If you are building a new website, or significantly overhauling an old one, creating a strong clear brief for your designer is essential. An outline of what the project will cover can enable you to be more organized, stay on track, and stick to your budget. It also provides a way to avoid scope creep and manage expectations from both sides. But what is a website design brief, and how do you create one? Let’s dive in and find out.
What Is a Website Design Brief?
A website design brief outlines the web design process, requirements, and timelines. Its purpose is to provide both parties with a clear understanding of what’s expected in terms of project workflow, deliverables, and post-launch services. The brief also provides you as a client with an accurate estimate of costs and timeframes for delivery. This is a result of identifying all key requirements and deliverables early on in the process and being realistic about how to execute on them.
Who should create a web design brief?
A website design brief is usually created by the business owner or principals and will also often be requested by a web designer in one form or another when the initial scope of work is being created – this is also a sign that you are working with a good team who want to make sure they understand your needs and the purpose of the site. It's a good idea to have all your information together in a sharable file like a Google doc or a Dropbox, that way you can store large files like image and design assets, plus keep your brief, content, contract, ideas, and correspondence all in one place and easily give your design team access to it.
Researching and writing a website design brief.
In order for a web design brief to be effective, it needs to be thorough and clear. You don’t want to leave any room for misinterpretation, as this can lead to project revisions that take up more time and money.
Here are some of the essential elements required to make a brief that will be clear and concise:
Describe your business
One of the important details your brief will need to cover is a business overview. This is key to helping the entire design team become familiar with the brand and its values, mission, and vision – all of which will determine the direction and business goals of the project.
Who your key customers and stakeholders are need to be included here and how and why they use the website – for information, for transactions, whatever it is. You’ll also want to include any plans for future growth, as this can enable the design team to set an early foundation for expected changes, ie you may not be using a store function now, but will want one in 6 months. Will you be hosting video or a podcast? Make sure you have a site that can expand to meet your future needs.
Come Up With a Website/Project Overview
Next, you’ll want to define the scope of your project and all its deliverables. Extensive background on the final product will ensure that everyone is fully aware of what is involved in making it a success. Some examples of what this overview will contain include:
- Whether the project is a redesign or a new website to be built from the ground up
- All expected deliverables, including the website as well as any additional assets (such as a logo, custom email address, or content)
- Potential obstacles that may arise and how they will be addressed
- Some details on what is not within the scope of this project
- The amount of involvement the client expects to have in the design process
- Who is providing content and copy including images
You’ll also want to include information on the tone or voice of the site’s content, for both text and visuals. Finally, you’ll want to provide any specific items related to your branding, as well as a list of any key functionalities the website needs. You may want to brainstorm some of the key pages you think you’ll need and their headings.
Define the Project’s Goals
Once you have a clear understanding of what the project involves, you want to find out the goals of the website or the problems it is expected to solve. Some goals you want their website to achieve may include:
- Increase brand awareness
- Improve online presence with a responsive and accessible website
- Increase subscriptions and sales
- Generate leads and inquiries
- Become a source of key information via a blog, documentation, or e-learning
It might also be important to include a section about the previous or current website (if there is an existing website). You can share what worked or didn’t so that the new design can improve upon the old one.
Something to note here is that it might be important to set up some performance tracking. Using Google Analytics to measure relevant metrics is free and will give you a baseline to look at growth and whatever other metrics you choose.
Identify the Site’s Target Audience
Next, you’ll want to identify the ideal end-user for the website. This will include gathering demographics and psychographics. These might include age, gender, values, job title, media consumption habits, and other relevant details that may shed light on what might resonate the most with them. A clear understanding of this information will enable you to design a site that is effectively geared towards its target audience and as importantly help you to identify a voice that will speak to your clients authentically and compellingly.
Understand your competitive landscape
A scan of your sector and how other similar businesses are creating their digital footprint is a helpful activity to see what the broad spectrum looks like and where your offering might fit. Looking at not only your sector but complementary sectors, websites that have won awards, etc can help you to identify features and styles of design that resonate with your brand and offering.
By being able to show your web design team what you like will begin to bring your ideas out of your head and to life. Likewise, you can look at websites with fonts, colors, transitions, images, and brands that you appreciate as reference sites for the designer. Your website will have its own flavor of course, but as so much design is referential, this is again a great way to show what you are thinking. You can use a tool like Pinterest to collate some of these things and share your board with the design team to collaborate on.
You can also use this process to determine what you don’t like. Noting down customer pain points that competitors haven’t addressed gives you an opportunity to not repeat those issues in your website design.
Technical and contract must haves.
List the Design Requirements and Specs
Including all the relevant technical requirements and specifications upfront keeps things clear and can help to make an accurate quote from the outset while limiting scope creep. It is also important to include style and brand guides here if you have them already and any visual assets which you want to include so what exists is able to be accessed by the whole team and everyone knows what needs to be created and what is available to use.
Agreeing on the Timeline and Budget
Giving the design team a clear idea of your budget and project timeline will make sure there is a place of negotiation where expectations can be set and met. Often when it comes to a web project we think they will be quicker and cheaper than they are, especially when it gets to the final revisions and back and forth between you and the design team. A quick website isn’t necessarily a good website, so even if you are in a rush, trust that your web builders know their business and what it takes to get a well built, tested and functional website. Give yourself several weeks minimum for a new build.
Before you sign a contract make sure you agree on:
- the budget, the stages of payment and what the deliverable triggers for those stages are
- what the deliverables are at each stage including testing
- what you are needing to give the team and when
- how many revisions are included in the cost
- what the aftercare is going to be for any training or changes
- what a dispute resolution process will look like
- when you get access to logins
- who is hosting the site and the costs for that service
- ongoing costs for site registration
- that you/your business own the site URLs
- what SEO is included in the build
- what the site needs to connect with such as CRMs, mail programs and that this will be set up for you
- and finally a very clear statement about who owns the IP – here’s a hint it needs to be you.
Regardless of whether you are using a freelancer or an agency, you must always have a contract that steps out the points above. If the web designers are unwilling or reluctant to have a formal contract with these details it is worth considering using a different firm. Even and especially if you are working with friends or relatives, this document needs to be in place to set the project on a professional footing and ensure that you don’t end up with a website that doesn’t meet your needs, and worse a relationship that is damaged. Your website is the digital front door to your business. It is your key point of customer research and engagement and is an investment in a key asset rather than an expense, so budget for it that way and look at the value you will get from it over the next few years.
Once you've got your brief sorted...what now?
Following the prompts above, you should have gathered all your data together, and ideally, put what you want down in a logical way that is easy to understand. This doesn't have to be a perfect and complete document, it is a launchpad to help your future design team get to the heart of what you need so they can give you a comprehensive quote for the work and turn it into a contract and project schedule. Have a look at who is doing interesting work locally, talk to your collaborators or local businesses who have websites you like, and get some suggestions for who might be good to work with. Get two or three quotes and don't be scared to ask the designers for references for you to contact to see what people's experience of working with them has been.
Finally, go with your gut. If something feels off, take heed. The smoother the beginning of the relationship is especially the contract and schedule negotiation, the more likely the build will also be that way. If you feel you are not being given the information you need, or the talk is too tech, or your concerns aren't being explained, raise your issues clearly and in writing, look for good communication and work with a team that understands you and your business and champions what you do. Of course, once you have done your brief, you can have a chat with your Digital Coach to see if anything is missing or unclear (but they won't write it for you, you know your business better than anyone.) The better the brief, the better the project will be, so invest some time and effort here and reap the rewards with your amazing, high ranking, compelling and converting new or updated website.