The time taken to prepare a web site design brief and research potential providers is well worth the effort. Unless you have an in-house IT resource available, or are going to try and build a DIY web site, you should send your design brief to at least three different professional web site designers.
The six main benefits of developing a clear and detailed brief are:
1. To help you clarify and write down all your existing ideas in a structured way. This is a big help if you are going to start your own web site as it will help guide you and keep you focused once you get immersed in the project.
2. To give the people who will be building the website a clear idea of what you think you would like. This will allow them to add their expertise and give you a 'reality check' on anything that is not as easy as you thought or potentialally a bad idea. In addition, the designer will be able to build on your ideas with their own skill and creativity to deliver a website that is better than you imagined, and meets your objectives.
3. To give potential designers something concrete to quote on and think about. This will help them to see where they can add value to your business via your web site. More importantly it will help you to compare the prices and offerings of designers so you can choose the best option (eg an existing template design versus a completely fresh creative design).
4. To help you accurately plan and budget for setup and ongoing costs. As with any project, website and intranet development can cost more and take longer than originally expected. You will have a more realistic expectation if you have a clear brief.
5. To help your chosen design company develop your brief into actual design specifications that will provide a blueprint for what will absolutely be delivered to you. This will help guide the whole website development process and keep it on track.
6. To empower you through the design process to keep a degree of control on what is going on. While the designer needs to have freedom to do their work, you own the website. If issues or disagreements on what was quoted and what was delivered arise, you will be very pleased you had things written down clearly and can resolve the issue in a professional manner.
Key aspects of design to consider are:
Strategic: outlines the longer term 'big picture' business aims of the site. This can include elements such as vision, mission, marketing, branding, competitors, and measurement requirements.
Creative: guides how the website is going to 'WOW' its audiences. Elements can include use of imagery, design templates, style and tone of written content, and how to weave the organization's character and story into the site.
Technical: outlines the equipment and capabilities the user audience is expected to have to effectively use the website. This is easy for an intranet where you know more about how well equipped the user-group is, but may be trickier for a public audience. Elements can include internet access and connection speed; and PC factors such as monitor size, processing speed and software.
Functional: outlines what the website will deliver to visitors in terms of the 'user-experience'. Elements include personalization features, time-saving features and features for sharing information. It is important that non-technical staff are involved in this process so that the focus remains on the audience and not just the latest features in the world of web design that may not be relevant for certain audiences. Functional requirements are also more important if you are doing a diy web site build yourself as you will need to be sure you have the personal skills to build what you want.
The guide below can be used as a template to help you develop a comprehensive design brief. It will give you a good structure to start with and build on if required. For each heading add in as much relevant information as you can on your current business situation and the needs you have of your new web site.
Company Background: (Company size, history, experience, culture)
Products: (Description of products / services, uses, packaging)
Unique Selling Points: (how you differentiate yourself from competitors)
Current Sales and Information Delivery Methods: (eg retail outlets, direct mail, tradeshows)
Website History: (relevant information if you have previously had a website, such as why you want to improve it)
Objectives of new website: (eg take online orders, educate potential new customers, support relationships with existing customers, reach new customers, support distributors, etc)
Key messages: (you want to port on your site about you and your offers – eg we are professional, we are easy to work with, we are sophisticated etc)
Target Audiences: (as much demographic detail as possible such as sex, age, country, profession, recreational pursuits, income bracket, attitudes, familiarity with or knowledge about your offerings etc)
Specific offerings, features and information to deliver to the target audiences: (more specific details about what the website will deliver to meet the needs of your audiences eg webcam images of road conditions, exchange rate conversions etc)
1-2 Year Plan: (short term objectives of your site, eg raise awareness, get you on the internet next to your competitors, boost sales, support a marketing campaign etc)
2-5 Year Plan: (longer term objectives of your site, eg start selling online, target new markets, introduce new products, support distributors using a login system on your site etc)
Website Look and Feel Requirements: (to match your own image and your customers, eg simple, clear, professional, sophisticated, fun, old-fashioned, three column corporate page template, etc)
WOW Factor: any ideas you have to encourage or attract potential customers on your homepage (if not ask designers for their ideas)
Examples of sites you like: (features or effects you would like to incorporate into your site)
Website Features: (requirements you think you will need such as forum, blog, shopping cart, currency converter, application forms, website user statistics etc)
Main Navigation Titles: (if you can list below what you think the main pages of your site will be this will help a designer to understand what you want eg 'Home', 'Our History', 'Parts and Service' etc)
Number of Web Pages: (giving an approximate number of pages on your website helps a designer assess the size of the site and work involved)
Web Designer Requirements: to fit your own approach eg artistic, easy going, supportive, skilled in both design and technical aspects, fast turn-around of requests, corporate feel, small business feel etc
Search Engine Optimization and Marketing: do you want to get your website optimized and have an ongoing search engine marketing campaign?
Website Management: do you want to manage the site and update content, or do you want to not worry and have your designer do everything on an ongoing basis?
Future Business Growth: any ideas you already have about future features if you grow, such as translation, online selling etc.
Measurement: any ideas you have on how to measure your website success such as number of online sales, or email inquiries or brochure downloads etc.
Timeframe: note down when you would like to have the website up and running by.
If you want to DIY design your own web site then the above information will help guide you and keep you focused. If you want a professional business web site designer then providing detailed information in this format will help them understand your needs much more clearly and provide a more accurate quote. Either way, time spending planning now will reap rewards later.