At the very start of my career I worked in a digital agency. As a web developer I juggled several projects at once, and the agency as a whole had hundreds of clients on their books at any given time. Whilst this fast-paced environment offered me great opportunities for career growth, one of my biggest frustrations was never having enough time to truly understand the nature of the business of my clients.
Since then, I worked on the other side of the table too, selecting digital agencies to deliver web projects for large organisations. This experience taught me that finding a good digital agency or a web developer is only half the battle. If you want a great website, you will need to play your part in making it happen – and it starts with a clear, thorough design brief.
The purpose of the design brief is to outline the aims, objectives and vision for the new website. It’s about putting all the ideas that your organisation has about the website on paper, in a way that provides clear direction. Design brief helps to develop trust and understanding between the agency and the client, defines scope and becomes a useful point of reference of what was requested.
So what should the design brief include? Every project is different and there is no magic formula, however here are some areas that get covered most often.
If you want your website to stand out, you need to articulate what makes your business unique. What sets it apart from the competition? What’s the overall business strategy? Breathe some life into the project: help the agency to imagine what it’s like to be doing your business, and what it’s like to be your customer. In addition to providing useful information, there is an opportunity here to light up a spark that motivates the agency to work on your project with drive and passion.
Following on from the overall strategy and business goals, what is the website specifically set out to achieve? Knowing what your success criteria are will help you to determine which requirements are crucial for the project and which ones can be de-prioritised, if necessary.
No one knows your competitors better than you do. Have a look at their websites. What works well, what doesn’t work? Don’t stop at just collecting things that you like and dislike, formulate a clear vision for your future website based on these findings.
Brand and content
Do you have a logo, tagline, imagery, style guide? If you do, include this information as an appendix to the brief. If you don’t, outline your ideas for the brand using mood boards.
The value that content plays in making your website successful cannot be underestimated. Content is your business asset – it’s how you come across to the world. It’s a good idea to have as much content ready as possible as early as you can. Will you write all your content yourself or will some of the marketing copy be written for you by the agency? Are you looking for search engine optimisation (SEO) services to boost your search engine rankings?
When gathering technical requirements, challenge your thinking about what is really needed using three levels of complexity (and therefore associated cost):
- custom development;
- out-of-the-box feature or plugin;
- none at all, or perhaps an alternative, offline solution.
The fact that something can be done doesn’t mean that it needs to be done. Link all technical requirements to your business goals so that you can make an informed, pragmatic decision about whether complex features are really worth the investment.
Hosting, support and maintenance
Building a new website is exciting. Maintaining it requires discipline and grit. Have you ring-fenced enough funding and resources for the ongoing maintenance? Are you looking to procure hosting, support and maintenance from the same agency or resource these activities in-house? Is there a natural end-of-life point for the website, and if so – how will it be decommissioned or archived?
Budget and schedule
An average rate for digital marketing agency services in the US is $167 per hour which translates into $26,720 for a man-month (according to Credo). Many established agencies have a minimum engagement figure as well which ensures that the agency is charging enough to cover the costs of running a business. If you can’t disclose information about your budget, it may damage your chances of attracting attention of well-established agencies. You can however allow some flexibility by providing a budget range rather than a fixed figure.
Last but not least, provide information about your desired deadline. Digital agencies prefer projects with a clearly defined schedule, because without clear timescales projects tend to drag on for far too long without sufficient focus and momentum.
Design brief is an opportunity to clarify your goals, decide what the minimum viable product looks like and articulate your vision to digital agencies or web developers. A thorough brief will help to attract good quality service providers, set the right expectations and establish trust. Investing time in producing a good brief upfront reduces risks later in the project, optimises your chances of success and sets you off to a good start.