How to create a good design brief

bestBrief

Most successful projects begin with a detailed brief, however there are several non-negotiable elements every project brief must include.

In this article we’ll explain, in detail, how we research and construct all internal briefs – helping you prepare the best possible framework for your next project.

We will explore the following areas of a project brief:

  1. Company profile
  2. Defining target audience
  3. Setting objectives & goals
  4. Competitive analysis
  5. Finding inspiration

If at any stage you have any questions, please feel free to contact the team at Digital Thing directly. We’re always happy to lend a hand or sit with you to discuss your next project over coffee.

1. Company profile

The first thing we always do before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys) is to take the time to understand the company we’re working with. This allows us to understand who the intended audience is and how best to address them.

Usually we can gather most of the information we need from pre-existing sources, such as websites, social media channels, brochures, etc. Clients are usually happy to discuss things like company background and objectives in an initial project meeting. If more information is required we can conduct surveys, interviews and focus groups on the client’s behalf.

We do this to understand what makes the business or group special – what makes them tick. We try to establish a personality for the brand so we can ensure the language, tone and design are aligned.

If you are having trouble establishing a company profile, here are some questions to get you started:

  • What does your company do/sell/offer?
  • What industry do you represent?
  • Who typically buys your products/services?
  • How much does your product/service cost?
  • Who are your main competitors? (Off-line and online)
  • What is your positioning line? (Give us an elevator pitch)
  • What are your business goals? (Now and in the next five years)
  • What marketing campaigns are currently active or have been implemented in the past? Were they successful? (Include online campaigns such as AdWords, SEO, etc. As well as offline, such as print, radio, TV, etc.)
  • What are your marketing goals?

Once we have a good understanding of the company, we then create a style guide to ensure all communications and designs adequately reflect the official brand and culture. This isn’t just relevant for design elements like the company logo, but also any imagery, colours, fonts and even the language that is used to represent the company.

Here are some questions you could run through to help you distinguish the culture of a company:

  • What is your company all about? (The philosophy)
  • What is the culture of the business? (Beliefs and attitude)
  • How would you describe the atmosphere within your business?
  • What are your top five company values?
  • What makes you stand out from your competitors?
  • How do people currently perceive your company/brand?
  • What do you do well? What makes you special?
  • What do your competitors do better?
  • What other brands (not related to your industry) do you look to for inspiration?

The final step of completing a company profile is to gather all existing style guides, logos, marketing material and online material. Create a folder and store everything in one place, so you can refer to it if you need later on.

2. Defining target audience

You may have brushed on parts of this with your company profile, but now it’s time to delve into your customer market a little further. Understanding the target audience is an essential component to any good website brief.

After all, if you don’t understand what your customers are looking for then how can you help them find it? The idea is to make it as simple as possible for website users to find exactly what they want (which means as few clicks of the mouse as possible).

One of the most common methods for identifying a target audience is by creating personas. To make things as simple as possible, we suggest starting with just two: The Decision Maker and The Influencer.

The Decision Maker is a person who visits your website looking to buy a product or service.  As the term suggests, these people are looking for a solution to address their need or problem and are ready to buy.  These users are looking for the cold, hard facts, benefits, and pricing or special offers.

The Influencer is the type of person who performs comprehensive research to gather as much information prior to making a decision.  The Influencer can be targeted through blogs, e-books and case studies. It’s important to provide The Influencer with clear contact details in case they want more information, and access to social media so they can establish a connection with the brand.

It is entirely up to you how specific you get with your client personas, and how many you want to create. Personas can include anything and everything, from demographics, geographic location, interests, preferred website browsing device, income, etc.

Personas will change depending on the industry. Unfortunately there is no “one size fits all” solution.  A great tip is to speak with the sales team to get an understanding of the typical client persona.

By understanding exactly who the target market is, will allow the design team to construct the information architecture (sitemap) and create a more positive user experience (UX) for the website/application. It can also be beneficial for creating website content, as well as blog articles and social media.

3. Setting objectives & goals

The third step in the design brief is to understand exactly what the project will entail. Do you want a new website from scratch or just a re-design? Do you require an app? What is it you are trying to achieve? What features will you need to be successful?

A majority of clients that come to us are seeking a website redesign. This is when they already have some sort of online presence, but they are not making the impact they could with their desired markets.

If this is the case, we generally start by analysing their existing website, and getting them to list the specific things they like and don’t like about the design.

From a development and technical standpoint, it’s also a good idea to find out more about the existing website too. You might want to start by asking the following questions:

  • What content management system (CMS) is it running on?
  • Where is it being hosted?
  • Who owns the domain?
  • What is the client’s understanding of HTML? Who will be managing content moving forward?
  • Has Google Analytics been set up for this site?

We usually ask this last point because if Google Analytics or similar has been set up, we use it to identify existing website traffic, including the typical customer, where they came from and what they typically do once they’ve arrived.

Gathering this information also helps with the next step, establishing what the ultimate goal for the new website design. Specifically, what outcome do you want to achieve? Do you want users to do any or all of the following?

  • Sign up for a newsletter
  • Enquire by phone
  • Enquire by email or web form
  • Purchase something
  • Download something (like a catalogue or brochure)

Once you have established all of this information, you should have a better understanding of what you are trying to achieve. This process will also assist with building the design wireframes, concept designs and even content.

4. Competitive Analysis

Sometimes the best way to create a truly great website or web application is to look at what you competitors are doing and learn. Build on their strengths and steer away from their weaknesses.

Here are a few things to evaluate when visiting a competitor website:

  • What is your first impression?
  • From the first page, is it clear what the company is offering?
  • Are their contact details easy to find?
  • How many clicks did it take to find what you wanted?
  • Are the images clear and relevant to the content?
  • Is the content clear and concise?
  • What kind of language do they use? Is it personable or professional?
  • How much information do they provide?
  • Is there a blog? Is it up to date and full of interesting articles?

Don’t be afraid to look at larger companies and use them for ideas. The bigger the company, the more likely they have invested into UX design and development – so you may as well learn from their findings.

Competitive analysis can also identify other functionality ideas or discover opportunities. If your site doesn’t have the similar content and functionality to competitors it’s very easy for the user to go to the competitor site instead.

5. Finding inspiration

Once you have established what you want to achieve with your website, it’s now time to decide how you want it to look and feel for the user. This is the fun part!

There are many great resources available online, which can help you find inspiration for your own website design. Don’t just look at the website structure, consider all elements of the website, including:

  • Colours
  • Fonts
  • Buttons
  • Icons
  • Images
  • Menus
  • Headings
  • Content

Please remember, sometimes too many examples can confuse a designer. Try and find one or two websites that really embody what you are trying to create and use them.

Remember to look at competitor websites as well as other resources. Here are some places to get you started:

If you get stuck, just type something like “popular website designs” or “website design ideas” and see what comes up.

Ready to get started?

If you want some help with your design brief or just have some questions we didn’t cover here, feel free to contact the team at Digital Thing. We’re always excited to help with new projects or discuss your objectives over coffee.

About the Author -

With a successful career in web development and digital marketing under his belt, Chris has been a driving force behind major projects for brands including Telstra, Heart Foundation, Laurastar and Noodle Box, Melbourne Mint and more.