Your website is one of the most important elements involved in marketing your business. The internet is now considered to be the place to shop, replacing more traditional advertising routes such as print advertising.
To this end the website that reflects your business should be carefully considered and planned to ensure that it works hard to bring in the enquiries you need in a very crowded sector. With any design project there should always be a carefully planned process attached to the brief. When outsourcing to a supplier, a clear understanding of what is expected from the brief needs to be outlined and agreed before the project commences.
With a background of over ten years spent managing website design projects, I have a great deal of experience in the whole development process. I know all the pitfalls and have been witness to many a project that has gone on longer than it should because the planning stage has not been carefully considered. In this article I hope to put across what makes a successful website design project and how to avoid the pitfalls that inevitably arise.
Who shall I ask to pitch for my website design project?
Choosing three suppliers will give you a good idea of what's on offer, ask them to prepare a pitch and present it to you and your team.
Ask them to include the following information in their pitch:
- Examples of previous websites
- Testimonials from happy clients, with contact details
- Who will be designing my website? What is their background?
- How long will it take?What makes a successful website design project and avoid the pitfalls that inevitably arise.
- Do you have some design ideas?
- How do you see the project working?
All these questions need to be answered to your satisfaction before deciding on an agency to do the work or the process will slide and take longer than anticipated. A good solid background where websites have been delivered on time and to the brief are essential to get from any supplier. In my opinion, it's not the sheer number of websites a supplier has undertaken but the quality of those sites and satisfaction of the client that is more important.
There are thousands of website designers out there churning out hundreds of websites, but was the experience satisfactory, was the client happy with the results?
Get a contract
Think carefully about preparing a contract. Your chosen supplier may have a document that they will want you to sign that protects them from non-payment, cancellation and copyright issues. From your point of view it may be useful to draw up your own document that outlines what you expect from the project in terms of design, lead time and process issues.
Issues to include:
- Copyright – ensure the supplier has used royalty free images and copy
- Payment – flat fee to be paid at the end of the build – no increases unless advised in writing
- Back-up plan – in case of sickness or other disasters, the supplier to ensure they have a stand in designer to continue the work
Before selecting a company to manage your website design project and signing a contract to instruct them to proceed, check with two or three of their previous clients that they were happy with the process and end result.
Think about location too, of course the best design team for the job is essential, but if they work from an office in Glasgow and you are based in Devon, there may be an issue with regular meetings and the approval process. I's nice to have a face to face when working on a big project in my opinion or certain things sometimes get lost in translation.
Being prevalent in many different sectors, there is an understanding of how the market has changed over recent years. When employing an outside agency to manage your website design project, take care to ensure they have experience or at least a thorough understanding of your industry and are fully aware of what the current market demands.
What are their terms of engagement – i.e.: can they split out their process and is the process documented? A typical engagement process should be:
- Design and specification – produce specification document for sign off
- Build static template pages for sign off
- Site build with agreed milestones for signing off
- Site testing – agreed milestones for signoff before launch
- Send live
- Bug fixing
Development issues to consider – too many cooks?
Once the build is underway, think about the actual process and how it will work in reality. Who is responsible for sign-off, if you have too many people looking at the site in the early stages you end up having a site designed by committee and it may appear very disjointed. Appoint a project manager within your organisation – if you don't have time, they can deal directly with the supplier and make sure the project keeps moving forward. Determine the following issues at the pitch stage:
- How often will you meet and where will you meet – note the more you meet the greater the potential costs.
- Once the site design and specification has been agreed what happens when you change your mind?
- How does the supplier charge for varying the specification and how are changes documented?
Remember, the longer the design process takes, the less time you have to market your business. Be strict over changes and don't linger on the approval process. Time is of the essence and the build will stagnate if the timings aren't adhered to.
Training for launch – are you ready?
The supplier should be able to hand over the website at launch with your key staff able to manage it from then on. If you are having a content management system put in to handle updates, has the supplier included training in the quotation? If so where will it take place? If there are any problems with the site what happens? If the website crashed and the supplier has handed it over to you are they responsible for fixing it and ironing out any teething problems?
Process and development
When thinking about the management of the project as a whole. Take time to consider what process you wish to follow to get the most out of the venture and enable you to determine the flow of the project, maintaining regular contact with the agency and making sure everything runs to time.
Below is a flow chart outlining the development process that should be followed that helps identify the key areas that should be looked at when supplying a brief. The agency you choose should supply you with a chart that identifies how they intend to proceed throughout the project and gives you useful information on how the project will develop.
Carefully consider the layout you have in mind and develop your brief with this in mind. Be clear from the outset on the functionality, look and feel of the site and put this across in the brief you give to the agency managing the project. In my experience it's a good idea to have a look at some other websites out there that inspire you and show them to the agency so they can get a good idea of what you like and dislike. If you have an idea of what you want from your website, put it down on paper and make it clear to the supplier and this will avoid any issues with style and later on.
The more time spent on planning before you reach the briefing stage, the less difficulty you will have with communication throughout the project. Remember the design team will not be in touch with your products and services and how you like to work. Most designers have a style and format that they work to and will not deviate unless given the inspiration to do so. They are not telepathic either, be clear about the design you want, but also be realistic too.
Establish the aims of the project
Be clear about what you expect from your supplier from the outset. Do you want to give them a brief and let them go away and create the site for you or are you keen to remain very involved in the whole process throughout the design stage. To keep changes to a minimum, try to establish a sign-off process from the beginning, identify who in your organization will be responsible for proof reading and approving each stage of the process. Keep the number of approvers to a minimum as everyone has different taste when it comes to design and your website could end up looking very disjointed if too many opinions are allowed input.
You need to confirm with the supplier the key objectives of the design project. Keep within these parameters throughout the project and it is less likely to explode into a long and drawn out project with no real end in sight.
Remember that the website is an essential tool in your marketing armoury and is required to be live as soon as possible to generate much needed enquiries. It's all too easy to lose sight of the original purpose of any design project unless it is properly established, quantified, agreed and recorded. Don't be blinded with fantastic design touches that may look great, but are not easy to navigate and are not search engine friendly.
Ensure your supplier is familiar with and has experience in search engine marketing and that the designer working on your site builds it with this in mind. It is essential to the process because if the website is not search engine friendly you will be going back to the supplier in three months time to have it re-worked as it won't get seen on sites such as Google and Yahoo.
The following points need to be considered to enable the project to commence with all parties clear on the main objective:
- Be Specific: prepare a clearly written document that constitutes a brief, outlining lead times, objectives, design stages and key contacts within your organisation that are able to supply information and be able to approve designs at each stage of the process
- Budget: be clear from the outset what the costs involved are likely to be, when payment is expected, penalties in place for late delivery or delayed artwork
- Agree: the process with your supplier before commencement takes place
- Content: Ensure your supplier has used original content and copyright free images throughout the site
- Lead time: agree a start and finish date for the project with penalties in place for late delivery
- Design Scope: During the design process, ensure that the project is on track and reflects the original brief
- Development: Ensure the process is watertight and follows a similar format the development process outlined earlier in this document
Internet enquiries are now dominating the market place and taking over from the regular print advertisement. As such your website needs to reflect this growing market trend and appeal to the internet audience. When embarking on a website design project the key to getting the most out of the process is making the objectives clear from the outset and communicating your requirements to your supplier in the form of a well written brief.
Research has shown that there is a definite increase in the number of consumers buying products and services over the internet. 70% of consumers use the internet to search for a new or used car and this number is steadily rising. The importance of having a strong online presence has never been greater and in today's market no business would survive without it. That is why it is essential to manage the design process to make sure your website design project stays on track, on time and gives you the opportunity to capture the opportunities that are currently available online.