Chee is a professional web development studio celebrating its fourth year in Ashland specializing in WordPress, the most popular and user-friendly content management system worldwide. The company offers services that range from basic to highly customized websites, for clients here in the valley and around the world. Local clients include eMyth, Rogue Valley Symphony, Friends of the Animal Shelter, Mikota Photography, EcoNest and Jovick Construction. How can one sum up the work of Chee? Sophisticated, elegant, fun and beautiful; and though most of us can’t read the source code Lars assures us that “Code is Poetry” and that the back-end supporting software is just as elegant as the front-end design. I sat down with Lars and Jenica, the studio’s co-founders, to discuss their services, why they use WordPress, and their recommendations for those looking to design or redesign a website.
Please introduce us to Chee.
Chee is a web design and development studio that specializes in the WordPress platform. Our in-depth understanding of WordPress means that the sky is the limit to what we can do with it. We create sites and applications from scratch for large corporations, or help small businesses and solo-prenuers get started with a premium theme. We also help other graphic designers and teams convert their designs into functional sites. Our expertise in WordPress and web standards, combined with our understanding of designing for the web, allows us to help a wide range of clients with a variety of needs.
You mentioned “web standards.” What are they?
You know, the web is still a very new technology in the grand scheme of things, even though it’s intrinsic now to our society. Unlike, say, building a house, the web has lacked a true set of standards when it comes to the “proper” way to build a site. The Web Standards movement is spearheaded by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), which is a collection of companies such as Microsoft, Mozilla, Google and Yahoo, attempting to bring a set of rules and “codes” that a developer should follow when building a website. At Chee we constantly educate ourselves to stay up to date with the latest standards. The benefit to our clients is it ensures the site is “up to code” with the latest technology at the time, helps Search Engine Optimization and also takes advantage of some of the latest features, such as responsive/mobile design.
It’s a funny thing for people to think of code as something akin to the written word, but that’s very much what it is. WordPress’ slogan is “code is poetry.” To me, an attractive site with poorly written code is like finding a book with a lovely cover, but that’s barely readable past the first few pages. Good code is structured, commented, formatted and it flows, culminating in a website that performs beautifully. Bad code is messy, hard to read and has errors, which ultimately lead to poor or broken performance, and often requires a complete overhaul in a short amount of time.
Lars, tell us about your experience of working in the web development industry.
Getting into the web industry was a natural and organic evolution for me. My background is in all things tech; from repairing my own computer and experimenting with Photoshop at age 12, to networking buildings in my home town of San Diego, to finally finding my passion when I learned web languages (HTML/CSS/PHP/jQuery). All this knowledge has been cultivated through positions I’ve held, and is predominantly self-taught and refined through experimentation.
Jenica, tell us about your role at Chee.
When Lars first started experimenting with web design his passion was evident and I found I loved providing my suggestions and feedback. I came up with the idea of starting our own business; holding the vision of the type of business we wanted it to become, while putting in all the practical groundwork to bring that vision to reality, such as creating the business’ brand, systems and strategic objective. In addition, though I never wrote a line of code, I was very instrumental in creating our web design projects, from mapping out the design’s layout to strategizing its content. Lars focused on educating himself on development and providing top notch solutions to our clients. Together, we built Chee into a very successful company working with clients all throughout the U.S. and Europe.
Jenica, did you find that you needed to work with other professionals to fulfill your vision for Chee?
Yes, as we grew I encouraged the cultivation of relationships with other professionals who we subcontract with, such as Programmers and Brand Specialists. These experts became Lars’ trusted expanded team, helping him fulfill all sorts of projects for clients. As time went on Lars and I decided we wanted to start a family and didn’t want to have our family environment be consumed with business. When I became pregnant I gradually stepped away from working with Lars on project fulfillment, knowing that the great professionals we had connected with could fulfill any need that came up. In late May we welcomed our daughter Amelie to the world. Now, I no longer work day to day on individual projects, and instead I’m focused on our little girl and pursuing a new passion that I’ve found since becoming a mother. I’m still involved in overseeing operations, marketing and creating systems that guide the greater vision for Chee, while I trust the project fulfillment to Lars and the team we’ve developed.
Your work conveys a sense of fun, elegance and precision. Are there certain inspirations from where you take your work?
We were always fans of great design, from a clever logo to a beautiful website or a creative user experience. We looked towards the big players in the industry; the ones creating the truly leading edge websites for really great companies, like Happy Cog who designed Zappos.com and Ben & Jerry’s website. We really wanted to bring that level of quality, both design and functionality, to the small business. Obviously, it’s not the same playing field, but we strive to bring the same essence of quality, originality and integrity.
You provide three types of web services for those seeking a WordPress website. Can you introduce us to those?
Absolutely, we offer three types of WordPress development to meet three very different types of clients’ needs. One category is complete websites integrating design and development, for clients who are looking for us to take them through a comprehensive design (or typically a redesign) of their company website. For this service we begin with a Discovery Session in which we learn about the client’s business, customers, needs and goals. We mock-up and design the website, provide content strategy, and develop WordPress’ content management system to meet their individual business’ needs. A second service we offer is theme customization. This is a budget-friendly option perfect for businesses and individuals that are comfortable with picking out an already designed premium WordPress theme and having us customize the chosen theme to match their desired look, feel, and functionality. Finally, the third type of service we offer is purely development, for which we work directly with graphic designers, individuals who already have hired a designer, or the marketing department of businesses. In this case we convert their existing design into a fully functional WordPress site.
What is the price range that one might expect to be in for each of these types of service?
Theme customization is our most affordable solution, starting at just $750. Our complete sites begin at $3,000 and go up from there depending on the level of design and functionality that the client desires. For development only we’ve deployed small fixes for $400 and large custom solutions for $15,000, and everything in between. Web design and development can be a costly and confusing arena for people so we try to make this part as transparent as possible for our clients, with detailed deliverables that spell out exactly what they’re getting for their money.
Greenstones, a Swedish Eco-retreat, hired us for complete website design and development and they needed their website text to be readable in three languages. The catch was they did not want to use any of the out of the box plug-ins for language conversion because they don’t accurately communicate the translated languages. We developed a unique implementation of a WordPress multilingual site that allowed their in-house linguist to write all the content for each specific language they needed the text to be available in (Swedish, German and English).
What are the key factors to consider when comparing options and choosing WordPress as a development platform?
We are big believers in the right tool for the right use. WordPress has the ability to fit a lot of uses, but it has its limitations in terms of scope. For example, it wouldn’t be a good idea to run a large ecommerce cart with 2000+ products with it, or a network of hospital websites; it just doesn’t have the capability to do it efficiently where other platforms would be a better fit. That said, WordPress is running over 73 million websites worldwide, so it fits the bill for a large number of businesses and individuals. The three reasons why we think WordPress has become the most popular platform are: first, it’s extremely flexible for developers to create plug-ins and add-ons, extending its longevity and survival. It can become a Shopping Cart or a Social Media site by installing an add-on. Second, it’s extremely easy to learn for the end-user. Updating your site can feel more like editing a Word Document than it does a website. Other platforms are not as intuitive and can frustrate someone who isn’t technically oriented. And finally, it’s got an amazing development team behind it constantly improving it on a rapid basis and always keeping it at the leading edge of the industry. The entire source code is “open source”, which means every line of code that runs WordPress is available to the public, which makes it easier for developers to expand on.
Obviously you have been working in the business for quite some time now. What are the best tips you can provide for getting the project done right the first time?
The clearer you get on your vision and messaging before you start, the more likely the end product will be in reaching your business and marketing goals, especially within your timeline and budget. Speaking of budget, we find some people make their decisions based purely on finding the lowest bid. We’ve seen this backfire many times because you pay for a website that either requires a bunch of costly “fixes”, has ongoing fees associated with it that weren’t clear upfront, or simply does not perform as it should and/or never gets completed. We’ve heard all too often from past clients that they hired someone to get a project done, only to find out they actually did not have the technical knowledge to complete it (and it was expensive, to top it all off). Finding a company you can trust to do the job and that you really resonate with (both the work and the people) is very important, since you will be investing in their work and potentially working together for quite some time. Ask for references! Make sure you feel understood and that you understand what will be provided initially and over the long haul.
We spend a lot of time with potential clients to get a bird’s eye view of the project, as well as get the nitty-gritty details before presenting a variety of options and ultimately finding an ideal solution that matches their vision and goals. Then, as we work together we walk clients through the process of when and what type of content to supply, messaging that we think could benefit them, or functionality that could make life easier for them. We put ourselves into their shoes, and the shoes of their customers to find the best user experience for all parties.
Lastly, what are the next steps for starting a project with Chee?
The first step would be to visit our website at http://goodchee.com. Take a look at our portfolios (both design and development only) and see if you think we would be a good fit. If so, give us a call or fill out our contact form and we’ll chat about what kind of site you’d like to build and how we can help.
Chee Studio LLC
320 E. Main St. Suite 209, Ashland