Best Practices

A Detailed Guide to Writing a Creative Brief for a Website

A creative brief can ensure your online marketing materials include the right messages in the right places.
Pastel Team

If you're reading this, chances are you are either trying to understand what a web design brief is, or you need to know how to write one. Well, look no further. We're going to be covering what a website creative brief is, why it's important, and what to include in yours. Let's make sure your web design project has a fighting chance at success from the get-go. 

Why a Thorough Brief is Extremely Important

No matter who you are, if you're redesigning an existing website or building a new site from scratch, a website brief ensures your project timeline and requirements are thoroughly and realistically scoped out. That said, depending on who you are and what your role is, a website design brief will benefit you in slightly different ways:

For in-house marketers

For in-house marketing managers who will unlikely be completing the tangible design, development, or copywriting, a brief is still critical for a couple of reasons.

First, it's imperative to have all relevant stakeholders review and approve the brief. Getting both the creative team and executives on board in terms of expectation and the launch date is critical to the perception of a project's success. A website revamp is too arduous and too expensive to initiate without soliciting broader company feedback.

Second, your brief is almost like your creative contract with the design agency. Most agencies will refer back to the agreed-upon brief as if it were the bible of deliverables and milestones. It's important you understand exactly what is in the brief and that you agree to both the project timescales, cost, and marketing strategy.

For design freelancers and agencies

For freelance designers and agencies carrying out the project details, the creative briefing process is when you gather all background information and draw up a battle plan. It's your time to:

  • Identify any major obstacles
  • Offer gentle recommendations to clients who think they know what they want but don't actually understand what they are asking for
  • Make sure you understand and can handle all technical requirements
  • Confirm you have adequate resources to fit the client's expectations
  • Set a realistic timeframe
  • Understand your client's general vibe (their likes and dislikes)
  • Understand who you will be working with on the client-side and accounting for the time for collecting insight and input from the proper stakeholders

Preventing scope creep

Say it with me, "Boundaries are important!"

The website brief is also going to be your greatest defense when clients ask for more, faster. Going above and beyond for your clients is always a great way to gain repeat business. Still, it's also important that you are not doing so to the detriment of other client work, your employees, or your business.

Client memories are short, and they will more often than not want to make changes or try to add on elements that may jeopardize the project due date or be too expensive to implement without renegotiating pricing.

For the small business owner

Even for a small business owner, a brief is important to communicate your needs and get the most accurate pricing estimate for your project. If you have a good grasp of all your requirements, you can shop around between different agencies.

The brief phase is also a good time to self-reflect on your website mission and marketing strategy. For example, if your website is primarily for brand awareness, there is more leeway in terms of design. On the other hand, if the primary purpose for your website is to drive sales and optimize for conversions, your website design might need to follow more strategic design principles, and you might want to choose an agency familiar with A/B and user testing.

Anatomy of a Basic Design Brief

In this section, we'll review some of the elements that should be included (or at least thought of) as you are putting together your own creative brief template.

Overview of your business and current website

If you are starting from scratch, you will want to make sure all project contributors understand the company profile and brand guidelines. If an existing website is available, this is the time to review what works on the current site and what doesn't.

Project goals

Project goals should include the website's purpose. This section is where you outline the main goals and objectives you are trying to achieve. It's worth understanding the business strategy. The types of marketing that need to be prioritized will inform how the website should best be structured. For example, a content marketing strategy demands a blog. A heavy digital marketing strategy with lots of PPC and social media ads might require an easy way to stand-up new landing pages.

Your target audience and market

Both graphic designers and copywriters will be able to better carry out their work when provided with specific audience demographics such as gender and age. If the website is for a B2B company, information on the target job functions and titles might also be helpful.

Audience information will inform the type of illustrations and imagery used and the tone and formality of the language.

Product or industry-specific information

When working with a web design agency or any third-party vendor outside of the in-house team, they must understand anything relevant about the product or niche industry. If your product is very technical, you cannot assume that outside talent will have the relevant baseline knowledge to correctly market and write about it without a little help.

Competitor information

Competitor information is helpful in the design research phase. It's always good to take a quick level set, review your top competitors' websites, and decide what you should and should not emulate in terms of messaging.

Project timeline expectations

It's absolutely important that all project stakeholders agree to a realistic schedule of milestones. Similar to the project budget, both the agency and the client will likely have to negotiate the timeline before settling on a fair compromise between the business goals and the agency's abilities.

Project budget

For agencies and freelancers, it's crucial to take stock of all the necessary resources in terms of manpower, tools, assets like stock images, and building them into the project budget quote.

Contact info and communication preferences

To smooth communication, identify relevant contacts from all parties as well as preferred communication methods. Some people prefer to work entirely through email while others work better through messaging apps like Slack.

Expected deliverables

All project stakeholders should agree on a defined list of deliverables. Just listing, "Website," will create a lot of problems later on when expectations don't match. An itemized list of each deliverable can prevent an expectation fiasco.

Necessary assets

The project brief should make clear what assets will be provided and paid for by each party. It is also helpful if there is a central depository where team members can access the assets. Some standard assets to think about in the web design process include a hi-res logo file, fonts, stock images, or other brand-specific imagery. If agencies or freelancers are required to source these assets, the cost will need to be agreed upon.

Other Info for a Website Design Project

Below are some more detailed elements to keep in mind for a website design project. While they might be overkill for the brief, they are still essential to think through critically, especially when determining the project timeline and budget.

Website features and functionality

Will there be any special features or functionality that need implementation? Do you have the technical expertise to implement these features?

Key pages or sitemap

What are the key pages of the website? How will the pages fit together? Is there a clear, user-friendly sitemap flow?

Content tone and requirements

What mood should the website convey? How formal is the audience?

Calls to action

What are the calls to action that need emphasization? Are you trying to drive sales, a product demo, a free trial, a brochure download, or perhaps you're just trying to grow your email list?

Examples of websites you like/don't like and why

What are examples of websites you or the client like? What don't you like? Examples can help narrow down the design aesthetic and save time.

Domain name and hosting

Who will handle the domain name purchase and hosting implementation?

Ongoing website maintenance responsibilities

Although not part of the actual design project, it's critical to understand who will be responsible for ongoing website maintenance, like security and plug-in upgrades. For agencies, this is a good time to upsell website maintenance services.

SEO goals and requirements

Who will implement Google Analytics? Are there specific search terms for which the website copy must optimize? Who will be responsible for monitoring, analyzing, and reporting traffic data, such as the number of visitors?

Technical integration requirements

It's also essential to list any technical integrations required and make sure you have the expertise to implement them. Examples include:

  • CRM software (Salesforce)
  • Payment processing software (Stripe)
  • Marketing automation software (Marketo, Hubspot, Eloqua)
  • User testing software (Hotjar)
  • Live chat support software (Intercom, Drift)

Planning for Success

Website design projects can be incredibly complicated, based on the requirements, industry, and other technical needs. However, with enough critical thinking in the planning stages, thorough communication between all parties, and realistic agreement on resources and timeline, you can embark on your new website project confidently.

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