from the beginning if I'm going to redo everything? I've often found it easier to edit than create. I'm a whiz a photoshopping photos, but I couldn't draw a stick figure to save my life.
Which brings me to my latest find, Template Monster! I was reading TechCrunch and their little square sponsor banner caught my attention. I clicked through and signed up for a nice 15% discount due to it being their 5th year anniversary. Template Monsters has hundreds of pre-designed websites from dozens of professional designers. Many of the templates are ready to go for certain businesses (I saw a lot of nightclub and nail studio website templates for instance) with just changing the text... but I wanted one that I could manipulate for my idea.
I found it! Nice color scheme, sort of that Web 2.0 "jelly" look and lots and lots of white space for me to put my interface into. I threw it into my electronic shopping cart, but when I went to check out their system said my coupon was not longer good! I had just received it!
I went back into my email and, sure enough, the fine print said that the coupon was good from May 22nd to June 4th. Why in the world were they giving out coupons, especially through an expensive placement like TechCrunch, that are expired?
I'm not giving up my 15% discount, no sir-ee! I tried to use their chat system to speak with a support person... this went nowhere quick. The support chat operator threw me over to the billing chat operator who informed me that my coupon had expired (duh!) and then threw me back to the support operator who just ignored me. I decided that an email to billing and support at Template Monster with cc's to a couple of emails I had at TechCrunch (after all they were the ones advertising this discount which didn't exist anymore) was in order. A few hours later I received a now valid coupon from Ben Lee at Monster Templates. Thank you Ben!
Now I'll get to see how fun it is to try and get this material into Smarty templates.
Visual Design (Monster Templates): $52 ($61 - 15% Discount coupon)
Total cost of project to date: $59.99