Web Project: Weighing Cost vs Speed vs Quality

Web Project: Weighing Cost vs Speed vs Quality

One of the most common issues that web professionals regularly encounter is the age old question of how best to meet your clients ever increasing requirements. While the technologies we use may change like the class of client we attract, the need to balance the three fundamental features of any project whether design, development or relative to something else must be answered. It is therefore necessary that we highlight the compromise between cost, speed and quality of service.

Web Project: Weighing Cost vs Speed vs Quality

Introducing the Principle

There is a common saying in business that is as true today as it was when it was first invented which states that in any project, your client should expect only two out of three between cost, speed and quality. While there are variants on the exact factors used and it may appeal to any industry, it’s of particular interest to web professionals due to the considerable amount of diversity we have to bring to each role, along with its own unique set of requirements and skills which affect your performance.

Introducing the Principle

Figure 1: Cost, speed and quality all go hand in hand, but you can’t expect the three at once!

While it may seem harsh to say that when someone asks for a website to be made, they can only expect two out of the three factors, it does make sense that a quickly and cheaply made product will lack quality refinements (for example). There will likely in all cases be exceptions to the rule but the principle itself has withstood the test of time and it’s with that intriguing level of relevance as to how we undertake our jobs which makes the decision as to which two you should focus on paramount.

The Value of Cost

Cost is quite simply one of the most direct aspects of a design or development project that will play a significant influence on the way in which a client or practitioners work will progress. If a client wishes to pay the lowest price possible, the incentive to produce a high quality product or design will be diminished and if you as the professional only have a small budget to work with, the amount of influence you can maintain while doing the clients work justice may differ from a well financed plan.

The Value of Cost

Figure 2: Sometimes, it’s worth taking longer to release things to get the project just right.

When accounting for cost in your projects, you need to account for the physical expenses that occur such as any payments you may invoke such as stock media, advertising, memberships, tools or the other practical elements which may influence your own workflow, efficiency and access to resources that may benefit you or your clients. On top of physical costs, there are also virtual costs that include time or effort which are a valuable commodity that link into the variables of speed and quality.

The Value of Speed

Speed is one of those factors we all envy, whether it’s the pace at which your design work is built to the ease of implementation a client can expect upon receiving the goods. While many of us in the age of the web have little in respect of patience even when it comes to loading pages, a project which lacks momentum or speed can prolong the opportunity for competitors to take control of your niche. Thereby aside from cost and quality, speed remains a commodity of significant value.

The Value of Speed

Figure 3: The speed of a projects turnaround will affect the care and attention being given.

When accounting for speed in your design and development process, you not only need to think of issues that may affect the end user which include the uptime and speed of services you pay for as well as file sizes, but the speed of which you can reasonably make any necessary creations within the expected time frame. Because even with personal projects we try to set ourselves deadlines, the way we often approach design or development can result in quick and dirty solutions (of sorts).

The Value of Quality

Quality is perhaps the most wished for item when it comes to a design or development project. We all hate seeing ugly designs and code which is so bogged down in un-semantic markup that it makes us want to weep, however the influence of quality will all take into account the cost in time, money and effort and speed (as rushed projects often lack refinements). The value of something of a high grade often leads us to spend more effort and money on getting things just how we would like them.

The Value of Quality

Figure 4: High quality work is usually worth the extra money and time you invest in the final result.

When accounting for quality in the process of building a website or service, the needs of a quick and speedy turnaround must be put to one side unless cost is no obstacle. The simple fact of the matter is that producing something of quality requires more time than most people expect or estimate for, and the need to resolve bugs or otherwise unconsidered variables can play their part. Therefore it’s advisable to determine how much polish you can afford a project within its other basic constraints.

Balancing the Figures

While all three issues are paramount to the professional’s process, the needs of each individual project will dictate the quantities of which you offer. Deciding which you will place the most amount of focus on will be determined by a wide range of factors and it’s likely that some compromise will be required to balance the needs VS the wishes however feasible they may be. It could even be said that each will bring its own advantages to a project if implemented with priority given directly.

Balancing the Figures

Figure 5: As a designer or a developer, you need to weigh up the importance of each in your work.

Whether you are working on a project for yourself or for someone else such as a client, the need to decide what goals are important to your design or development plans are a fundamental part of the realistic need to turn dreams into reality. Each thing you attempt to undertake within a project and every little feature your client requests will have implications on the three factors, and offering such a thought provoking option may allow you to better scope the practicalities which a project offers.

Wherever you work and whoever you may be, the need to balance these three core elements will probably have affected you to a certain extent on a regular basis. While it’s a noble practice to aim for all three whenever possible, it’s worth breaking down each project and analysing the impact all three may have. After all, you can’t expect a cheap service to go along with speed and quality, or speed to go with cheap and quality or even quality to go with cheap and speedy. Right?

Question: What do you personally place emphasis on? Do you manage to balance all three equally? How do you approach clients who want to have it all? Let us know your thoughts in the comment!

Alexander Dawson is a freelance web designer, author and recreational software developer specializing in web standards, accessibility and UX design. As well as running a business called HiTechy and writing, he spends time on Twitter, SitePoint’s forums and other places, helping those in need.


  1. / Reply

    You pointed very well here. One of the most important things it’s your designer skills and also to respect your deadline projects. It’s really important to weigh your professional skills, your designs quality and also to try to finish the projects before the deadline! If you are ok with these you can set an acceptable price for your services.
    If you respect these few and very important steps your clients will be pleased and also will recommend you because you work very fast and very high quality.

    • Nottingham,
    • September 7, 2010
    / Reply

    Great article, I agree with above comment too

  2. / Reply

    Great Article…
    thanks for sharing

  3. / Reply

    very detailed description you sharing in this article. thanks

  4. / Reply

    the article is So true.. THere is such a delicate balance in the work we do…

  5. / Reply

    I feel that quality should always be up to a certain standard. Perhaps less money/time gets you less bells and whistles, but it shouldn’t affect the quality of the product. There’s no point selling something that doesn’t work properly. I guess it may affect the design process though, when you can’t really give it time to simmer.

  6. / Reply

    Very interesting perspective. This is always a balancing act with projects. I agree with Jarkko on a defined standard regardless of budget or timeline, but all facets are a factor. Good write up.

  7. / Reply

    Thanx a lot nice post

    • David K,
    • September 9, 2010
    / Reply

    I’ve heard the “cost, speed and quality…pick two” mantra many times and it’s completely idiotic. It puts the impedes on the designer to manage the client goals. The client needs to manage their own goals and it’s the designer’s job to manage the outcome of the project.

    First off, if you’re a designer and are asked to sacrifice on quality – you should run, not walk, as fast as you can. If you ARE willing to sacrifice quality – then you’re a poor designer, indeed.

    Secondly, if time and cost are an issue, then the client needs to scale back the scope or wait till the their budget makes it less cost prohibitive to accomplish what they want.

    Putting out a half-assed website is poor business protocol.

    • Brian,
    • September 9, 2010
    / Reply

    Good article and interesting topic. I do have to say as a designer or a developer I don’t think you can ever sacrifice quality, at the end of the day your name is on the work and the quality is something you can control. I agree with David K, if cost or time is an issue, then the client needs to scale back the scope since quality will not be sacrificed. Setting upfront expectation with the client is also key, often times client’s expectations are unrealistic.

  8. / Reply

    thanks for sharing. good news.

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