10 Ways to Create an Effective Website Design Brief

website design brief

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Egle Karalyte, strategist and designpreneur.  Together with her team, Egle is creating a design briefing tool for designers – My Visual Brief, with a mission to help designers communicate more effectively with their clients. She has also founded a strategic design agency InfinVision in Paris, France and has been working with clients internationally in New York, London, Paris and Brussels. She has a degree in computer science from Smith College in the United States. Follow her on Twitter.

So, you’ve taken on a new website design client.  Before you start designing the website of their dreams, you need to make sure that you and your client are on the same page when it comes to the client’s needs and expectations about the final result. This will sure that you will avoid the miscommunications down the line and that the design process will be smooth.

A good website design brief is a great way to consolidate all the information about the project and ensure that you and your client see the project in the same way. It will help you to jump-start a website design process into the right direction and will also serve as the foundational document during the design process.

Here are a few tips from our experience on how to prepare a good website design brief.

Have a conversation with your client regarding their website problem.

website design brief
Beatbox Academy homepage by Spring (Canada).
Problem: Promote beatbox. Solution: Create an interactive experience for the user to connect with the beatbox concept, trying out how it feels (virtually) to beatbox.

Ask your client to clearly present their problem for you in terms of needs and wants. Don’t ask them to provide an exact solution, because that will leave you with hardly any creative wiggle room. Instead, make sure you’re fully understanding their needs and desires through the use of in-depth clarifying questions. If your client still insists on giving you an exact solution, assure them that you’ll take their wants and needs into account and provide them with the website they want.

Define your client’s product or company.

website design brief
The Music Bed website by Daniel McCarthy (USA).

Encourage your client to define his or her product and company in detail. One great way to understand your client’s product is to ask him or her to explain it to you like s/he would to a target customer. When you do this, you’ll be familiarized with your client’s product and you’ll be able to suggest the best solution for his or her needs.

Define your client’s target market.

website design brief
Here is an example of a persona from Personapp.

Clarify what your client’s target market is and ask for all available information regarding the target customers. After all, the target customers will be the users of the website! A good tool to help you define the target audience is the Personapp.

Figure out your client’s goals for the website features.

Target Nuclear Weapon by The Australian Red Cross homepage. The goal is to raise social awareness about nuclear weapons. The solution is a voting system that engages and helps grow a community against nuclear weapons.

Ask your client to be very specific on what his or her goals are for the website and website features. Remind your client that these features should follow the goals s/he set. Encourage your client to identify the purpose for each website feature and explain it to you in detail. Knowing ‘the why behind’ could give you more ideas, which could enrich the client’s project.

Don’t be afraid to ask opinion on your portfolio.

website design brief
Cosmin Capitanu‘s portfolio

Keep in mind that your client could have chosen you or your agency based on your previous work. Make it a point to ask your client what examples s/he likes from your portfolio and why s/he likes those examples. Doing this will give you a broader perspective as to what your client wants.

Figure out your client’s likes and dislikes.

website design brief
Mr Marcel School website by Tata&Friends (Spain).
Team Geek website by Team Geek (South Africa).
Emmy Twenty website by Squiders (UK).

Have your client show you some other examples of websites that s/he likes and doesn’t like. Encourage your client to be extremely specific and point out exactly what aspects s/he likes or doesn’t like such as the layout, the navigation bar, the animations, etc.

Ask for visual or web inspirations.

(Left) Bon Sound homepage by Deux Huit Huit (Canada). (Right) Scytale homepage by Scytale (Portugal)
(Bottom) Quotery homepage. by Andrew Nickell (USA), Gabriel Munteanu and Jason Bacchetta (USA).

Don’t forget to remind the client that these website examples should be treated like references or inspiration. S/he should resist wanting the same thing because it might not be suitable for his/her context. Guide the client towards looking for an original solution that answers his/her needs the best.

If the client does not know where to start his or her research, why not direct them to one of these 12 places for design inspiration.

Discuss content before starting the design process.

Define the website’s content before you start the web design process.

Most clients consider the content to be of low priority when it comes to website design. However, you probably know, that receiving the content at the end of the design process sometimes requires going back to square one. To avoid that, discuss the content with the client right at the beginning. Here are a few things to consider:

  • What content does your client have so far? Text, images, videos?
  • Is ranking on the search engines important for your client? Does s/he know how to optimize the content for the search engines? If so, the client should start with the keyword research as a way to define his/her content needs. Here is a cheat-sheet on optimizing your content for the search engines.
  • If your client doesn’t have content or needs better content, how is s/he going to go about it? Will s/he hire a copywriter?
  • Will s/he want your help to structure and define the content needs? Is so, you might want to consider creating content maps. And don’t forget that you might need to budget more time for that.

Take content management systems into account.

There are quite a bit of CMSes out there: Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, Magento, etc.

When designing a website, a good web designer should take into the technical restrains of a content management system and the client’s content management plans. Don’t forget to ask the client about this so you could keep in mind any technical restrictions and adjust your design solution accordingly. It is a good idea to talk with a developer directly, if the client can organize that.

If you’d like to learn more about the available content management systems, here is a comprehensive list of Top 12 Free Content Management Systems (CMS).

Create metrics for the project’s success.

website design brief
Metric Integra by Lo Siento (Spain).

Ask your client how s/he will measure the success of the project. That way, you’ll be able to focus on your client’s top priorities when proposing a solution.

It’s important to remember that not every design solution is appropriate for your client’s context. Creating the best website possible for your client starts with ensuring that you understood what the client is looking for and what would be most appropriate for the client’s audience.

We hope that the tips above will help you to create a good website design brief in order to ensure the success of your project.

Good luck!