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Realistically, how long would should it take to design a website with a couple pages, plus ecommerce? A couple weeks, a month? A client wants me to do a whole site in 3 weeks. It's a lot of info and I wonder if I'm just setting myself up for failure or sleepless nights. I have a light workload now though.
make a task list and calculate the time, and there will be your answer.
How many other projects do you have going on?
What is their priority?
Have you thought about building in presentation and revision time?
One of the good things about a difficult deadline is that you can start making some executive stipulations as the designer. For instance, this will only get done as long as there are no massive changes and there will be one round of revision. Also, because it's rushed, you'll need 2/3's up-front and 1/3 upon completion.
Scarcity of time and a high-demand to produce can really work in your favor here.
is it a site for Warren Buffet's pinocle league?
Depends on the client and the exact details of what they want. Its should be possible in that timescale but not if they are going to keep wanting things changed and moving the goalposts. If you've worked for them before you'll know. I've worked for some people I'd be happy to do this for and some I wouldn't as I know they work by seeing something on the screen in order to work out what they actually want.
A couple of pages and a shopping cart should take a couple of days.
Or by design, do you mean design and development?
This can be easy or a total nightmare, especially if you have a new client who doesn't understand this is more than a "cut-paste job"
If it's somebody very flexible and open, you can probably do this in 3 weeks by customizing an e-commerce package you've already worked with before, but if you're up against a "clean sheet" client brainstorm about how to "revolutionize the category" then that should be 6 months, not 3 weeks.... beware of client expectations!
Schedule time depends a LOT on the client feedback mechanism, and how you handle random ideas and "that's not quite what I was thinking", as well as the client's level of experience and personality and response time.. i.e. within same day or next day or schedule is totally off.
How you setup initial expectations can control the whole timing and schedule... if you make it clear that 3 weeks is a SHORT schedule, that this would usually take 2 months, you need some modifications of how you do things, i.e. only 1 or 2 initial mockups, and only 1 or 2 revision/correction sessions.
In order to NOT GET the infamous "that's not quite what I was thinking" moment, you have to have a very clear initial conversation about the clients :
1. business objectives
2. target audience
3. expected results
once you do that, you clearly explain why you made any aesthetic or technical decision based on your clear understanding of the business objectives, target audience and expected results.... it's not that you're "swatting down the customers ideas" but that you're "trying to stay on track and meet the deadline"
Also not that 3 weeks is possible only if you're customizing somethiing that already works.... and basically doing ONLY VISUAL tweeks, not concept changes/navigation/etc