A successful website is more than just a creative effort. It requires a lot of planning and forethought to conceptualize and deliver a website that meets all the needs and requirements of the client.
When you look at a particular website and appreciate its visual appeal and functional superiority, what you usually do not consider are the efforts that went into working out the modalities of the design and the effort required in working out the design goals that brought the design team and the client on the same page. When you looking at an amazing website, you are looking at a website whose team knew what it was doing every step of the way.
You are also looking at a website that is the product of a comprehensive creative brief that ensured the website was designed as per the expectations of the client.
Creative Brief is a Part of Effective Web Design Strategy
Firstly what is web design strategy? You need a website design strategy to formulate your ‘Plan of Action’ in terms of how you’re going to approach a particular website design project. A typical web design strategy includes the following elements:
Establishing Project Goals
What do you want the website to achieve? The answer to this question is provided by the client. The client might want the website to generate improved brand awareness or increase existing sales figures or both. Establishing goals will ensure your website has a clear purpose, which in turn means you as a web designer know perfectly well how a website needs to be conceptualized to work out these goals.
Who is the website for? Does the website target a specific audience demographic? Who are the people most likely to access the website? What are their interests and preferences? What is the kind of design this audience will understand and appreciate? These are the questions that need to be answered and here again, it’s the client who will come up with the answer; but all experienced designers conduct their own research on top of the client’s brief to better understand the audience.
Representation of Brand Image
Collaborate with the client to find out how the client wants the website to portray his brand. A website conveys specific emotions to its target audience and determining the brand image that needs to be conveyed ensures the design showcases the right emotions. The website design is essentially a web empowered visual representation of the brand, its values, its mission and its goals. Working all this out is an intrinsic part of all web design strategies. The thing is, you want to convey a favourable impression on the audience, but you need to work out the contours of this “favourable impression”.
Conceptualization and Resource Allocation
Website conceptualization is the most important part of a website design process, which is again a part of your web design strategy. Once the website has been conceptualized, you will need to gather the resources needed to breathe life into the concept. This includes choosing the right designing platforms, technologies and assigning the right person to handle the right project responsibility.
This is just an overview of what a web design strategy is all about, and a creative brief allows you to elucidate this strategy. Therefore, you cannot think of a web design process without a creative brief, it just wouldn’t work.
Importance of a Creative Brief
Let’s understand the significance of creative brief in the life of web design projects by taking a look at a few scenarios:
The client presents his own brief to you, you begin discussions on its finer points and once that’s done, you start doing your own bit of requirements gathering and analysis on the project to understand the client’s industry, the competition and what their websites are doing right and more importantly what they’re doing wrong. After gaining this understanding, you again sit with the client to discuss your finding, in order to evolve the brief. After discussions, you begin the long process of conceptualization that involves your sending website wireframes and mock-ups to the client and the client green-lighting a mock-up that he believes suits his website needs and requirements best.
After this long and arduous process, when you actually start designing the project, the client throws a zinger at you – He thinks the website’s not turning out the way it was supposed to. If you’ve a solidly worked out creative brief on your hands, you can show it to the client to prove you’re going about the project as discussed; you’ve not taken a detour from the project brief. But, if you don’t have a creative brief in your hand, you’ll essentially be caught in no-man’s land. You might get caught up in an endless cycle of debates and discussions with the client to prove the project is on the right track. You don’t want that to happen do you?
You’ve just accepted a collection of web design projects, all of which target the same domain, for e.g. real estate. However, all projects have subtly different conceptualization which makes them markedly distinguishable from one another. You have the same team of designers working on the project, and there is a chance that some team members are working on two projects at the same time. This scenario is tailor made for confusion and disruption. The only way you can ensure each and every design project is brought to completion keeping in mind the goals of the project, is by sticking to the creative brief. If you don’t have a creative brief, you will be inviting loads of trouble in the event you confuse the objectives of one project for that of another. How will you know you’ve made this error? Yes, you guessed it right, with a comprehensive creative brief.
The Elements of an Effective Creative Brief
The name of the client and the contact information must figure prominently in the brief. The brief should also contain the project title and the names of the team members that are in charge of this project. The brief should also mention the specific stages/parts of the project every team member will handle and any other information that will help the team leader manage and control the website design better.
A major part of the creative brief will be taken up by all that needs to be done as a part of the project. Everything that you’ve understood about the project and the goals worked out with the client needs to be written down; every project detail however insignificant must be a part of the project. The detailing should include the client’s project brief, the requirements gathering and analysis undertaken by you and also information about the first sketches, client revisions, revised sketches, further client revisions, and finally the approval of the mock up by the client. Each and every detail must be marked by the date when the events happened. Think of a creative brief like a project document that has each and every project detail that can be easily referred to whenever you ‘re confused about some aspect of the project.
Qualities of an Effective Client Brief
The importance of a creative brief can also be defined by its quality. So, what are the qualities of a creative brief that improves its usability? Let’s take a look:
There must be Clarity
The language that you use in your creative brief must not create any misunderstanding between the members of a team and also the team and the client. Even little mistakes for e.g. the use of a wrong word can set about a chain reaction of mistakes that can scuttle a project. So, it’s important that the creative brief is written in a manner that is very easy to understand. If you think a particular point doesn’t make sense it needs to be explained until the point is clear to everybody concerned.
Something else that you need to consider is the use of technical jargon in creative briefs. It’s important to remember that the brief might be read by people who’ve very little or no technical experience in web design. Therefore you must take care that the brief is written with the lowest common denominator in mind as far as technical knowledge is concerned.
Misused, misrepresented words and a lack of logical structure can kill the usefulness of a brief and you must take care that this doesn’t happen.
There are designers who are quite enthusiastic about creative briefs right at the beginning of the project design process, but after a time forget all about it. This is a cardinal error as the mark of a useful brief is the fact that it is updated regularly. In fact some of the best briefs are updated on a daily basis at the end of every work day. The brief needs to be up-do-date so as to ensure that it can be referred to at any given time to get information about the project stages that have already been completed. So, don’t find reasons not to update a creative brief, on the contrary find reasons to keep it updated at all times.
These two qualities ensure the usefulness of a creative brief and go a long way in improving the trust quotient associated with it.
Keep the Client in the Loop
The client is as much the owner of the creative brief as you are. In fact, keep the client in the loop at all times when you are updating the brief. Send the client a soft copy of the brief whenever it’s updated. This will actually help him get an idea of the progress of the project and where it’s headed. What this means is that if and when he thinks the project needs improvement or there is something wrong, he can immediately give his feedback to the designer regarding the same. Keeping the client in the loop at all times, also helps cut down on project delays arising out of the client identifying a particular problem or showing his dissatisfaction with a particular aspect when the project is complete.
If you haven’t made it a habit to use a creative brief for your web design projects, it’s time that you started using it starting today. The fact of the matter is it’s not all that difficult to create a creative brief, so why not do it. If you make it a part of your website design process, you will not have to take time out to write the brief. As it is intrinsically linked to the design process, preparation of the creative brief will happen naturally.
Another thing, if you’ve not been doing it regularly, preparation of creative brief might seem like a chore at first but you need to force yourself to write one, so that it turns into a habit after some time.