In part three of our “how to write a brief” series, we’re looking at how to write a web design brief.
In part one we talked about writing a general design brief. In part two, we talked about writing a branding brief.
And now it’s time to discuss web design, and how to write a web design brief.
And just like the other posts in the series, we’ve included a free web design brief template.
Let’s take a look at the type of web design projects you might be considering:
- You’re a new business with no website, and want to showcase your offering
- You created your own website using web design software, and now need to up your game
- You’re adding an ecommerce offering and want to account for that
There are a huge range of web design projects you might be looking to run. A well written, thought out web design brief is crucial to each of them.
Website design is no easy task, and there are a lot of moving parts to a successful web design project.
Without a brief, you’re stabbing in the dark.
What makes a good web design brief?
Let’s dive in!
What Makes a Web Design Brief Different to a Plain Old Design Brief or Branding Brief?
As we’ve mentioned in both previous posts on the subject, your design brief is a vital tool for communicating your ideas to your chosen agency. In this case, your web design agency.
Finding an agency who offers web design services is easy if you know what you’re looking for.
Thankfully, Will created a great post on how to find the best web designers and agencies near you.
Even if you choose to work with a great web design company, you should still have a well structured web design brief to help!
So what’s the difference between a web design brief, and a regular old design brief or branding brief?
Well, there’s a whole world of difference.
I don’t need to tell you that a web design project is very different to a branding project.
You’ve identified the need to have a website designed or redesigned. Now you can use your web design brief to get into the specifics of the project at hand.
Where before we were looking at very brand oriented questions and things to include, this time we’re looking at functionality and problems in a lot more depth.
Just like before, there are going to be some areas of the brief that are very similar. But we’re going to whizz straight over them!
If you want to dive into them in more depth, then check out the first post in the series, How to Write a Design Brief.
Once we’ve covered off the basics, we’re going to deep dive into web design projects, and discuss how to write a great web design brief in detail.
Why Write a Web Design Brief?
You’d want to write a web design brief in several circumstances:
- You’re a new business that need to get their website put in place
- You’re an existing business whose website is no longer fit for purpose
Just like with any other brief, the idea behind a written web design brief, is to bring clarity to your situation.
Specifically, you want to address:
- What your business is all about
- What you want your website to do (is it a brochure site, is it ecommerce?)
- What you want your website to achieve
With any sort of design brief, you want to be giving out as much relevant information about your project as possible.
Where a lot of the things you included in your branding brief were quite holistic, and “touchy feely” – your web design brief should be pragmatic.
People understand websites, what they are, and how they typically function. So you’re not explaining things to an alien this time! It’s more straightforward than that.
You need a website. You need to communicate what you want your website to do for your business.
A written web design brief is a great tool to use to help you get ideas, and a rough cost for web design services.
Your web design brief is a document you can use to communicate with a web design agency, about your vision, needs, and requirements.
Who Should Write a Web Design Brief?
At Canny, we’re no strangers to helping people with their web design brief.
To be honest, they’re not the easiest things to write. And if you’ve never written a design brief before, you’re going to need help.
However, the majority of the input needs to come from you, the business owner, or Marketing Executive/Director.
You know the current “lay of the land.” You have the answers to the questions. So you need to get them out of your head and down on paper.
Even if you can’t get everything down, having some sort of loose ideas around your web design project will help your design agency.
A lot of people come to us with:
“We just need a new website. How much?”
And I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work like that. We need you to expand on that idea!
And you’re in a position to do that.
When people come to us like this, we guide them through a series of questions that in turn help construct their web design brief.
Remember, your web design brief doesn’t need to be the finished article.
Great websites come from great partnerships. Trusting your web design agency to help guide you in the right direction will deliver better long term results.
So, what should go into your website design brief?
Let’s get into it.
What Should Be Included in Your Web Design Brief?
Now that you know when you should write it, and who should write it, what exactly should be included in your web design brief?
Well, your web design brief is still going to include some of the sections from The Design Brief and Branding Brief.
But this time, there’s also going to be a lot of focus on your online presence, what exists, where it’s hosted, and what your future plans look like.
This is what we suggest you include:
- An Overview of Your Business and Current Website Situation
- The Objectives of Your Web Design Project
- Your Target Audience and Market
- The Problem You’re Facing
- Project Specific Information
- Competitor Information
- Project Timescales
- Project Budget
- Contact Information
- How the Project will Be Awarded
- Required Response
On top of that, we’re going to look at specific website information, including:
- Website Features and Functionality
- Key Pages or Sitemap
- Content Requirements
- Calls to Action
- Website Likes and Dislikes
- Traffic Generation
- Domain Name and Hosting
- Ongoing Maintenance
- Analytics and Management
- SEO and Digital Marketing Requirements
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s cover off the basics one more time.
If you’ve read either of our previous two posts on writing design briefs, you might want to skip ahead!
An Overview of Your Business and Current Website Situation
The first thing you should explain in your web design brief, is about your business, the sector you work in, and the website you’re looking to build.
If you’re looking to create a new website, try answering the following:
- What does your business do, and what sort of website do you need?
- How will customers find your website?
- What will keep customers coming to you rather than your competitors?
And if you’re an existing business redesigning your website, answer the above, and:
- What’s wrong with our current website?
- Have we got enough feedback to make real improvements?
- Will our existing website provider put up any resistance?
Website design projects rely on everyone having a crystal clear understanding of the situation and the challenges they’re likely to face.
Tricky existing providers can add a solid chunk of time to a project. So coming up with a plan to counteract them at first light is imperative.
The more information you can share in the first instance, the better your web project is likely to turn out.
The Objectives of Your Web Design Project
Chances are, deciding to create a new website or change your website completely, didn’t happen overnight.
There’s always something that drives you to make that decision.
If you’re a new business, then you’ve probably just realised that you need help with your website.
Perhaps you’ve tried creating your website with web design software, and suddenly come to your senses!
If you’re ready to rip up an existing site though, what’s driven you to take that sort of action?
Maybe you’re adding an ecommerce offering, or you’ve pivoted and things are moving in a new direction.
Or maybe your website just isn’t performing the way it used to, and now you need to take drastic action.
Once you’ve taken the decision to start a new website project, you have to let your agency know why.
From there, you can start getting clear on your website goals.
As we’ve mentioned in the other posts in this series, the goals of your project might be pretty straightforward:
“We need a new website that helps showcase our business. We operate in a crowded marketplace, but the quality of service we offer puts us head and shoulders above our competition. To show this, we want to use case studies and testimonials that speak to the quality of our service.”
The goal here is differentiation through quality of service. Simple.
If you’re ripping up your website and starting again, then your goal might be totally different:
“We need a new website that generates leads for our business. We want to be generating around 10 leads per week, this would allow us to add £xx,xxx to our revenue stream on a monthly basis.”
The goal here is to grow a business by using digital marketing tactics successfully.
And in this case, they’ll certainly need to drive a lot of traffic to their website.
Both of these goals have similarities, but realistically, they’re very different projects.
One is to create a quality website with a quality offering. The other is to generate leads, which is more of a traffic driving and conversion optimisation exercise.
Having a solid “goal statement” like this keeps everyone on the same page with your project. It also gives your chosen web design agency something to measure against.
On the subject of measurable project, something else to consider is:
What will make your web design project a success?
How are you going to decide whether you’ve used the budget well, and created a new website that performs well?
If you’re going to judge the success or failure of a project, it’s only fair to let the agency you work with know what the criteria are.
If you’re going to base it on whether you’ve 10x’d your online sales, then you need to include this in your web design brief.
You might also want to read our top ecommerce tips if that’s the level of sales you’re looking to achieve.
Because it’ll change how your agency approaches your project from the start.
Rather than spending time on creating pixel perfect website designs, they’ll be running tests with customers, and designing around the results.
Having a set of “success factors” can really help all parties.
It ensures everyone knows what their responsibilities are, and will help to create the website project plan.
Your Target Audience and Market
This is one of the most important sections to include in any design brief.
Here’s the deal:
Web design is used to solve problems for your customers, as well as your business.
The job of a web design agency isn’t just to make things look pretty. Sure, that might help at times, but web design is a problem solving tool.
Think about this:
Your website is making no sales. Sure, that’s a problem for you but, but realistically, it’s because your website design isn’t hitting home for your customers.
When it comes to website design and development, a design agency is responsible for designing for your customers. Not for you.
Therefore, it’s important that they know what your target audience looks like.
If possible, it’s even better if you can run a focus session with your customers involved. This will help everyone understand how people use your website, and give you ideas for moving it forward.
We’ve got a great post here about creating customer personas.
Essentially, you want to outline their demographic traits and psychographic characteristics.
You can do this by asking insightful questions about your existing customers.
Take your ideal customer, and build your persona around them.
On top of thinking about demographics and psychographics, I love asking the following questions:
- What does their family structure look like?
- What type of car they drive?
- Are they a pet owner?
- What newspaper/magazines do they read?
- Which websites do they visit? And for what purpose?
I often find simple questions like this help a lot more when creating a website, than the demographic information and psychographic traits.
Knowing what websites customers visit and brands they buy into, can help inform you about the design styles that appeal to them, what type of content they like.
Customer personas should take up quite a chunk of your web design brief. Make sure you include 2 or 3 examples!
The Problem You’re Facing
The objectives of your web design project are one thing, but the actual problems you’re facing with your website is something else entirely.
Goals and objectives focus on where you want to be.
The problem you’re facing with your website, focuses on the here and now.
And it’s a strange situation when creating a new website.
Because essentially, the problem is:
“We don’t have a website, and we need one.”
And you’d imagine, that’s an easy fix, let’s create one. End of web design brief.
Not so fast! You’re still going to want to include all of the information we’re outlining here.
It’s usually easier to outline the problem with a website redesign project:
“Our website is old and dated. We don’t make any sales or generate leads. It’s not mobile friendly.”
These are problems that need unpicked, but they’re usually easier to outline at the offset.
Although it can seem a little self-deprecating, deep diving into the real world problems you face as a business is the only way to solve them.
You’ve done the hard part, which is realising the problem you’re facing.
Now, steer into it, and with a professional web design agency by your side, you can overcome it!
Project Specific Information
Website specific project information can be tricky to outline in a web design brief.
This happens because more often than not, it’s beneficial to have your web design agency make recommendations, rather than adding restrictions from the outset.
Also, unless you’re a tech whizz, you might find yourself floundering when looking underneath the hood of a website project.
On top of that, you might not actually know what it is that you need to achieve your goals.
However, there are always some things to consider.
Let’s take a look at creating a new website as an example:
- What is it you want to show on your website?
- Do you have experience with a particular website platform? (Like WordPress)
- Is the content all written out and ready to go?
Your project specification doesn’t need to super technical.
But if you have specific requirements, it’s best to get them listed out now.
Other things to consider alongside your web design project are:
- What does your marketing strategy look like?
- Is your branding and brand identity in place?
- Do you have a digital marketing strategy in place?
You’re going to your web design agency for their talent and recommendations. So don’t be completely closed off to changing things!
The more information you can share about your project here, the better.
It’s funny, the level of influence that competitor’s can have on your business, and web design brief.
You need to decide here, are you trying to stand out, or fit in?
There’s not a right or wrong answer here. This should be assessed on a case by case basis.
If you’re working on a web design project, knowing about your competitors can help us to get an understanding of what they’re all about and what they’re doing online.
It also allows us to take a look at their website, and discuss with you how you want your website to function and look when compared to them.
Knowing your competitors is great.
Helping your web design agency to know your competitors not only eases their workload, but allows discussions about them to take place at an earlier stage in the web design process.
It also means they don’t stray too close to what your competitors are doing when creating your new website.
This question often helps agencies decide whether they can be involved with your project or not.
If you’re looking for a rapid turnaround time, and the agencies you reach out to have a lot of work on, they might decline the offer to work together.
“ASAP” is not an acceptable answer when talking about timescales either. There needs to be a reasonable level of understanding here, things don’t just happen overnight.
As a rough guide, here’s what we tell people at Canny about our website timescales:
Web Design Project Timescales
Web design projects can take anywhere between 6 and 12 weeks. It really depends on their complexity.
If you’re looking at a brochure web design, that simply showcases your business, you’ll be down nearer the 6 week mark.
However, if you’re looking for a new ecommerce website solution, you’ll need to carve out a good quarter of a year (if not more) to get things in place.
Timescales should really be put in place by you design agency when you decide to move forward.
One thing I always ask our new clients is:
“Is there an event/product launch/something else we can work towards with the project?”
And that always immediately helps get some initial website launch plans in place.
We have a blog post to help you get your new website launch right.
Try to avoid reaching out to web design agencies at the last minute. The earlier you can bring them in on your plans the better!
Project budget is the area that throws most people into a confused spin when talking about their web design brief.
Everyone loves to talk about money, but nobody ever wants to show their hand first.
To help, we have an article about the cost of website design pricing. In fact, we’ve broken down website pricing by the hour. If you’re really stuck on deciding on your website design budget, make sure to check it out!
Think about this:
Web design agencies get approached for work on a regular basis.
Amongst their enquiries, is a whole load of rubbish, some half-decent leads, and sometimes, some real hints of gold.
You want to be that gold!
Telling your chosen agency you have millions of pounds to work with isn’t the only way to do this. (It will help though!)
Sharing your web design budget, goes a long way towards building trust and transparency from the outset.
And believe it or not, professional design agencies aren’t out to grab as much money as they can for your project.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some unscrupulous folks out there.
Here’s why we want to know your budget:
Nobody wants their time wasted.
You have a 30 minute to 1 hour call with a web design agency. And then you send over your web design brief, with no budget information.
Your web design service agency reads through it, and comes back with a full website design proposal.
It’s 5 times over what you thought you’d be paying. You’ve lost an hour of your time, the agency has also lost a significant chunk of time by writing out the proposal.
And the project is going nowhere.
By being clear with your budget early on, you can make sure everyone is on the same page right from the start.
Now, you don’t need to list out your budget to the penny. But just giving some indication of what you’re working with goes a long way!
Another thing that can happen, is if you’re struggling to front up the cash, your agency might be able to turn you on to any appropriate web design grants and funding that they know of.
If you’re really unsure on how much certain things cost, we have some great posts about pricing out design and branding services that are listed out below:
Hopefully this gives you an insight to how much web design projects cost, and why sharing your budget is an important step to take early in your relationship.
There’s nothing more frustrating than “design by committee.” However, it does happen, and it can be managed.
But there always needs to be a lead point of contact in any web design project.
You need one voice of reason that can be used to add balance to the discussions, and go between both the agency and the company.
Clearly listing out the contact details of the project contact, as well as the best time and way to get hold of them will make things run a lot smoother.
Your design agency should also do their part here and once the project kicks off, they’ll assign a member of staff (usually an Account Manager) to handle their side of the communication.
How the Project will Be Awarded
If you’re considering scoping out the field, and firing out your website brief to a range of agencies, then you need to make sure they know how the project will be awarded.
For the record:
We don’t believe in distributing your web design brief to a huge number of agencies. It’s not respectful of their time.
That said, we appreciate you’ll want to collect several proposals and opinions. 3 to 5 agencies is a fair number to approach.
So how will your project be awarded?
Typically, there are several elements at play:
- Cost/Value for Money
- Quality of Work
- Previous Experience
- Alignment to the Design Brief
- Suitability of the Agency
There are any number of factors that you could use to judge the responses.
It’s normal to write into your web design brief, the percentage and weighting of each of the awarding criteria.
This helps to show your design agency what’s most important in your decision making process.
If they’re particularly keen to partner together, then they might consider reducing their price if it’s the heaviest weighting factor.
Likewise, if they’re really busy, they might inflate their price to make it “worth their time” if they have to draft in extra staff.
Swings and roundabouts!
The required response section of your web design brief is usually straightforward.
You need to let your agency know what you’re expecting back, by when, and how to submit it.
It’s simply a case of listing out what you expect to receive back.
Perhaps this is as simple as:
- A written response to the brief
- Examples of relevant work
- Testimonials from happy clients
Tell them how to submit their proposal, what to include, by when, and you’re off to the races.
What about those additional sections that should be included in your web design brief?
Let’s take a look at those now:
Website Features and Functionality
Websites are like Liam Neeson in Taken, they have a special set of skills that they need to perform.
To make your web design brief the best it can be you need to list out any special features and requirements.
These might include:
- Integrations with a CRM system or mailing list provider
- Trackable contact forms
- Ecommerce functionality
- Member zone or portal
- Subscription model
If you’re thinking on building a website that’s any more than a business showcase, you need to have that written into your brief.
When writing about features and functionality, people tend to dive into the aesthetics and visuals of the website.
We don’t need to know in the brief if you want a website with a blue background and Comic Sans as the font. You can save that for later discussions!
We need to get really clear on the scope, to help give the most accurate proposal possible.
Key Pages or Sitemap
This should be one of the easiest parts of the brief to write.
What pages do you want on your website?
Most websites consist of at least:
Then it’s a case of building it up for your own unique case from there.
Sell sports socks? You probably want a page about how great your socks are.
In the restaurant business? Make sure you include your menu on there.
Some form of loose sitemap or list of key pages will help solidify your brief.
If you have an existing website, try and list out the key pages and how they’re performing. This way your agency will be able to make sure they’re not overlooked.
Different people have different content requirements.
There are several buckets you might fall into here:
- You don’t want to write the content, and want to hire a copywriter
- You don’t have any content ready, and want your agency to help
- You have a whole bunch of copy ready, and just need it looked over
- Your existing website contains some content you want to refresh
There are countless options.
But it’s a good idea to include where you are in your web design brief.
And when we say content, we’re not just talking about written content. There’s also imagery and video to consider.
Some sites rely quite heavily on images, so do you have a library ready to go? Or are you looking to use stock photography?
Your content requirements can impact the price of your website, so get clear on them as early as possible.
Calls to Action
A call to action is the “primary action you want your visitors to take” on your website.
Some people do well closing leads on the phone, others prefer an email drops in with the relevant information.
If you’re setting up an ecommerce website, then the likely action you want people to take, is to buy your products.
When listing out your key pages, you could try and map the key call to action to each page.
This will help your design agency out when they’re putting your wireframes and page designs together.
Website Likes and Dislikes
In our Discovery Process at Canny, we go through a whole range of websites and visual styles to get to the bottom of this question.
But in your brief, try and list out:
- 3 websites you like
- Their web address
- What you like about each of them
And then do the reverse.
Likes and dislikes are important as it can guide the design style and choices made throughout the project.
Design isn’t just about making things look pretty. Always look for functionality first.
But once you have that nailed, you have to make it as pretty as possible!
This dips into digital marketing, but it’s a good idea to give your agency a heads up about your digital marketing strategy.
Are you going to be running a whole load of pay per click ads?
Maybe you’re advertising using a huge city centre billboard.
If you’re not sure how to advertise your business, check out the best small business advertising ideas to help you get started.
Again, your digital marketing plans feed your website design project.
Looking to set up loads of landing pages quickly, then some sort of landing page builder is probably a must have feature.
Going to A/B test your way to success?
Then let’s get those versions setup as part of your project.
There are a whole range of digital marketing techniques you could use, so make sure to talk things over with your web designers.
Domain Name and Hosting
Domain names and hosting are two separate things that are often lumped together.
Your domain name is the address of your website. It’s what’s visible at the top of your internet browser in the address bar.
There are a range of extensions you can use, from .com to .ninja to .online.
Either way, you’re going to need one to make your website work.
If you need help from your agency to secure a domain name, let them know.
It’s often a good idea to buy a suite of domain names. That way they can’t be swept out from underneath you if you create the next Amazon or Google.
You then need to point your domain name to your website hosting.
Your website is made up of code, images, files, folders, and all that sort of fun stuff.
They need somewhere to live.
Your website hosting is that space.
You’ll want to pay for great hosting after reading about the drawbacks of cheap web hosting.
Again, most agencies can either:
- Host your website for you
- Make a hosting recommendation
Just be sure to let them know if you need help!
If you’re working for a larger organisation, you might want to think about working with your agency on a retainer to provide ongoing maintenance.
Typically, if you’re hosting with an agency, they’ll be performing security checks and updates on a regular schedule.
If you want them to update content and post new blogs for you, then you need to write that into your brief.
Analytics and Other Tools
Most people default to Google Analytics and have it installed.
But there are a range of other tools people like to have installed on their site.
Some people like using Hotjar, CrazyEgg, VWO, to track clicks and scrolls.
Then you have Live Chat options such as Drift and Intercom.
If you want these installed, again, list them out in your design brief.
It’s Time to Reach Out
And that’s it.
By this point, your web design brief should be pretty comprehensive. It’s time to start reaching out to web design agencies.
If you’re still not sure on how to find a web design agency, you could contact us to discuss your project.
It’s time to get the process started!
Conclusion: How to Write a Web Design Brief
A web design brief is an indispensable tool that should be used when trying to source a web design agency for your project.
Remember though, it’s not rigid. It should be added to and modified as your chosen agency sink their teeth into your world!
It’s not unusual for goals and objectives to change, especially when outside interference comes into play, and throws the cat among the pigeons.
And that’s fine, just be prepared to go back and forward and hammer out the details.
Websites are often more technical than a typical design or branding brief. Simply because they have so many moving parts and integrations.
Just like the other briefs in the series, your web design brief should be used to reach out to agencies, and referred back to at key milestones within the project.
But remember, it isn’t written in stone. More, wet sand.
It’s a great initial document to have, but it should grow with your project.
What do you think? How did you write your web design brief? Let us know in the comments below.
reading time: 28 minutes