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Jeanne PinderJeanne Pinder
Jeanne Pinder is a seasoned journalist who worked for The New York Times for 23 years. She volunteered for a buyout in late 2009 to become a web entrepreneur and found ClearHealthCosts.

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Building off a platform of reports, databases, blogs and crowdsourcing, Jeanne Pinder and ClearHealthCosts have a mission to be the best online source of health care pricing. After launching a beta site CHC began reaching out to those that really care about the costs of health care: the 20- and 30-something women who are the chief health and wellness officers of their families.

Lessons Learned: It’s the Design, Stupid.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Web site design is really complicated. This is both obvious and not so obvious.

When I launched ClearHealthCosts, I had no experience in building Web sites or hiring developers. It's called on-the-job training.

Right out of the box, I got a bid of $20,000 to build the site. I didn't take it -- that would have eaten up the entire first grant that we won, and I would have been dead in the water.

I have a friend who did pay $20,000 for a web site, and he's happy with it.  (He works at a completely grant-funded nonprofit.)ClearHealthCosts

What  did I do? Hemmed and hawed, researched, thought, thought some more, and did a bunch of reporting. I'm a journalist after all. Then I decided to design it myself. How hard can it be? I've used the Web, I should be able to design for it.

Building it was another story: should it be on Drupal, Joomla, WordPress?

Sometimes in this world it seems like every step is a mistake. How many times has someone looked at you, a startup entrepreneur, shaking his head and saying "But you have to build it on Drupal." Or "Don't use green. Green never works." Or "Your business model won't work." All with the sense of complete certainty.

We get by with a little help from our friends: the consensus seemed to be WordPress. It's easier to find developers than on Drupal, and basically the entire world uses WordPress. Decision made.

But where to find a developer? One friend said, "Go on eLance." Another: "ODesk." Another: "Search on the 37signals job boards." Many said "If you find a good developer, let me know, because I'm looking too." One said sadly, "Good luck." Another: "Network like crazy." I did a lot of asking around, a lot of stewing, a lot of looking on the bewildering collection of resumes on eLance, and ODesk and 37signals. I heard a lot of sad stories of people who had unpleasant experiences.

Then came a stroke of genius: I asked my friend Tina to post on her Facebook page that I was looking for a developer. The first response: "Try ours -- her name is Jenn, and she's awesome."

Indeed, Jenn Schiffer is awesome. She's flexible, creative and thoughtful about WordPress. She's also funny. She likes cats. She's taught me a massive amount of stuff about WordPress and design and development in general. She believes in what we're doing. We are so lucky to have her ... words fail me.

So, we put the beta Web site up, we're cooking along, and then it becomes clear to me that the Web site that I so carefully designed is not functional for much of anything other than as a proof of concept, a sort of business card site, a collection of interesting ideas. That's probably not surprising: I'm not a Web designer. It has some interesting stuff, it's just not clear where to find it, what to do on the site.

So it's time for a redesign. Jenn says she'd rather not do the design part, so I had to go looking. Same process: hemmed and hawed, researched, thought, did a bunch of reporting. And hired ....the friend of a friend, Jeff Mignon at RevSquare in New York, who's  got 25 years of top-flight design experience under his belt. He's awesome: flexible, creative, thoughtful, funny ... and he believes in what we're doing. We are so lucky to have him and his team, Damien and Elisa especially. Words fail me.

And now, if anyone says: "Do you have a good developer?" I have answers.

I am also about to have a newly redesigned site: here's a peek, but shhhhh, because we're not launched yet. Come on over to and sign up for our newsletter, where we'll announce our rollout.

   • Posted by Jeanne Pinder on 05/22 at 09:25 AM

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