• Website Planning

How to Write a Website Design Brief

Written by Katie Buckingham

A website design brief can be a long, complicated document – it can be difficult to even know where to start!

Briefs vary dramatically and producing the right brief can make a huge impact on the variety and substance of the responses you receive.

When starting to write a website design brief, it’s important to first think about what you’re hoping to achieve from it. This should inform what you include in your brief and how it’s structured.

There are a few key objectives which are important to consider when starting this process: 

 

  • Agency responses 

Have a think about what the ideal response from an agency would look like.

What is the key information you need from them? What do you want to see from the agency in terms of proof of expertise and experience?

This information should translate into different sections of your brief.

Try to plan the sections of your brief to allow you to receive the responses that you’re hoping for. This will help you to grade the outcomes and decide upon an agency partner.

 

  • Easily comparable responses

As well as ensuring you get all the information you need from agencies, you also want to make sure they are in similar formats (which will be determined by the clarity and structure of your brief).

This way you can enable a fairer scoring approach to the responses and will make this part of the process much easier for you as well.

The result should be that you can easily look at each proposal and clearly see which is the strongest.

 

  • Responses to business concerns 

One key area you’ll need to include is business concerns, as you’ll want to understand how the different agencies would approach and overcome these.

Try to focus on your business goals more than you do on your specification for the website, as each agency will be able to bring their ideas to achieve your goals to the table.

This will be a crucial section to assess when comparing the web design agencies. 

 

  • Ideas 

An agency worth its mettle will bring its A game to the briefing process and go above and beyond to define ideas and creative solutions to your business challenges.

Including an area for pushing the envelope further and showing some creativity in your brief will give agencies the chance to show you what they can offer. 

 

  • Housekeeping and project management 

Creativity and enthusiasm is essential to a web design project. But you also need to ensure that your chosen agency is meticulously organised and has demonstrated excellent project management skill through its previous projects.

A web design agency with buckets of ideas and creativity, paired with high-quality project management should be a winning combination. 

 

 

 

Gathering stakeholder requirements for your website design brief

When writing a web design brief, it is also essential to gather all of the necessary requirements from across the organisation.

This will ensure that the website meets all of the needs of the organisation, and that no key functionality is overlooked.

There are a few different ways to go about gathering website requirements.

One way is to simply ask different departments what they would like to see on the website. Another way is to hold a meeting with representatives from each department to discuss website needs.

Once all of the requirements have been gathered, they should be compiled into a single document – the website design brief.

This document can then be used as a reference point during the pitching process.

By having all of the requirements in one place, it will be easier to ensure that you are choosing the best agency to fulfil the key outcomes of the project

 

What form should your website design brief take? 

Website design briefs often vary, depending on your organisation, the type of project it is and your goals and objectives. However, it is likely that you’ll need, or should at least consider including some of the below sections. 

 

1. Executive summary 

In this section, you should give a brief overview of the purpose of your project and why you’re embarking on it. You should also give some idea of the response you’re expecting from the brief. 

 

2. Project overview 

The project overview should go into some detail on the goals and objectives of the website project with reference to the business.

Try to focus as much as possible on what you want the website to achieve for you, rather than the specifics of how you intend this to be achieved.

You should also explain the issues with your current site and the key areas you’re hoping to transform and why. This section is also an opportunity to define the project scope and assumptions (more on that later). 

 

3. Background 

It’s important that the agencies you speak to have a good understanding of your business and history.

Your website should encapsulate everything about your business, where you’ve come from and why you exist. Ensuring that your web design partner fully understands your organisation will be essential. 

 

4. Project goals 

The project goals section should go into detail of specific goals you have for the project.

This is perhaps one of the most important sections to ensure that the web agency you partner with is fully aligned with the project objectives.

Keen to drive more new business? Give a KPI for the website that helps to achieve this. Or perhaps you want to achieve more brand visibility? A traffic-based goal would help you here.

You should also include information about your target audience in this section so that agencies get an understanding of your user personas. 

 

5. References and competitors 

Noting down existing websites you like (and why) will be valuable for your web design agency to understand.

Including this will help to ensure that you and your website partner are in alignment.

Similarly with competitors, it will be incredibly useful for agencies to understand who you consider to be your close competitors. As well as areas that you’d like to take inspiration from or avoid completely.

Try to draw reference to specifics as much as possible. Particularly if you are including references from larger (or very different) businesses and organisations than yours.

 

6. Technical requirements 

The technical requirements will be an essential section to include to ensure the web design agency has full visibility of the development capabilities required.

If this is missed out, there’s a risk that the web design agency you chose will not have the development skills that you need to deliver the website.

It also risks that they will underquote, as often complex systems integrations can be where the bulk of development time is spent.

 

7. Brand identity and values 

Continuing on the theme of agencies getting to know your organisation, it will be valuable for the prospective partners to receive some information on your brand identity and values.

If you have a brand guidelines document, include it alongside your brief. However, you should also be clear. Considering that the website impacts your branding considerably, it will be important for you to consider what level of flexibility you have around your brand guidelines.

This will help agencies get to know your organisation that much more but also will help them understand their remit around your brand and the visuals they will prepare.. 

 

 

Checking your website design brief 

When checking through your brief, there are a few key areas you should make sure have been covered in a clear and succinct way. This will ensure you get everything you need from your agency responses. 

 

Ensure objectives are defined 

The first step in creating any sort of website design brief is defining the objectives. Without clear objectives, it will be difficult to create a website that meets all of the necessary criteria. Wherever possible, objectives should be SMART. 

 

What are SMART objectives?

SMART objectives are those that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

In other words, they are goals that you can track and measure progress towards, and which have a deadline attached to them.

Creating SMART objectives for your website design brief will ensure that everyone involved in the design and development process is clear on what needs to be done, and by when.

This will help to avoid any confusion or frustration further down the line.

 

So, how do you go about writing SMART objectives for a website design brief? 

Start by thinking about what you want your website to achieve. Do you want to increase sales, drive traffic to your site, or raise awareness of your brand? Once you have a general idea of your goal, you can start to get more specific.

For example, let’s say your goal is to decrease the bounce rate on your website. A SMART objective could be something like “decrease bounce rate by 20% within 6 months”.

This is:

  • Specific (you know exactly what you want to achieve)
  • Measurable (you can track progress towards the goal)
  • Achievable (depending upon the work you have already done, a 20% increase is realistic)
  • Relevant (decreasing bounce rate is directly related to your goal)
  • Time-bound (the deadline keeps everyone focused and on track)

 

Of course, your website may have multiple goals, in which case you will need to create a SMART objective for each one.

Once you have your objectives, the next step is to think about how you are going to achieve them.

What features will your website need in order to meet these objectives? For example, if you want to increase online sales, you may need an ecommerce platform, or a “buy now” call to action on each product page.

Be as specific as possible when documenting the website requirements that will help you to achieve your SMART objectives.

This will make it easier for the agency designing and building your website to understand what needs to be done, and avoid any misunderstandings further down the line.

 

Include target audience information 

Another area you need to make sure you’ve included is information on your target audience.

It is crucial to take time to think about your users and what their needs are. This information should be used as the foundations of the website’s design and content.

Target audience information is critical in a website design brief because it helps to ensure that the website will be designed and built in a way that meets the needs of those who will be using it.

Without this information, it would be difficult to create a website that appeals to and is usable by the intended audience.

Additionally, target audience information should inform other decisions about the website. Such as what content to include and what features to focus on.

 

Challenges

Scope creep 

Scope creep is the tendency for projects to gradually expand in scope over time.

This can happen for a number of reasons. Such as new stakeholders becoming involved and requesting additional features, changes in technology that make new features possible, or simply a lack of clear definition at the start of the project.

While a certain amount of scope creep is inevitable on any project, it’s important to try to avoid it as much as possible.

Otherwise, you run the risk of the project becoming too large and expensive, and never being completed.

 

How can you avoid scope creep? 

  • Define the scope of the project clearly from the start, and get agreement from all stakeholders on what is included. Make sure everyone understands that adding new features will likely increase the cost and time required to complete the project.

 

  • Have a clear process for handling requests for new features or changes to the scope. These should be evaluated against the original objectives of the project, and only approved if they are deemed essential.

 

  • Be realistic about what can be achieved within the available budget and timeframe. It’s better to deliver a smaller, focused project that meets its objectives than a larger one that is plagued by scope creep.

 

If scope creep does occur, the best course of action is to try to contain it as much as possible.

This may mean going back to stakeholders and getting their agreement to cut some features in order to stay within budget. Or renegotiating the timeline to allow for additional work.

In extreme cases, it may even be necessary to postpone the project, or cancel it entirely.

While scope creep can be a challenge, it’s important to remember that it’s very common. Even the most well managed projects will involve a small amount of creep.

The key is to manage it effectively, so that it doesn’t get out of hand and jeopardise the success of the project. This can be managed via a RAAIIDD log, which will help you mitigate the impacts of creep.

 

Assumptions

Including project assumptions is an important part of the project brief as mistakes can be made when assumptions are not clearly stated.

Any assumptions made about the project should be outlined in the website design brief. This helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page and can help prevent misunderstandings down the road.

 

What are project assumptions? 

Project assumptions are beliefs that a team holds to be true about the world or the problem they are solving. These beliefs guide the team’s decision-making and can have a significant impact on the success of a project.

It is important to document assumptions because they can often be wrong. If an assumption is later found to be incorrect, it can lead to major problems later on in the project.

Documentation also allows others to challenge assumptions and provide alternative perspectives.

Project assumptions should be revisited regularly via a RAAIIDD log, especially if new information becomes available.

This helps to ensure that the team is making decisions based on accurate information and gives them a chance to course-correct if necessary.

 

Investing in your website design brief is time well spent

A detailed and well thought through website design brief is crucial to ensuring that you get high-quality and relevant responses from web design agencies.

It will also ensure that the stakeholders involved in a website project are aligned and that the project delivers everything that is expected by the organisation.

Without a well-defined website design brief, it would be difficult to create a website that meets everyone’s needs and expectations.

Creating a website brief can seem like a daunting task. But it is worth the effort to avoid potential issues later on in the project. 

However, it is important to remember that while the brief you are creating now is a prompt for agencies, it is by no means the final project scope. During the discovery process the brief may change considerably.

This isn’t cause to be alarmed, as it is the purpose of discovery, and a good agency will guide you through understanding the changes being made so that they can inform the project’s success.

If you need help putting together your brief, why not drop us a note? We’d love to hear from you and help you create a robust and well-researched document.

 

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