Are you planning your AEC firm website update this year? Many firms are planning to update or redesign their websites this year. Having been through several website updates, refreshes, redesigns, etc. there are several lessons learned that I wanted to share. I have broken it up into a three-part series to make it a little more manageable.
The first part of this series walks through your update intent, goals, and who should be involved. The second part gets a little more technical by digging into the differences between website design and development, user experience, and considerations for hiring an agency or freelance consultant. Finally, we get to the elephant in the room – schedule and costs. You wouldn’t think I would start with that first, would you?!?
AEC Firm Website Update – Part #1
Whether you are designing and developing in-house or hiring a consultant there are many items to consider when redesigning your AEC firm’s website. Identifying and making decisions (and documenting those decisions) will help you keep the process on track without pulling out your hair.
Website Update Intent
Why are you updating your website in the first place? There could be various reasons for updating your website. Those reasons could include:
- Optimizing for mobile
- Part of an overall rebrand initiative
- Merger or acquisition
- Milestone firm anniversary initiative
- New CEO/President
- One of your Principal’s asked you to do it
- You have nothing else to do (LOL!)
Identifying the reason(s) for the website update will help guide your decisions, timeframe, and budgets moving forward.
For example, if this is part of an overall firm rebrand, you may start working with that agency who is designing the rebrand, but then go a different route to actual develop the website (more on this later). However, if your goal was to recruit new entry level architects, the design and people involved in the process will be different.
Similar, but different to the intent, is the goal of your website update. In the early 2000s, AEC firm websites were all about the firm—their projects, locations, people, etc. They were basically web-based brochures. That won’t work in today’s digital world. We all know that clients and teaming partners search for answers to their problems and then look to those firms who can provide those. Although they might not hire directly through a website, clients research firms and their people early in the buying process. Getting on the same page with your website update goal and documenting that from the beginning will dictate your marching orders to move ahead.
Some of your goals may include one or multiple of these listed below.
- Position firm as a subject matter expert in _______ (insert a niche market or service here).
- Get potential new clients to sign up for your mailing list.
- Showcase current jobs to bid to entice subcontractors to submit bids.
- Attract millennials to apply for your jobs.
- Attract senior level thought leaders in your niche market or service to apply for your jobs.
These goals should align with your long-term firm’s strategic plan or at least your firm’s marketing plan.
You want to avoid the “too many cooks in the kitchen” and “design by committee” syndromes that plague our industry. That is why it is very important to start with the intent and goals first. After these are decided, typically by the executive management team and the lead marketer, then you can develop a website update committee. I suggest it be no more five people but at least two. I say two because if you do it alone, you will still need someone to bounce ideas off of and review your content. This committee should include people who are comfortable making decisions and who buy into the intent and goals you have documented above. They should also know and can commitment to the schedule you are proposing (more on this below).
A sample website update committee may include:
- Marketing – This is you. You should act as the project manager for this project.
- IT – They should be involved at some level because you will most likely need them to access the servers, DNS, etc.
- Technical – I am leaving this very vague on purpose. This other technical person should be someone you know that gets and advocates for marketing. He/she should have a good sense of your clients, targeted clients, and design aesthetics. He/she also needs to be able to make quick decisions. Sometimes this can be your design director, sometimes it can be just a lead architect or engineer.
You will notice that this committee is very small. The purpose of this committee is progress the design and development. They will also present recommendations at different phases of the project to the executive management team for feedback and approval. I find it is the most productive to have a smaller committee steering the majority of the design and development and then have “check-ins” with the executive team at major milestone decision points.
Continue reading to the next part in the series that digs into the differences between website design and development, user experience, and considerations for hiring an agency or freelance consultant.