Before you start...
Are you thinking of engaging the services of someone to design or redesign your website, app or other digital property? Read on for some honest and helpful advice for getting the best result. At the end, you will also see a link to download the design brief template that we typically use here at Gecko.
Why write a design brief?
Well, you don’t have to, but it makes a whole lot of business sense if you do. Just as you probably wouldn’t be that relaxed about a builder remodelling your house on the basis of a quick chat, it benefits all parties involved in a digital project if there is a well thought out and agreed briefing document to refer to. It’s about getting things right, and a good designer will care about that as much as you do. We all want to avoid the “that’s not what I asked for” scenario. Whilst ideally you’re aiming for something bigger than a post-it (or fag packet if you’re old school) it doesn’t have to be a massive document. In fact, designers like me will thank you for keeping it succinct.
So, who are you?
Unless you already have a relationship with the team you are briefing you need to help them get to know you and your business. A little bit of background history that explains who you are, where you’ve been, and where you want to get to. This will probably be the easy bit if you are truly passionate about your business. So just go for it, imagine the designer is a psychiatrist and you’re sitting on the couch ready to pour your heart out.
Why are we doing this?
As a project gets moving, taking one turn after another, it can be all too easy to lose sight of its actual reason for being. Therefore it’s good practice to capture and document some solid objectives. Perhaps you are launching a new product and need a website that clearly communicates why people should care about it. Maybe you need to review and improve the usability of your existing e-commerce process to reduce the number of people dropping out. The more detailed and tangible the objectives the better. The aim of the game is to make explicit the outcome(s) that would constitute a successful project. As with all parts of the design brief, it’s important to be clear, not vague and to be wary of statements that might be too much open to interpretation.
Who is the end product for?
This is one of the most important pieces of information to impart to a designer. No digital product or entity exists for its own sake. It is there to be accessed, explored, used and abused by people. Who are these people currently? Who are the people you’d like to attract more of? Establishing a clear picture of the intended audience can help to steer the design in the right direction. It gives us the basis to make design choices for solid reasons, rather than just subjective preferences. If you are very organised you may already have some juicy audience research and detailed user personas to share. Don’t worry if that’s not the case, a gut feeling for who your audience might be and what they might like is a good start.
Who are your competitors?
Unless you are in the enviable position of being incredibly niche, then you are likely to be amongst at least a handful of other companies and brands offering similar services to similar people. Some degree of analysis of these competitors provides good nourishment for a designers activity. Don’t necessarily worry about conducting a detailed competitor analysis yourself (although you might find that useful), but at least provide the names and URLs that will allow your designer to do their homework.
What does good look like?
Ever find yourself staring at a competitors website thinking ‘I wish we looked like that’? Don’t be too proud to admit that your competitors are doing something online that you are insanely jealous of. Instead, be inspired by it. Recognising someone else’s successful positioning is a good starting point for understanding where it is you want to be. Perhaps there is a particular component or aspect of a website or app that delights and impresses, in the way it looks or works. Maybe it is the language and tone of voice that floats your boat. Simply note some examples you like, and the reason you like them. This is not about copying the kid next to you. Nooo no no. It’s actually more about interrogating what’s out there and understanding what’s working. What are the trends worth embracing. Who are the innovators? How can we be on a par with them if not better still?
Try to lay out the scope
This could be the least exciting part of the brief, and may ultimately belong in a document of its own, fashioned after some lengthy discussion to figure it all out. However it is presented, some degree of nitty-gritty detail is useful to keep your designer on track. This is the place to start to define the scale of the project and help the designer understand all the specific requirements and expectations. What particular features should the end product include? How many different page templates will be needed? Also, provide some idea of time constraints for the project.
Let's see what you’ve got
Most designers will relish the opportunity to create something completely new out of nothing. That said, if you do have existing assets, collateral and content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share whatever you can, even if it needs to be accompanied by an NDA.
Hey, you don’t have to do it alone
The last word of advice is that the design brief doesn’t have to be written by one person in isolation and presented to a designer as a fait accompli. It can actually be a much more collaborative exercise. Start by collating and writing down all the information you can and then pick up the phone to speak to a friendly Gecko (other agencies are available).
Get started now by downloading the Gecko Design Brief Template.