How to write a website brief

11th June 2012    

When approaching a freelancer or an agency with your website project, it’s no good just asking “how much does a website cost?”. Depending on your exact requirements and the quality of the provider you’re approaching, even for a basic 5-page small business site you could be quoted anything from £200 to 10-15 times that, maybe even more! Being as specific as possible is obviously going to be helpful, so we’ve put together a list of things to bear in mind when requesting a quote. Take a deep breath, this will be a long post!

What to include in a website brief

Not everything from this list will apply to every project, but going through each point yourself will help you to refine your vision for the project and what exactly you do and don’t need. Remember that just because something seems obvious to you is no reason to leave it out of the brief, the more detail your designer has on hand the more accurate the quote and the better the end result.

Introduction

This is where you’ll give your web designer an idea about who you are, and what your company is all about. Include your contact information despite the fact you’re probably emailing this, since that just keeps all relevant information in one place. Kind of like including your email address in a CV you just emailed to a potential employer.

  • Personal contact info
  • Company overview – industry, size, history etc
  • Existing website URL if applicable
  • Company philosophy – this can just be a few words or phrases that you feel sum up the company, it gives your designer an insight into how you’d like to be portrayed

Target market

Different demographics respond to different design styles and language, and as we all know “you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. Having a clear idea of who you’re marketing your company, product, blog or community site (or whatever) towards will save a lot of time and stress over design dead ends. Things to think about include:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Income level
  • Internet mastery
  • Technological savviness – are you targeting early adopters, for example?

Current situation & goals

Your goals for the project are important, but so is your current situation. Without knowing where things currently stand, your designer could end up repeating mistakes that have been made on an existing site.

  • Are your company goals changing or expanding in some way from their previous state?
  • What are your goals for the new site? – for example increased signups or sales, more blog comments, etc
  • How do you plan to measure the success of these goals?
  • If you have an existing site, what about it do you think is failing to achieve your goals? If not, why have you decided now is the time to make the leap?

Features

If you’re looking for a quote on just design rather than full design and development you may be thinking this section doesn’t apply. Bear in mind that a designer will actually need to know what features you’re looking for so that they can design them, and also that getting it written down helps you to get everything straight in your own mind.

Extra things to indicate if applicable:

  • Which items in your feature list, if any, does your current site already do? Does it do these things well?
  • Which features are needed immediately, and which can be added as time goes on?

Some possible features to think about are:

  • Content updateable by yourselves – which content?
  • User roles required – you’ll probably want some sort of administrator account, but do other staff members etc need lesser permissions? Will website users need their own account roles?
  • Social networking features – user profiles, messaging, friends etc
  • Forum
  • Gallery
  • Calendar
  • Any unusually laid out pages on the site – for example a team bio page, or random testimonials

This is obviously not an exhaustive list, and you should feel free to add features that are on your list but perhaps for the future. That way, your finished website will be prepared for those future changes and be much easier to expand.

Design stuff

A good designer always listens to what the client wants, and a good client always takes on board the designer’s expertise. Before any of that can happen, however, you need to have a clearly defined idea of what you think you’d like:

  • Your existing brand colours, if any
  • Competitor sites you like – give reasons
  • Competitor sites you don’t like – more reasons
  • Design style you’d like to see for your own site – this can be as simple as a list of words and phrases

Site structure

You should always know, if only vaguely, what will be included in your site before trying to get a quote. It gives your designer a good idea of the size and complexity of the site, and as with most other sections of the brief it’s also a good opportunity for yourself to think about things in a structured way.

  • Rough list of pages
  • Page hierarchy – don’t worry if you’ve not thought this far, your designer can work out the best way to fit your pages into a usable structure
  • Which pages should be included in a main navigation menu, which should be minor footer links, etc – again your designer can advise on this if necessary

Budget & timescale

This is a bit controversial, since a lot of people think giving away your budget and timescale means a provider will always come in as high as they can and take as long about it as possible. This may be true of some unscrupulous characters but try not to judge the industry as a whole.

  • Is there a firm deadline for project completion? – for example a launch event or trade show
  • What is your budget for the entire project? – it’s ok to give a vague range if you’re unsure, this is still very helpful

Giving your ballpark budget helps the designer, since they won’t be wasting time quoting on a project that pays too little or too much (yes there’s such a thing as too much!), and it helps you because the designer can advise you on the best way to proceed, you’re not spending time reading quotes that are way beyond your means, and as an added bonus you get to see how the designer handles the situation which is a good indicator of their professionalism.

Let’s have an example:

You want a full site design and features X, Y and Z. Your deadline is in 2 weeks. You ask for a quote from the designer at the top of your shortlist, give no budget, and receive a proposal email with a price tag of £1400. Unfortunately your budget was only £700, so you discard the proposal and move on until you find someone willing to work within your budget. The new provider’s work is not of the quality you’d get from the former, but you get what you pay for and that’s just the price you pay for having a low budget.

Or is it?

Consider the alternative. You approach the first designer with the same requirements but add your budget into the mix. The designer now knows that you can in no way afford his usual prices, and can offer you alternatives instead. You work out a deal where the basic site is completed in 2 weeks to meet your deadline, then feature X is completed over the two following weeks, but unnecessary nice-to-haves Y and Z are scrapped for now to be reconsidered at a later date.

Your site now looks its best, since you’re working with the higher quality designer, but you didn’t need to go over budget to hit your deadline. From the designer’s point of view he’s provided the essentials in time for your non-negotiable deadline, but by giving himself extra time to complete feature X he was able to keep the price down.

This was always a possible compromise, but leaving the budget out of your initial email in the first example meant you never did find out.

Categories: Tutorials

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