How to Brief a Website Designer

How to Brief a Website Designer. Website Specification is Essential if You are to brief your website designerWebsites Cost a Lot of Money, So Correctly Briefing Your Website Designer is Vital if You Want Value for Money from Your Designer

How to Brief a Website Designer

Over the last ten years I’ve specified a lot of education websites. I’ve also reviewed a lot of website specs drawn up by providers. So How to Brief a Website Designer is now second nature to me; but lots of people struggle with it. Specifying the website is key to getting your site right, but it needs detailed and concise specification.

A lot of good web designers tell me that too many clients haven’t much idea what they want in a website except it should be a “good site” or a site like one of their competitors.

No designer can give you value for money with such an imprecise specification. The good ones will probe for detail but the unethical designers (and there are a lot of them out there) will rip you off by fulfilling your imprecise instructions at high cost (then blame you for not briefing them properly).

Website Specification Detail

In the last few years I’ve specified many websites and my experience is that a specification needs to be at least 30-40 pages in length to be detailed enough to provide a designer with sufficient information. And I don’t mean a document full of screengrabs of sites that are liked or disliked; I mean hard facts.

It is necessary to specify your customer profiles, the products and/or services you wish to offer, the Calls to Action you require to be followed and the apps, plugins and functions you wish to provide.  In most cases it is the function we wish to provide e.g. an appointment booking system, rather than the actual app or plugin to be used as the designer should have a more up to date knowledge of these and how they will interface with other systems and functions.

Google Analytics Can Inform Good Design

Ideally you will have been running GA on a previous site that will inform the designer of so many of the details they will need. If it is a new site you require then clearly this isn’t going to be available so you may need even more information about the key functions you need and the characteristics of your ideal customer.

Design Your Site From The Customers’ Perspective 

Far too often we design websites from the perspective of the website owner. This is wrong on so many levels.

For example I see many sites where it is very hard to find a way to contact the organisation except via a poorly designed email “contact us” system that is answered infrequently.  This is not any use to the user that is trying to book a restaurant table and wants to dine in the next hour!  Or someone trying to find your office and is lost, or is late for an appointment.

The customer needs a phone number and hiding it on the contact us page whose link is hidden in the footer is not going to endear them to you.  So think about their needs and put the phone number in a large font where it is easy to find. Personally I favour the top right hand corner of every page.

And if the customer wants to book something online, or pay for it online we should try to accommodate them; even if the finance department says it doesn’t suit them! We are not designing a site to suit the staff, it is for the customer.  Naturally there has to be some things that are technically impossible or that breach legislation if not done absolutely correctly; but these are few and we need to think customer at every move.

So that means we need to map the customer journey, and all the variations that it might contain, and pout those in the specification.

Write in Plain English

We aren’t writing a legal document or academic treatise when we write web copy. So ensure you use plain simple English that doesn’t contain jargon or superfluous sentences.

Google terms like “This course is for those ..” and you’ll get over 200,000 resuklts that really mean very little. For example ……..

This course is for those with an interest in hairdressing and beauty therapy.

As the course title is Diploma Hair & Beauty Level 1 that sentence adds very little to the page. So why bother to write it at all? Why not add some detail about the course or address some of the issues that students at this level face.  E.g. “If you are undecided whether to train in hair of beauty , this course will help you decide.

A Scrolling or Tabs Approach to Website Design

In many cases we need to put a lot of information on a page.  College courses are an example of this.  So should you include all the information in a linear format so that people have to scroll down the page to find it? Or should you use tabs?

Here’s an example that I specified for one college website.

Tabs make it easier to find information on a website


In a glance it is possible to see what information is available and to click onto it.

Decide on which tabs to include by thinking about what the prospect needs to know and the barriers they may face. for example if childcare is an issue for a lot of students on this course then add a Childcare tab.

The thing is you need to think this through before you specify the site. If you do it later you are almost certainly going to face more expense.

A word of warning. Some designers favour a linear page approach on the grounds that putting info in to tabs stops the google bots from accessing and indexing the information they contain. If your designer says this you really need to question their competence; if the tabs are designed correctly there is no problem. I’ve just taken a phrase from on e of the tabs above and searched for it on Google. It appeared right on the Google search page with a link that sent to straight on to the tabbed information.  QED.

How to Brief a Website Designer

The above is just a snapshot of what is needed when specifying a website or writing a RFP for procurement purposes. The process of defining and writing the spec can take weeks. If it doesn’t I would question the content. This isn’t wasted time tho

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