Forget words and ideas: making an impact online is all about your website’s visual appearance. To achieve something memorable, you often need to start with a design brief.
Working with a designer or a design agency can help transform your brand’s presence in more ways than one.
So if you’re about to take on a design project, here’s your step-by-step guide to constructing a creative brief.
What is a design brief?
A good design brief provides both the client and the designer with a clear understanding of what’s expected for a design project.
Briefs outline client requirements, timelines, budgets, and goals. Any design brief should mention key deliverables and give the designer a good idea of the business and its competitors.
Typically, a creative brief is written, although it doesn’t hurt to incorporate a visual mood board.
Companies will use design briefs for a number of reasons. They might want to launch a branding or rebranding project, initiate a new marketing strategy, or design a website.
Why write a web design brief?
If you’re the client, your design brief is vital for communicating your needs. Even the best design agency in the world can’t get started on a project without a brief.
You might choose to enlist the help of a website designer for a few reasons:
- You need a website, and require design help to get the project off the ground.
- You want to redesign your existing site.
- You plan to scale and add a new function to your online presence, like eCommerce.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, writing a design brief for a website is different from writing one for something like an interior design project or a marketing campaign.
We’ll show you the best way to outline the scope of the project for your website’s needs.
What to include in your design brief
There’s a lot to a design brief, but you need to make sure that your brand is well-conveyed.
Although design agencies are skilled in delivering incredible projects, they won’t know your company, audience, goals, or competitors like you do.
Set out with a clear head and set up a design brief template. Create clear sections, add your own branding, and make it the standard document for all of your future projects.
Design brief templates can be easily found online if you’re struggling to start with the layout.
That said, we’ve laid out the process here – read on to find 10 clear steps that’ll help you pull together an effective creative brief in no time:
1. Business introduction
As with any new relationship, you need to introduce yourself. When you write a design brief, make sure to always start it off with an overview of your business.
There’s no need to write a book – here’s what the designer or design agency needs to know:
What your company does
It’s pretty vital information. Let the designers know what product or service you sell or specialize in. If you already have a website, provide a link in the brief.
The brand values
Designers need to understand what drives their clients, so share what your guiding light or key principles should be.
Origins and size
To that end, make space in the design brief for a quick history of your business, as well as information on your organization’s size and topline revenue.
What sets your company apart
Although a brief isn’t a sales pitch, you should share what you consider your unique selling point to be. It’ll help drive design ideas as well as make you a worthy client.
Key business contacts
To ensure a solid client to designer relationship from the start, add key contacts to the design brief. If you have several employees, designate a fixed team to the project.
2. Project overview
It’s time to outline the reason you needed to write a design brief in the first place. As a client, you’ll need to guide the way on the scope of the project.
Make everything that you want (and don’t want) clear from the very beginning:
Explain what you want and why
Your design team will have plenty of experience in interpreting briefs, but you still need to give them an outline of your actual requirements.
At the core of any website design brief is the reasoning behind the work needed. Either you:
- Need a brand new website – if so, what kind of site?
- Want to update an old site – what do you want to improve?
- Plan to scale your operations. Exciting – what’s the scope of this growth?
Highlight what you don’t want
Work out the things that you’re not looking for before you write a design brief. If the project isn’t focused you might end up getting scope creep.
This is where it grows beyond the original goal, costing your business more time and money.
Set expectations for team involvement
Client and design teams need to know project boundaries before work starts. When both sides understand each other, it saves dispute later on.
If your team wants to have weekly phone calls about the design process, add that to the brief.
3. Goals and objectives
Beyond explaining what you want and why, your design brief should include a summary of the goals and objectives for the website design project.
Giving the designers an understanding of these will help both parties stay aligned throughout:
Make a distinction between the two
Your project goals are essentially your overall aims of the design project. Your objectives are the more concrete measures of success used in reaching those goals.
Clients should be able to give an example of each on design briefs. Goals could include:
- Improving your existing online presence with a more accessible, appealing layout.
- Boosting brand awareness for your business.
- Generating more leads or sales.
- Implementing a new service for your customers or clients.
- Becoming more competitive within your market.
Define the measurables
Include in the design brief what you think a successful outcome should look like. How can the designer and client track the project?
For example, if you want to boost site traffic, state on the brief how many more visitors you want within a measurable time frame.
As with everything, the brief is your opportunity to give the designer a full understanding of your expectations, so try to make every goal measurable.
4. Target audience
It’s crucial for design agencies to clearly see the end-user throughout a design process. And it’s your job as the client to provide this on the design brief.
Hopefully, you’ll have a great idea of the target market for your business.
Give vital statistics
If you already know everything about your target audience, great news. If not, do some more research – your design brief should give the designers a full picture.
At a basic level, you can provide some demographic details, for example:
- The age range of your target customers or clients.
- Hobbies or job types – are you targeting professionals?
- Location – does your business have an international reach?
Share a user persona
It’s not uncommon to generate personas for your target audience. It’s a great way to give many business strategies a clear direction.
It can also help clarify your design brief – if you have a user persona, share it with the designer.
What hasn’t worked?
Much like you did in the overview part of the design brief, feel free to share which customers are clients are not in your target audience.
This might be based on previous experience and can help to steer the brief.
Recommended reading: 19 of the Best Fonts For Websites
Every company has competitors – in a lot of ways, they can benefit what it is you’re doing. You’ll know who your healthy business rivals are, so mention them in the design brief.
Examples of competitors can help your designers in a few different ways. Here’s how:
It shows the level of competition
Seeing competitor websites can answer a lot of questions the designer might have about your expectations as a client.
If everyone else in your industry uses sophisticated AI tools or includes specific details (like a case study section or testimonials) on their websites, it’s clearly a priority for your site, too.
You can exemplify what you want
Say you run an interior design firm, and a project goal is to implement an AI room layout tool. If you can find an example from a competitor’s site, that can help.
While copying is a clear no-no, giving reference points on your brief can be useful information.
It exposes what you can’t have
On the subject of copying: your competitors will be watching you, too. If they have a distinctive color palette or user interface, your designer needs to know to avoid that.
Simply giving details of your competitors can give the project a great starting point.
6. Desired look and feel
All design work is fluid and will evolve in some way, but remember that this is a creative brief – give the design agency an idea to begin the project.
Think of this section of the design brief as building foundations for more questions.
Paint a picture
Not literally, obviously – although some visual design references could be useful information. What we mean is to write a brief description of your ideal site design.
There are plenty of details you could highlight, including:
- An innovative way of displaying each product.
- Design quirks, like animations.
- Particular color schemes that suit your brand.
Make restrictions clear
Does your business have brand guidelines? Is your logo design strictly untouchable? Do you have a particular graphic design dislike?
Avoid scope creep and share on the creative brief what you don’t want the look and feel to be. Even if you’re not sure what you want, this information is useful.
Covering all bases of the project is the aim of the brief. Design quirks that won’t work for your site need to be identified right away.
7. Technical specifications
The natural next step in the creative brief is to list any technical requirements that impact the design. Projects can easily be derailed by unexpected technical glitches.
Document in the design brief all the complexities the project might encounter:
Elements to accommodate
Your designers will likely have plenty of questions about the various site features – whether you want them or you need to work around them. These might include:
- eCommerce functionality. Store designs need to make space for things like payment gateways, shipping calculators, discount codes, and categories per product.
- Design features for user dashboards. Do your clients have user logins? If so, put information on the brief about what bespoke features are needed.
- Integration requirements. Give clear examples on the design brief of any external feeds or APIs that your site needs to integrate with.
Consider all the user-experience essentials of your site design. Project briefs should include these, too. We’re talking about things like:
- Interactive maps, contact forms, and booking pages.
- User forums or business blogs.
- Feeds to social media channels.
8. Budget requirements
Make space in your design brief template to break down each project budget. People are often wary of sharing budget requirements, but this information will impact your site design.
Projects that don’t have clear budget expectations are hard to keep on track. Here’s why:
The scope of work isn’t clear
Say you want to use bespoke graphic design and slick motion UI, but you don’t want to risk the designer overspending your money, so you keep the budget private.
First of all, the designer has no idea what designs are going to be within acceptable spend.
And if they think they can go all-out on top-quality graphic design but you can’t afford it, that’s a lot of time wasted. Not sharing a budget is almost like saying there isn’t one.
Your expectations are managed
When you share your lofty graphic design ambitions alongside your budget, the design agency can probably tell you right away whether it’s achievable.
If it isn’t, there’s now more of an opportunity to ask questions and discuss what you can achieve on this project.
There’s no need to state the budget right down to the last cent, but put a ballpark figure on the design brief, at least.
9. Timescale and required response
These are two separate, straightforward, but essential components of your design brief template. For starters, always add a section that indicates the timescale of the project.
Don’t forget to tell designers how and when to respond to the brief, either.
Set a timeframe
There’s a chance you don’t know when you want these design changes in place. Even if that’s the case, be sure to set a rough deadline.
Giving a timescale helps the designer see right away if they can deliver the project. Never send out a design brief with ‘as soon as possible’ written in the timescale section.
Share the required response
It’s likely you’re sending design briefs to a handful of designers or agencies. Establish a timeframe for receiving replies from them, so that you can manage your own time.
Also, give details of what you want the response to be. It could be a written document, a relevant case study, or maybe just reviews from former clients.
Recommended reading: 12 Minimalist Website Examples to Give You Inspiration
10. Final need-to-knows
As you wrap up your design brief, make space for any more information that you think is relevant to the project, your business, or the designer.
Need some help? We’ve got you covered – here are the other details you’ll need to briefly note:
Pictures, videos, and written content all need to come from somewhere. Have you got it covered or do you need guidance? Here’s what you could add to the design brief:
- Example of existing content – either to ask for feedback or to show intent.
- Image source – will you need help finding photos?
- Site map – try to highlight key pages on your site.
Hosting and maintenance
Your agency or designer should help you out with these details, especially if the project is to build a website from the ground up.
Web designers will most likely know the best hosting solution for your business, and can set it up as part of the project or otherwise make recommendations.
If you’d like maintenance help once the main project has wrapped up, include details of the requirements in the design brief, too.
When design briefs aren’t needed
If you’re bored of looking at design brief examples, or you lack the time or budget to create the project of your dreams, there is definitely another way.
Yes, in the least surprising twist ever, we’re making a case for website builders. But stay with us a minute – if you need a website, check out some perks:
Designer-made, customizable templates
A template sounds like something ordinary. You’d expect websites built using templates to be, well, eerily similar to each other.
But website builders put more than just love into templates. They’re expertly designed, but also usually incredibly customizable (at least, they are at Zyro).
To personalize a template, you can make full use of drag-and-drop editors, adjustable color schemes, and a vast library of images – or just add your own.
Remember that point about hosting and maintenance? Not an issue if you use a website builder – along with the design template, that’s all taken care of.
You should also shop for a builder that gives you AI tools for branding your business, like logo design, content writing, and slogans.
The obvious advantages of using a website builder are speed and simplicity: a template eliminates the need to code or find hosting, and it will take up a fraction of your time.