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Web Development Complexity: Defining Simple to Complex Projects

September 15, 2023

by Sydney Wess

It’s no secret that the more complex a project is, the more expensive the bill will be. However, it’s not always apparent which activities will make a project more difficult (and drive up pricing the most). Especially in technical areas like web development, it’s important to understand how your requirements will impact the bottom line. 

Budget is always front of mind while planning a web development project, but it can be easy to let things get out of control with scope creeping and incurring additional costs. Some services and tools demand a high level of expertise and, therefore, come at higher prices.

If you’re not a web development expert yourself, it can be difficult to anticipate which tasks are most complex in a web dev project (and, therefore, the most costly!). This guide will break down elements of simple, mid-range, and complex web development efforts to help you determine parts of your timeline and cost limitations.

Complexity Levels in Web Development Projects

  • Simple
  • Mid-level
  • Complicated

Simple Web Development Projects 

Simple web development projects are the most cost-effective but will yield the most rudimentary-level end products compared to mid-level and complex projects.

However, some projects are not simple through and through, they have a few simple components here and there. This is why we’ll break down simple projects into four identifying categories: overall project complexity, tech stack, customization and features, and client and user requirements. 

Simple Project Complexity

Project complexity includes the expertise and effort that goes into producing the agreed-upon deliverables.

There are a few signs that you’re engaging in a project with a simple level of complexity:

  • Static website with basic content
  • HTML and CSS for structure and styling
  • Minimal user interactivity and basic design elements
  • No backend developers or database integration necessary

Simple Technology Stack

A simple technology stack involves the frameworks and tools that take the lowest lift to execute and make successful.

Typically, the most straightforward tech stacks resemble the following:

  • Basic HTML and CSS static pages 
  • No need for backend frameworks or languages 
  • No JavaScript frameworks or complex third-party integrations
  • No-code solutions can be used for drag-and-drop, minimal lift development

Simple Customization and Features

Another aspect with major implications on how complicated a web development project ends up being is how much bespoke work is required.

Generally, a simple project will involve minimal customization:

  • Standard templates and layouts
  • Minimal or no custom graphics
  • Static content with limited updates

Simple Client and User Requirements

The quality of communication and collaboration between the outsourced web development company and the client help determine complexity and cost.

Strong communication keeps all parties on the same page, allowing for a simpler engagement.

  • Clear and well-defined requirements
  • Limited revisions and changes
  • Single stakeholder for direct and easy communication

Mid-Level Web Development Projects 

Medium or mid-level complexity web development efforts are not as static and straightforward as simple ones but they don’t have all of the customization very large, difficult projects have. 

Mid-Level Project Complexity

Medium complex projects prioritize user experience and performance without requiring clients to go overboard on costs.

Generally, these are the tools and deliverables of a mid-level effort:

  • Dynamic website with user interactivity
  • HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for frontend
  • Simple backend with PHP, Python, or Node.js
  • Basic database integration (e.g., MySQL or SQLite)
  • Basic authentication and user management
  • Responsive design for various devices

Mid-Level Technology Stack

Projects at this level are no longer just static HTML pages — there’s more interactivity and dynamism.

This calls for a slightly more advanced tech stack along with APIs and integrations.

  • HTML, CSS, JavaScript or jQuery
  • Backend using a lightweight framework (e.g., Flask or Express.js)
  • Integration of payment gateways, social media APIs, or maps
  • Use of a simple CMS (Content Management System) for content updates

Mid-Level Customization and Features

At the medium level, customers can afford a bit more customization, which is ideal for businesses that need certain functionality to operate.

For instance, e-commerce companies will require at least mid-level features in order to guide the customer through the buyer journey.

  • Customized design and UI/UX
  • Interactive forms and user-generated content
  • Basic e-commerce functionality (e.g., shopping cart, check-out, payment processing)
  • Blog or news section with CMS

Mid-Level Client and User Requirements

Web dev gets more difficult with complicated lines of communication and rounds of revisions.

This is what you can expect at the mid-level:

  • Moderate level of revisions and updates
  • Multiple stakeholders with diverse needs
  • User feedback and testing

Complex Web Development Projects

Complex projects will undoubtedly be the most expensive, but they equip companies with engaging products that attract and delight customers.

The sky’s the limit with custom features and integrations you can access. Consider the following tools and approaches if you have the budget for complex features. 

Complicated Project Complexity

Website deliverables can get incredibly customized and complicated, which can help companies create the bespoke experience their customers expect.

While it’s more expensive, these types of projects afford companies the following:  

  • Web application with multiple custom-built features
  • HTML, CSS, JavaScript (possibly using a framework like React or Angular) for frontend
  • Backend using a robust framework (e.g., Ruby on Rails, Django, or Express.js)
  • Advanced database integration and optimization (e.g., PostgreSQL or MongoDB)
  • User authentication with OAuth, JWT, or similar
  • Real-time features using WebSocket
  • Integration of third-party APIs and services
  • Custom data analytics and reporting

Complicated Technology Stack

Typically, web development companies need more robust technology stacks to create complicated dev products.

Among others, these technologies could include:

  • Advanced frontend technologies (examples may include React, Vue.js, or Angular)
  • Robust backend framework (examples include Ruby on Rails or Laravel)
  • Complex third-party API integrations (examples include payment processing, geolocation, machine learning)
  • Progressive web app (PWA) development features 
  • Serverless functions for scalability and success over time 

Complicated Customization and Features

With more complicated projects, web products start to feel much more like platforms than websites. Bespoke features apply to both design and development strategies.

Consider if your project needs an elegant approach or outputs, such as:

  • Intricate design elements and one-of-a-kind branded graphics 
  • Graphics, animations, or 3D elements made from scratch and iterated upon
  • Complex e-commerce capabilities, including but not limited to inventory
  • management, order tracking, and payment processing
  • Advanced user profiles and social sharing features
  • Algorithmic content personalization and recommendation systems

Complicated Client and User Requirements

As we’ve covered previously, accommodating several touch points at scale can take a lot of time, energy, and funds.

Therefore, the time it takes to facilitate the collaboration should be considered for web development projects, especially considering that their timelines tend to be longer than other service offering types. In your most involved web dev efforts, you’ll see:

  • Evolving requirements, frequent updates, and scope changes
  • Challenging user flows composed of multiple user personas
  • Extensive user testing and feedback loops
  • Convoluted compliance and industry-specific regulations (e.g., healthcare, finance)

Web Development Pricing is Determined by Scope

The scope of work in projects of any type is what will dictate project costs most. There’s plenty of wiggle room for you to adjust your scope of work to make it more manageable for development companies and, thus, more cost-effective for you. You just need to know what moves the needle.

Here, we’ve broken down project complexity into three tiers: simple, medium, and complex. While the difficulty and cost of an individual project will depend largely on company priorities and goals, these tiers should help companies identify areas of potential compromise to save money in their engagements.

How much does a web development project cost? Discover average web development pricing data on Clutch.

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