Here's the scenario, see if it sounds familiar to you. You, or your business has decided that it's time for a new website - firstly, good call, if you operate in the digital space, nothing is more important than having a well-performing website. Everyone is excited about the project, or more specifically the result at the end of the project. It could be that you're the business owner or just the individual within a wider team that's been tasked with "getting it done".
There are many ways to get it done. It could be an internal project or outsourced. To a freelance designer or an agency. You could use a builder like Wix (read more about that here) or a bespoke website using a developer. Clearly, there is more than one way to skin a cat (please don't do that). Whichever way you're going to go with your website project, you should prepare a project brief - probably before you even make a decision on which direction to go in.
Think of your web design brief as a business plan, but for your website. The more information you can provide, and the clearer your requirements the better. A good website brief equips you, your agency or developer with everything they need to deliver a successful web design project that fulfils your vision.
By crafting the perfect web design brief you can align the thinking of all those involved with the web design project. It provides a clear reference point for the project going forward with key information like budgets, deadlines and objectives.
When you work with an agency on a web design project you will usually find they will drive the process to establish a brief. At Nova, for example, we start with a kick-off meeting to establish the scope of the project (this is from your brief), this is then converted into a proposal document and once agreed, serves as a point of reference for the entire web design project. By the way, if you hadn't realised, we build websites - click here to learn more about our web design services.
However, we can only speak for our own agency and our own discovery process. Other agencies and freelance web designers may not be as thorough and may not ask all the right questions - so it's a good idea to have your own brief ready. This is still true if you're handling the project in house - it'll help you stay on track as the project moves forward.
Hopefully, you're starting to see that a great brief is the foundation on which all successful websites are built. By investing the time and attention to get it right from the beginning you'll have a much smoother experience throughout the project and have something that fits your vision at the end. But if you rush, cut corners, jump in head first or don't ask the right questions up front it can lead to wasted time, money and an altogether negative experience.
But fear not, writing a great brief for a web design project is actually pretty straightforward. This is because all good website briefs contain the same core elements. By using these elements as a guide, you can learn to ask the right questions of yourself, your developer/agency and other stakeholders.
Don't have time to read all of this in detail, or prefer your information more visual, we've got you covered - see below for our handy infographic that covers the main points of what to include in the perfect web design brief...
<a href="https://novainternet.uk/how-to-write-web-design-brief/"><img style="width:100%;" src="https://novainternet.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/what-makes-a-good-web-design-brief.png"></a><br>Infographic Design By <a href="https://novainternet.uk/">Nova Internet</a>
It's vital to include enough detail in your brief so that all stakeholders and your chosen agency understand every aspect of your website project. Here are the areas your web design brief should cover, with some questions that will need answering along the way:
Sounds obvious, but when you start out on a web design project you need to define what the project is exactly. Not to be confused with the project goals, the definition is a chance to be clear on your expectations of the project and get all stakeholders on the same page. Internally, you should define who will be responsible for what aspects of the project.
This can range from market research to liaising with external resources (agencies, developers etc), providing content for the build and the approval process. Who in your organisation will get the final say on various aspects of the web design project? Who is responsible for managing the project your end?
You also need to define the extent of the website project in the brief. Website projects can range from a simple re-skin where much of the content and website structure stays the same and only the design is updated, to a rebuild with an overhaul of the website structure and content or a complete rebranding where the entire brand needs re-defining.
Answer these questions and you should know who you need involved in the project going forward. Unless you have your own marketing department complete with web developers I'll assume you'll be looking for some external help. While a small re-skin project might be suited to a freelance web designer, anything more will most likely require the extended skillsets of a digital marketing agency.
When you work with a digital marketing agency like Nova, you get much more than a designer. We consider all the wider business objectives before starting a web design project. This includes market research to better understand your industry, who the big players are and how we're going to help you compete. While not a requirement of working with us, more often than not we take on the brand definition part of the project (which comes before the website) as well as the SEO and ongoing digital marketing once the website is complete. There are great benefits to having all this under one roof, and it's more affordable than you might think.
You may already know who your target market is, but it's also important to make sure that whoever is building your website and producing copy understands who they are too and what motivates them.
The best way to do this is through market research and competitor analysis. A good agency or web developer will usually conduct some level of this as part of their normal process, but it doesn't hurt to have some information ready for them to work from. Try and think beyond simply B2B or B2C categories and think more about buyer personas.
Your target market isn't just a person or a business, but a person/business with X characteristics or who has a particular pain that they need to solve. Communicate this to your web agency and indicate how you position your brand within the wider market. All this will help contribute to the perfect web design brief.
How will you judge the success of the project? While overall business objectives should play a key role in any web design brief, these are not the same as the goals or objectives of the project.
These are the key requirements of the project that you should use to judge whether the project has been completed successfully. Examples include having access to the content management system to manage your own blog, for it to be designed or built on a particular platform, to have specific e-commerce features or completed by a set deadline.
These are your non-negotiables and should be completely unambiguous in their definition - it's not enough to say you want it to be good or that you want it to pop, nobody knows what that means. Agree on these goals/objectives with your agency or developer upfront and you'll find you're both working towards the same ends pretty early on.
Similar to setting clear overall objectives for the web design project. Your website brief should also include any specific technical requirements. This could be regarding hosting, specific features, functionality or access required for the website.
Technical requirements not identified at the beginning of a website project are the biggest cause of scope creep. Scope creep is when something that wasn't identified at the beginning of the project (when a quote was produced) later becomes a necessity. Unlike simple design or content updates, technical changes part way through a project can have wider consequences, often impacting other aspects of the build. This in turn can have an effect on your project timeline and ultimately the overall cost - so it's best avoided.
So, if you require backend access, or a particular website feature make sure it's included in the initial website brief to mitigate any surprises down the road.
Probably the biggest barrier to completing a website project is the gathering of content. You may or may not identify with this yourself, but for a lot of people the idea of writing something that will appear on their website fills them with dread. There does seem to be a lot of anxiety linked to writing in general, whether this is linked to the permanence of it, a fear of getting it wrong or a lack of confidence in spelling and grammar. Whatever the reason, it's usually the hardest part of a website project to push through.
In your brief you need to be clear on who will be taking responsibility for producing the content, unsurprisingly copywriting is a discipline in it's own right - some multi-talented web developers can do it, some fake it (and do a bad job) and others work with professional marketers to get it right.
You might be thinking that the way out is to have your agency or developer produce the website copy (which I would always recommend), but don't be fooled, you will still have to work with them to produce the web copy otherwise they will be making it up as they go (bad idea). And you will still have to review it for accuracy after it's produced. This is much easier for most people, but you will still need to be aware of who in your organisation is going to take this on.
Not something that immediately springs to mind for a lot of people when commissioning a website build. You need to think about what is going to happen after your website is live. Who will look after it? Assuming you're having a bespoke website built for your business it will most likely require some form of upkeep and general maintenance to keep it running.
This is usually in the form of security updates and bug fixes. Over time, standards change, vulnerabilities emerge and new requirements emerge. This can all have a knock-on effect with your website if it has a lot of interconnected parts. To a web developer, this is no big deal and just part of managing a website, much like owning a car a website needs to be serviced regularly until it reaches a point where it is no longer functioning at peak efficiency and needs to be replaced - it's a natural lifecycle.
But what happens if you don't look after your website - same as your car - it will start to develop rattles and quirks that can develop into bigger problems and bring your website to the end of it's lifecycle sooner than you would have liked. Forgive the slightly patronising analogy but I see a lot of websites that have been neglected because the owner didn't know who was responsible for the upkeep of the website.
So, in your web design brief make sure you know who will be responsible for the hosting and maintenance of your website going forward. The best option for most businesses is to have a maintenance contract in place with your agency or developer. This is usually a minimal fee to look after your website from a technical point of view (this usually doesn't include design and content updates, that would be extra). The idea is usually to keep the website live, secure and working correctly - think of it as good aftercare
Be wary of anyone who wants to hand over everything back to you after a build, unless you're an experienced webmaster you will eventually run into issues that will cause you a headache and incur further costs. Choose an agency that wants to build a lasting relationship and take responsibility for the health of your website going forward rather than cut and run.
I should mention that we, here at Nova, actually take this one step further, all of our websites are hosted on our own server environment. We don't generally take on projects where the client wants to self manage or use a third party for their hosting. This is because by building websites in our own environment we can be assured of the speed, security and reliability of every website we build.
When preparing your website brief it's important to include details about your brand's visual identity. Your agency or developer will probably ask you for these early on, but it's good to be prepared - remember, more is better. Include any logo files, images, fonts and colours that are to be used but more importantly indicate where and how they are to be used. If you have a brand guidelines document, even better.
If you're a small business, or this is your first website these may be things you've never considered before now. consistency in your branding and visual identity can make a huge difference when it comes to how professional your business appears to prospective customers. So now would be a great time to get these details nailed down.
If you're working with an agency, chances are they also offer these types of branding services and if you're lucky, graphic design. In your website brief, be sure to include whether you need help defining these aspects of your brand, if you don't - most developers will work with what you have and choose the fonts and colours that they think will work best. Now is a great time to freshen up your brand with a new look and feel, so include it in the web design project brief - you might find that some are willing to waive certain fees when bundled in with a larger project.
If there is a specific, hard deadline for completion of the website project be sure to make that clear in the initial brief. Website projects can take several months, or at least they should - people advertising 24 hour website projects worry me, but that's another topic - mostly due to the back and forth and inbuilt review processes. For this reason, many agencies refuse to work to a set deadline.
Some do, and as long as it's a reasonable amount of time you show a willingness to respond promptly during the various discovery and review stages you can often agree a firm target date for launch. Many web developers will be prepared to offer a higher priority to your project which will be reflected in the quote - so it needs to be in the website brief.
You should also have a clear understanding of the various project milestones, where they will be in the process and what will be expected of you as the client. Most developers will have natural points where they stop and gather feedback on what has been done. Don't be afraid to probe a bit deeper and ask where these milestones are, make sure you know who in your organisation will be responsible for sign off at these stages and be wary of anyone who is going to complete the entire project in a short amount of time with little involvement from yourself.
It's never the easiest part of the discussion when it comes to a website project, almost as if by telling someone your budget will automatically make that the price (and charge you more). I'd suggest that if you can't trust a prospective business partner not to hike their prices just because you have budget, then you probably can't trust them to build your website.
Hands up, often when I find out what a budget is for a project, the quote I give is miraculously in that region - but only if I like them and the project interests me. That's because in most cases the budget does not match the objectives - by this I mean there isn't enough budget to cover what is being asked.
Most agencies and developers will endeavour to deliver everything you need within budget, that's why, when making recommendations on how to approach a website project it's important to know much budget is available to achieve your goals - it's not a sales tactic, just a necessary part of the brief.
As I said at the beginning, there is more than one way to skin a cat (again, don't do that), and there is a big difference between a £500 website and a £5,000 website. If there is a fixed budget for a project, this needs to be known from the beginning, and working within that budget is just as important as any other objective for the web design project.
If there isn't enough budget for the project, your agency or developer should be able to work with you to find ways of making it happen, unless the requirements are completely out there. In most projects, when I get to the formal proposal stage (after the web design brief has been discussed), I've already had several discussions about the budget so there are no surprises - it's a conversation that should be had early on to make sure you're all on the same page, and that's why it needs to be included in your initial website brief.
If you're looking for a professional website, we can help. We've worked very hard to make sure our web design services are a straightforward process and a positive experience for all involved. We work with you at every step to make sure the end result is an accurate reflection of your vision and achieves your business objectives. Just get in touch.