What should be in my brief?
A common question that potential clients have is "what should be in my brief"?
And a common response of mine to a brief that a client has given me is to ask a certain set of questions to get to the details I need to respond to a brief.
So here are my thoughts on what should be in a request-for-proposals document for website design or development.
Clearly these guidelines won't apply to every project, but should serve as pointers for the kinds of things I want to know when I'm asked to pitch for this kind of work.
The key things that I want from pitch documents are not ideas about how things should be done (e.g. "we want forums!") but details of what is trying to be achieved (e.g. "we would like to provide a secure space for practitioners to collaborate and discuss their field").
I prefer the "what" to be something that is arrived at by consensus between client and agency, drawing on both the domain knowledge of the client, and the communications, design and technical knowledge of the agency.
So my main questions which are often left unanswered are things like:
- What is the purpose of the organisation?
- What is/are the goal(s) of the website project? i.e. fundraising, promotion, storytelling - these should be prioritised if possible, with an acknowledgement that priorities can change over time.
- What is/are the audience(s) of the website?
- Are they any specifics about the audience that need to be born in mind e.g. in some settings like government, schools or healthcare settings, there are restrictions on software use and there may be a significant proportion of older browser users. Or another example would be if a site has a large number of users with disabilities and so accessibility needs to be prioritised.
- How is it anticipated that people will discover or come to the website? i.e. via social media, emails, offline campaigns such as posted newsletters.
- How does the website fit in with other communications activities such as email, offline comms, etc.
- What does the client like/dislike about its existing website?
- What are the client's favourite other websites and what, specifically, do they like about them?
- What are the analytics like and what goals do they have for change in those figures? Note: numbers are not everything - sometimes it's reaching the RIGHT people, not reaching LOTS of people that matters.
- What in-house communications or technical capability does the client have? This may affect technology choice.
Some organisations have in-house capability for this kind of analysis and have already a very prescriptive brief. In which case the questions will be very different. But if the client hasn't already considered these questions, I would much prefer a brief that communicates the problems needing to be solved rather than one that communicates the solutions and is looking for someone to implement them.
In addition to the questions about the nature of the project, there is a load of practical information that's very good to have when pitching, or even when deciding if I want to pitch or not. Some of this probably/maybe/possibly goes without saying, but it's also really good to not make assumptions about the project:
- Timelines - when do you want the project to start and end and what milestones are you expecting as the project progresses. These should be up for discussion as the agency may have their own process.
- Budget - I know giving your budget away can be seen as a bad thing, but from an agency's perspective, knowing if this is a £3,000 project or a £10,000 project helps us immensely.
- Who we will be working with? What are the names, roles and experience of the stakeholders?
- Whether hosting is required. If the client has their own hosting, what is the setup?
- If training and documentation is wanted and what level that is at.
- If ongoing support is required (We'll try to convince you that it is! Most websites needs continual investment.)
- What the process is for pitching and what is expected from the agencies in terms of a response.
In addition, a style guide or branding document is really handy to have if this exists, but it's not strictly necessary at this point.
I hope these guidelines are useful. And if you're interested in working with me then please don't hesitate to contact me.