When you want to be able to keep your projects running smoothly there’s one key document you need to work on: the design brief. In recent years there has been a degree of pushback against this age-old, proven approach to pushing web design projects forward. In this article, we want to go back to basics and show you how a well-written design brief will be the most valuable addition you make to your business this year.
What is Design Brief?
In short, it’s the document that outlines the scope of the project. It’s important because it allows designers and their clients to align their expectations regarding every aspect of the project. When you work in a specialist industry it can be all too easy to assume your clients know exactly how you work. And when you’re a client who works on their business every day, you might assume others know as much about it as you do. This is rarely the case, and the design brief is there to bridge the gaps.
How is it different from the technical details?
Building a website doesn’t start by getting right down to some in-depth coding, that much is obvious. Whilst the technical details are vital to the success of the project, they’re not what guides it. You can think of the technical side of things as the tactics that get things done, and the design brief as the overall strategy that provides direction and purpose.
The Key Benefits of Design Brief
Before we show you how to structure your design brief we need to highlight the key benefits. Here they are for reference:
- It gives the designer the necessary background and insights which they can then use as the starting point for the design.
- A design brief ensures the design team is fully conversant with the client’s hopes and expectations for the project. This also makes the client feel involved as they will be active participants every step of the way.
- Individuals will be given clearly defined remits which they can then work within to deliver the project on time, and to the desired standard.
- All of the requirements and specifications will be laid out upfront, allowing any potential issues or conflicts to be resolved early
- It also serves as a chance for the client to give examples of styles they like/don’t like.
Now that we’ve highlighted the benefits, let’s take a look at the design process itself.
The Main Stages of the Design Process
You can break the design process up in a variety of different ways depending on which school of thought you subscribe to. To keep things simple we picture the design as consisting of these 4 steps:
- Problem Definition: What do you want the project to actually do?
- Design Exploration: Creating drafts and examples based on what the client has asked for
- Design Optimization: Use client feedback to fine-tune the design
- Design Communication: Populate the website with content designed to reach out and connect with the target audience. This is where tools like TrustMyPaper, Grammarly and, Hemingway App could prove useful
Now that we’ve covered all the basics, let’s take a look at the specifics and share some examples of the best way to create your own design brief.
Examples of Questions You Might Ask Your Customers
Here are 5 questions you might consider adding into your design brief to help your client get across everything you need to know:
- What is the core identity of your brand?
- Could you give us a profile of your ideal customer?
- Are there any competitors whose style you’re looking to emulate?
- What is the end goal of your web presence?
- When do you need it to go live?
With these questions giving you plenty of food for thought, it’s time to take a look at how you might structure your new design brief.
Building your design brief
Design briefs need a clear structure and have to be far more focused than a simple barrage of questions.
“When I start a project I always sit down and review the structure of my design brief. That way I can get an instant refresher on the specific steps I need to take to make the project a success” — says Lucy Watson, Head of Content Design at IsAccurate.
1. Company Profile
First things first, you need to understand your client’s company. Ask for a 1-page overview of who they are, what they do, and why they do it. Once you have that it will be much easier to ask other pertinent questions.
2. Global Overview
This is the part where you ask for a broad overview of their vision. Are they launching a new eCommerce store in a foreign country? Are they building a sales funnel with a complex range of retargeting options? Ask your client for their vision before you start to focus on the specifics that will make it happen.
3. Quantifying the Objectives
Does the website need to convert 5% of all users within 10 seconds of them landing on the page? Or does it need to generate leads and pre-sells on specific pages? If you don’t ask then you may never know. Get specific about the objectives, and quantify them wherever possible.
4. Understanding the Audience
When you want to promote your brand you need to understand the target audience, and the same is true when you’re building a web presence for someone else’s brand. Ask your client what makes them unique and why people would come to them so you can get a better understanding of the people they’re trying to connect with.
5. Design Requirements: Time to Get Technical
This is the part where you finally start to get technical, and it’s no accident that we’ve left it almost to the end of this article. Of course, you need to discuss the technical details, but they’re very much the tactics, not the strategy, as we highlighted earlier. It’s at this point you ask things like: how much traffic is predicted, what specific payment functionality is required, and does the website needs to interface with any pre-existing content?
6. How Much and How long?
It’s the all-important question you need to ask, and if you don’t ask it at the start then the chances are you won’t have a happy customer at the end of it. The size and scope of the project, the budget available, and the delivery date are the key constraints you need to know. Make sure they’re clarified early and it will make all the difference to the subsequent planning.
No web design project begins with laying out lines of code — it’s far more collaborative and subjective than that. The design brief is what allows the client and designer to align their expectations and vision for the project. Without one, you will be simply guessing at what your client expects to see. With one, you will be actively collaborating as you create something that meets all of their expectations. When you put it like that, it’s clear that every web design project needs a design brief if it’s going to succeed.