Guide to Design #1 — Start of a project

When it comes to design at Numiko every project is different to the last. We never reuse design assets or ‘reskin’ previous iterations of websites. This includes every part of a design from photography to individually designed icons & illustration. Every project is designed from the ground up to be the best it can be for each client, their users and the brand it represents.

A lot of consideration goes into creating the ideal site for a client and their users and I want to talk about these points in a series of guides.

This article is inspired by an upcoming project we are doing for pet charity Blue Cross. Blue Cross is one of Britain’s oldest pet charities established way back in 1897. They have multiple rehoming and veterinary centres which help thousands of pets find new homes each and every year; not only that but they also have charity shops all across the country and hundreds of staff and volunteers. Blue Cross is a big charity but their objective is to be bigger, to be more widely known across the UK and become classed as the leading UK animal welfare charity.

I must admit at the start of this project, I was extremely excited but also a little nervous. I’m a huge pet lover and knew like all of the work we do at Numiko that it was for a great cause; but they’re a huge organisation and I knew we had to deliver – the pressure was on.

Brand & Guidelines

One of the first things to consider with any new design project is what do they already have; do they have a brand, do they have supporting guidelines on how to execute their brand correctly, and what works well and what works not so well with that brand in the digital space?

Numiko are digital through and through, time and again we find that organisations have brand supporting guidelines which don’t work effectively in the digital space. They are more often than not highly considered from a print perspective for billboards, business cards, leaflets and the like - but that doesn’t always work online.

In the past we have even become the ‘digital guardians’ of some pretty large organisations because of this realisation being brought to a client’s attention early enough in the process.

We can also take a look at any current projects they have, purely from a what works, what doesn’t scenario in relation to the brand and its execution online. This can be a really good way of seeing why they are looking for a site overhaul, something we’re always really interested in.

It’s important that we aren’t ignorant to what has come before in relation to a brand and its supporting guidelines, it’s very rare that you can or indeed should just throw everything away and suggest something completely new.

Brands take years to get established and guidelines showing how to and how not to use a brand are there for a reason, we never simply ignore these guidelines to offer a client something that we might class as ‘cooler’, it needs to match who they are as an organisation and what their users expect, but giving the client our take on their brand, perhaps a more digital friendly one is most definitely a good thing – and there’s a difference there between the two.

Creative brief

We knew from the initial pitch stages that the Blue Cross project needed to meet a few core design objectives and this is where a creative brief comes into play.

A creative brief is basically a document outlining the core objectives of the new site, from both a user and business point of view and the direction that the creative should go in.

We create this document and it normally involves the whole design team being involved in its delivery, once we’re happy with a version of the brief we get the client to read over it and if they’re happy, get them to sign the document.

The creative brief becomes a great document for myself as the designer on this project to refer back to at any stage of the project to just double-check we’re still meeting the goals of the designs with each new pass or iteration of each page.

To give you a sense of the kind of information contained in a creative brief here are a few pointers pulled from the document:

  • The site should feel: Welcoming, Approachable, Caring and Friendly
  • It should be ‘welcoming in design, messaging and process. Make sure to avoid a potential harshness of blues and boxes. Soften with curves and warm imagery. Make it accessible as possible; avoid small font sizes and other design approaches that may affect legibility’.
  • The site needs to be 'fully responsive’, data shows us that users browsing the current Blue Cross site not only browse on their desktop machines or laptops; but on a whole array of mobile phone devices and tablets and so the site that user sees should be the best site it can be on that device.
  • Follow their currently established brand guidelines closely
  • A site that works for a really broad audience (from teens to pensioners), this also informed the functionality of the site which I’ll go into later on.

Now that we have a creative brief that both Numiko and the client are happy with, its time to start thinking about page structures and patterns and the best place to do this is through wire framing - which I'll cover in the next installment.