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
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:
- Can you do each of these items, and…
- 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)
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?
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
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
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.
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.