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I’m Jacob Cass, the founder of JUST™ Creative. I’m a multi-disciplinary graphic designer, working with clients all around the world. My specialty is logo & brand identity design. JUST™ Get in touch.

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How to Effectively Pitch Your Website Idea to Designers & Developers

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This is a guest article contributed by Adam Costa*.

Recently, I invested in a start up company. Their business plan appeared solid, they identified a common problem and created a valuable solution.

Everything seemed in place… except for design.

When it came to logo design, site layout and development, the founders passed it by, shrugging their shoulders as if to say “We’ll let the designers figure that out.”

This is a recipe for disaster.

The following post will take you, step-by-step, through the creative process. And once you go through it, you’ll hand your prospective designers everything they need to get started.

OK, the first step is to…

Brainstorm What You Want Your Website To Be and Do

Baseball Pitch

I write down everything I want my site to have. Everything. I even put items in there which I’d like to have, but don’t necessarily need. Then, when you hand over the document to prospective designers, you can ask them two important questions:

  1. Can you do each of these items, and…
  2. Which of these take the most time to complete?

When shopping for a designer/developer, these two questions help weed out poor candidates, and give you an idea of what the most expensive requests are. For example, if you’d like to set up multiple admin levels with complicated workflows, this may be too costly to implement at first.

It also helps with negotiation. If you’re receiving quotes outside your budget, ask designers which elements they could skip for a lower price. Once you’ve got your ideas written down, the next step is to…

Choose a Content Management System (CMS)

Wordpress

This is important to determine before hiring a designer/developer, although you may need their help in deciding too. Most professionals specialize in one or two systems: WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla all have different capabilities/interfaces, each with their own learning curve. You can compare every CMS with CMSMatrix.

Once you’ve chosen the right CMS for your site, you should…

Create a Mockup

Ideally, you should have a clear idea of what you want your site to look like in terms of functionality.  Ask yourself:

  • How many page ‘templates’ do you need? (e.g. home page, category page, article page, checkout page, etc.).
  • What do you want to include on each page? (value proposition, logo, content, multimedia, etc.)
  • Where will you place navigation menus? On top? On the side?
Wireframing by Mockingbird

Spend some time drawing out your ideas on paper. Then, use a wireframing tool such as GoMockingbird to create a simple mockup you can send to designers. Don’t worry; I am not a designer, and GoMockingbird makes it easy to sketch out your ideas. You literally drag and drop different shapes onto a page until it resembles a website.

The mockup ensures you and the designer see eye-to-eye from the very beginning. It sets expectations on both sides, and saves a lot of back and forth on little things. The designer can then take these rough ideas and create a branded user experience, while keeping in mind the core functionality and goals of the site.

Now that you’ve created a mockup, the next step is to…

Record A Walk-Through of Your Site

Camtasia 7

Although this step is not always essential, it is very useful to do. Using Camtasia (or similar screen recording tool), record yourself using the site mockups you created earlier.

The video lets you highlight key points, while providing a visual walk-through for designers. It also saves you from repeatedly explaining your idea to prospective designers; simply send them a video overview and you’re done.

Once you’ve heard back from several designers…

Conduct a Short Interview

Interview Designer

Choose 3 -5 designers and set up a time to chat. Don’t make it too long, as they’re doing this for free. The interview lets you get a feel for the person, and helps ensure they are responsible (obviously, if they miss the interview, they aren’t the ideal candidate!).

The final step is to…

Develop Your Website Creative

A website creative brief helps your designer/developer understand your vision. It should include your design preferences, sites you like, and a list of involved parties. The designer can then advise you on recommendations and take the design further.

If you have existing marketing materials, be sure to include them as well so designers can help maintain your brand.

This web design brief sheet (PDF) by Limeshot Design is one of the best I’ve seen; it covers everything necessary for effective implementation. Most designers will have their own version of this, which is why I list it last. If they don’t have one, use the above example as a starting point.

In Conclusion…

The key to obtaining realistic quotes from talented designers is to provide everything – your vision, mockups, design preferences – upfront. It saves everyone time, and helps you and your designer work get off to a strong start.

Adam Costa is a San Francisco based business consultant who provides organizational leadership training training to start-up companies.

Interview photo by Big Stock Photo.

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16 JUST™ Creative Comments

  • Brent Galloway Reply

    This post is perfect for clients! Thanks for informing them and making our jobs as designers and developers a little bit easier. ;)

  • Rochelle Dancel Reply

    This is a great post but I think it needs to come with a massive caveat – that you need to be open to – and encourage – recommendations from your designer on the wireframe and user journeys, especially if you don’t have anyone with user experience design on your team.

  • Jon Daiello Reply

    I have to say I largely disagree with this post. You’re potentially putting the web professionals into a corner. The client needs to depend on the web pros to give them what they really need. It’s our job as web pros to provide solid strategy, information architecture, wireframes, design, and a solid CMS (such as ExpressionEngine which was left out.)

    I do agree that it helps if the client can effectively communicate their ideas for their site, but without a trust in the web pro they’re using, the end result could be a catastrophic failure.

    • Jacob Cass Reply

      Jon,
      I agree with where you are coming from (as a designer myself) and thought the same thing after first considering this article, but after thinking it about it as a start up owner, wanting to find a designer then I thought otherwise.

      If you are trying to attract top tier web professionals then this is a great way to get them interested. The top tier talent then would advise on the best ways to approach all of the things you mentioned, such as strategy, IA, wireframes, design, UX, etc.

      What do you think?

      • Maple Kuo Reply

        But what if the start up doesn’t know the first thing about web design and development? (What if they don’t even know what a CMS is?) To me, the steps seemed more like steps the client should do alongside web designers and developers, so that the client can receive feedback on how to organize pages, which CMS to use, etc.

        Overall, I do agree that web designers and developers would appreciate if clients followed these steps. However, I don’t think clients necessarily have the valuable expertise that web professionals have to offer. I can imagine a scenario where a client with the best of intentions follows these steps but has to redo everything because they didn’t take into account strategy, usability, UX, and other factors that web professionals could have helped with.

  • Victor Afego Reply

    This is one Article i wish all my clients or prospective clients will read. I believe it will go a long way in simplifying things and ensuring that the hired designer quickly understands and creates exactly what the client wants.

  • Asif Ahmed Reply

    What you have written is a very ideal scenario. I am in this web development business for close to 15 years now and I hardly find clients who know what they want. Giving such a big document for design will help the designers no doubt but hardly anyone spends so much time on the design front. They expect the design agency to do that. This is one of the main reasons why so many changes keep on coming. In my experience I have seen that 80% of the clients do not even fill up the design questionnaire properly. I guess its our duty to get the information properly from the client. This is where a kick off meeting is always important. Requirement elicitation is very important and I guess the design agency has to take the lead.

  • Luke Etheridge Reply

    Thanks for this article Jacob (for posting) and Adam (for writing) – I have a funny feeling you will now have millions of hits on this one page, due to frustrated designers (i.e. me!) sending their sometimes (more often than not) vague and clueless clients here for reference when telling them, “could you put together a brief? Or a basic wireframe? Hell, a scanned sketch would give me something to work with!”.

    Thanks again,
    Luke

  • Navigator Multimedia Reply

    Perhaps this article does present an “ideal scenario”, but I think it’s awesome to start the conversation about including the client in the development stages of a project. Take this as the place for prospective website owners to hone a step-by-step contributive effort to having their say in the creative process. It may not look just like this for the average small business owner with little or no design/tech experience, but it’s an aspiring start.

    Cheers,
    Sarah Bauer
    Navigator Multimedia
    http://www.navigatormm.com

  • Frank Reply

    Thanks for the article Jacob! I find this a really interesting topic!
    In terms of design, I always find it difficult to find the balance between a good looking attractive site visually and user friendly and easy to navigate with a well optimised website that can rank well. I always think its difficult because you need your site to be optimised so you can be found but also you need to ensure that its well designed so you can keeep your audience engaged but its difficult to find a balance between the two! Whats your thoughts!

  • Anh Vu Reply

    This post is perfect for clients! Thanks for informing them and making our jobs as designers and developers a little bit easier. ;)

  • Anh Vu Reply

    This post is perfect for clients! Thanks for informing them and making our jobs as designers and developers a little bit easier. ;)
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  • honolulu dentist Reply

    Thanks for this article Jacob (for posting) and Adam (for writing) – I have a funny feeling you will now have millions of hits on this one page, due to frustrated designers (i.e. me!) sending their sometimes (more often than not) vague and clueless clients here for reference when telling them, “could you put together a brief? Or a basic wireframe? Hell, a scanned sketch would give me something to work with!”.

  • patent search Reply

    Perhaps this article does present an “ideal scenario”, but I think it’s awesome to start the conversation about including the client in the development stages of a project. Take this as the place for prospective website owners to hone a step-by-step contributive effort to having their say in the creative process. It may not look just like this for the average small business owner with little or no design/tech experience, but it’s an aspiring start.

  • digital flow meter Reply

    Thanks for the article Jacob! I find this a really interesting topic!
    In terms of design, I always find it difficult to find the balance between a good looking attractive site visually and user friendly and easy to navigate with a well optimised website that can rank well.

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