One of the non-negotiable rules of our industry is this: before every great website comes a great website brief. Unfortunately, the inverse also applies – resulting in unexpected costs, missed deadlines and disappointment for all parties. We’ve seen both sides of this particular coin during our time in business, so we thought we’d share some of the qualities that the more successful briefs have in common.
1. Set clear, measurable goals
When we take on a new client, the first thing we always ask is “what are you looking to achieve?”. A clear set of goals for a project serve as a guiding light that can be used to direct decision-making over the lifetime of the project.
Really useful goals are exact and measurable, for example: “increase conversions by 20% within 12 months of release”. For most organisations, conversions are going to involve generating sales or enquiries, but that’s not necessarily always the case. A documentation project, for example, might have the slightly unusual goal of decreasing the number of pages a visitor navigates to per visit by making the information they seek easier to locate.
A project might have more than one goal, but bear in mind that each additional goal risks diluting the effectiveness of the design.
2. Put yourself in your users’ shoes
Once we’ve established what a potential client’s project goals are, the next question we usually ask is “who are your users?”. These are the people we need to be thinking about throughout the design process. Without a clear idea of who your audience is, it’s near impossible to produce a design that’s going to achieve your carefully considered goals.
One of the first steps we often take is to develop one or more ‘personae’ that describe core parts of your website audience, but, in all honesty, you’ll likely know your users better than we do.
Some fictional profiles of likely users of your site can help us write a more focused, relevant return brief. These profiles will probably include a brief description of the user, their motivations for using the website, how they’re expecting to use the website, and their desired outcomes. Ideally, these would be driven by Google Analytics’ demographics and engagement data from your existing website, if available, or as a result of thorough market research.
3. Consider technical requirements
Without a doubt, one of the most important aspects of any website design brief is the technical requirements section. Technical requirements can take many forms, but they’re all essentially about providing the designers and developers with as much information as possible about a project.
This information may take the form of product data, API documentation for services you wish to integrate with, or content management requirements. The key when writing this section is to be accurate and exhaustive. Getting this right can substantially minimise the risk to the project caused by unanticipated technical difficulties. It can also reduce your costs, as agencies have to factor in uncertainty when producing estimates.
You may find that you don’t know exactly what you want yet, especially if your website is more than a pure marketing website. That’s okay, and these are the kinds of problems that an expert digital agency exists to help you to solve.
A good web design team will probably identify requirements that weren’t captured in the initial brief, based on your goals and user personae. If your needs are complex, you may find it more cost-effective to start with a simple brief containing only the most well-understood requirements, and then develop additional features as part of a separate project once the first iteration is complete. This approach has the added advantage of reducing the risk you’re committing to in a single project.
4. Understand your budget
In an ideal world, you wouldn’t include your budget in your website brief – for the obvious reason that it tends to prejudice the estimates you receive in response. However, many agencies and freelancers won’t provide a return brief or estimate without having some idea of your budget, purely because it may not be worth their time to do so if the project is too large or small for them – or if the value of features required outstrips the size of the budget by a significant margin.
In our experience, the best way around this is to provide a monthly or annual budget. This might sound a bit strange for a one-off project, but bear with us. The thing about web projects is that they’re never really done, or at least they shouldn’t be – you should be constantly making improvements to your website to stay ahead of your competition.
For any web project, there are also long-term costs, such as security updates and hosting, to consider. Including these in an annual budget can ensure you aren’t forced to exceed your budget with costs you hadn’t anticipated.
The other more significant benefit this provides is to shift the conversation from project cost to project scope. This means the developers can work with you to identify the most valuable parts of your website and build these first, rather than cutting corners on some features to try to make their estimate more attractive.
On the other hand, if the budget is generous, the result will be that you’re able to make additional improvements across the year using the additional budget – should you wish to do so – rather than spending over the odds on a fixed set of features. There’s nothing to stop you apportioning more of this budget to the first few months of development to bootstrap the project quickly, as long as there’s enough left to maintain the project effectively for the long term.
5. Make sure you send a copy to us!
It would be a shame to spend all that time writing the perfect brief only to miss out on working with one of the North East’s premier digital agencies, wouldn’t it? Whatever your requirements, we can help you achieve your online goals.
We offer an integrated service, including web design and user experience (UX) expertise, as well as made-to-measure digital marketing and development services. Get in touch today by calling us on 0191 5111014 or heading to our Contact page to take the first step towards a new and improved online platform that drives conversions like never before.