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Designing a website, or web application can be a fluid task, or a faltering task. Depending on the information you gather from the client will determine how development progresses.

Creating a design brief will greatly improve the prospects of a fluid development cycle. The information you gather from the client is one of the most valuable documents you will have. Many clients want 'one of those new things', or 'I want a touchy feely site'. Feedback from clients like this is not uncommon, and does little to help with the design and implementation of features.

The design brief will define the design, look, and feel of the site, and the functionality required along with any constraints.

In short, the most basic requirements of design brief are as follows.

  • Goals and Objectives
  • Budget
  • Schedule
  • Target Audience
  • Scope
  • Content and Media
  • Look and Feel
  • Must Nots

Goals and Objectives

Finding out the client needs for the project are a vital first step. Determine if the site is a redesign or reworking of an existing site, or is it a completely new design? If the client has solid ideas for what they want their site to do, that gives a good starting point. Perhaps the clients ideas are a little more vague and need to be developed also.

Budget

Many clients are adverse to providing a budget for a project as they fear Boyles Law. That is, the project will expand to cost of the project. A developer needs to explain to the client the need to tailor the services to give them the most benefit for their money. There may be some requirements that just cannot be met with the budget they have. Be prepared to meet some resistance at this point.

Schedule

This is crucial to good relationships with the client. The schedule is just as important as the budget, and can directly affect the budget if greater resources are required to have a project completed within a limited time period. Clients often do not understand the time required to design and implement a new site, or even to add a new feature. "Its just one button".

Often, a deadline is set for promotions which have been advertised, or trade shows etc. This knowledge is important as you can guage any flexibility and whether or not greater resources need to be applied to the project (See Budget).

Always be realistic with the client with schedules. The relationship will be much better with the client if they have advanced knowledge of how long a particular piece of work is going to take to complete, and if this does not meet with the clients needs, alternatives can be explored.

Target Audience

Who is going to see, or use this site or application? Who is the client trying to reach? If they are not sure, as who their existing customers are, and if these are the people who are to be targetted. Perhaps they wish to appeal to multiple demographics.

Scope

The first thing that comes to mind for many developers when scope is mentioned is 'Scope Creep'. And with good reason. Scope creep happens when a clear design spec has not been signed off. An example might be a contact form. The client says "I want a contact form", and so you develop a nice form with Name, Email, Subject, and a message box. However, when you deliver the contact form the client is upset that there is no Date Of Birth field. You now have nothing to back yourself with. No scope was created, so you add a Date Of Birth field, along with validations etc. Then the client says "There is no postcode field", and so on. Tensions with the client are raised and the possibility of a lasting relationship with the client are reduced.

By identifying the scope of works, clear definitions can be made as to what the client is getting for the budgeted amount. Should the client come with later additions, THIS IS BILLABLE as extra functionality. Make this quite clear to the client.

Content and Media

The client may have already had some material produced, eg: a logo and product images. By looking at these you can also get an idea of look and feel, eg: if product images are all Heavy Metal Tee-Shirts you will have a different design than if this was a Health awareness site.

If the client has no logo, or media, then you need to add resources to create these. Of course, you may be a talented GD and bill them yourself.

Look and Feel

The client needs to provide you with clear ideas as to what the site style will be. The client may envisage a nice pristine clear site whilst you may see a darker site to sell his Heavy Metal T's.

Ask the client for some examples of sites they like, and do not like. Also have the client look at the competitors sites.

Must Nots

Almost as important as what the client wants, is what the client does not want. Ask the client what they do not like about other sites. This will prove valuable in time saved removing objects from the product later.

Questionairre

Here we have assembled a few questions you may like to ask your client before starting.

  • What is your budget?
  • What is your deadline for features
  • What do you want your site/application to accomplish?
  • What features do you want your website to have?
  • Do you have a website already?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • What websites do you like and why?
  • What websites do you not like and why?
  • Who exactly are your target audience?
  • If you rolled all your customers into a super-customer, what would they be like?
  • How will you measure your success?
  • Do you have a style guide or any existing media?
  • How would you briefly define your product or service offering?
  • What is your differentiator
  • What keywords or phrases would “you” use to search for your products
  • What is the most important factor of your new website?
  • When do I start?