How to Write a Web Site Creative Brief

When I wrote about creating a standardized web site development workflow I mentioned how the development of the creative brief is a key part of the initial concept phase of a web project.

Consequently, I thought it might be useful to go into more detail about what a web site creative brief looks like and how we use it.

A creative brief is a short (one or two pages), high-level document that clearly outlines the important elements of the web site - including objectives, target audiences, requirements, and so on.

Here's a more general definition of a creative brief that summarizes its purpose quite well:

A document that outlines the strategic direction for creative development, covering the specific task at hand, the communication objectives and strategy, and any elements that the executions must contain.

Although creative briefs follow a similar format, like any tool, you should customize it to your needs. Here's a template of what the creative brief I use looks like, with a brief explanation of what each section means.

[Project Name] Creative Brief

Summary

Provide a brief overview of the whole project.

Current Situation

Describe the current situation - what is not working, what needs to be improved, what is working. Why the project is needed; what is hoped to be achieved.

Proposal

Describe the project in more detail. What is needed to be done?

Target Audiences

Who is the project targeted at? Are there any specific characteristics that these audiences have?

Goals

What are the main goals of the project?

Requirements

Are there any specific requirements that must be incorporated?

Promotion / Communication Plan

How will this project be promoted and communicated? What is the timing for each promotion / communication and who is involved?

Timing

What is the deadline for the project? Are there any milestones that must be met?

Project Sponsor

Who is the main sponsor and who will be signing-off the project?

Stakeholders

Who is involved in the project from an oversight and team perspective?

Sample Creative Brief

Here's an example creative brief (PDF 29KB) that uses the above format. We used it when we were first developing our Ways To Help web site.

How to Write a Creative Brief

There's no single best way to develop a creative brief; for example, sometimes I'll write the first draft based on conversations with project stakeholders.

However, my preferred method is to get the project sponsor to write the initial draft using the above template. This really helps to get the client to think fully about the project and to clarify in particular their objectives for the web site and their target audience(s).

Once you've writtten the first draft it usually takes a few rounds of review and refinement before the creative brief is ready to be approved.

Why Use a Creative Brief

For us, the creative brief is the core document for the project. It defines the project, enables the project plan to be developed and is the main point of reference during the development process in terms of keeping the project on target.

It enables everyone who is working on the project to quickly understand what it is about and what are the key elements. It also helps us to control scope creep and to focus on the primary goals of the web site (which can sometimes get a bit fuzzy when you've had a site in development for several months).

Further Reading

Posted on: February 26, 2006 | 6 Comments

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6 Comments Posted

Thanks for the info. I mainly build small sites, so I've not used a creative brief before. Sounds like a good idea though. I imagine it makes it easier for the client to understand what they're going to get at the end of the project.

Roger - the creative brief is an invaluable tool in setting and clarifying expectations for the project.

It's really important to write down the key aspects of the web site clearly and concisely, so that everyone understands the aim of the site.

I'd say that this is worth doing even with smaller projects - you just make the creative brief shorter, that's all.

Hi Christian,

Great article and resource. I'm interested how you slot the creative brief creation into your charging structure...

Currently I end up doing a lot of this work up front as part of my pre-sales, then summarise along with my initial proposal (hence not getting paid upfront for doing it!), although now reading a few of your articles and the workflow article I may revise my current operations.

Just wondering what your pre-sales and sales process is like to incorporate the brief and other steps in the process article: Do you/the client write the creative brief as part of your initial pre-sales meetings or do you bill the client for doing this work for them?

Also, I'm interested how you structure the actual chargeable steps relating to the deliveries/review meetings etc -e.g. Do you charge upfront for creating the brief; then write the proposal which incorporate payment for other milestones (communication plan complete, project plan complete, field studies complete, etc.)

Hope you understand what I mean and don't mind sharing - sounds like we've done things differently both in the UK and in NZ and just interested in your experiences - happy to discuss on personal email further if this suits better.

Kind regards,
-Dan

Dan - I'm happy to share!

However, I work for an internal web design team so we don't charge our customers (we don't even bill back our work).

We do have a project review group, which must approve all significant / noteworthy projects before moving forward with them.

I tend to write a creative brief as part of the proposal that I take before this group - it's my way of making sure that I understand the goals and scope of the project when I present it.

As far as the commercial world is concerned, I typically write a proposal in order to get the sale and then a creative brief (based heavily on the work done to develop the proposal) once the contract has been signed.

The cost for writing the creative brief goes into the 'project management' bucket.

As for charging for any of the pre-sales work; in my experience it's been pretty hard to find a convincing argument for a client as to why they should pay for that work.

Let me know if your experience tells you differently!

Hi Christian,

Thanks for your reply - I guess that's my experience too having to try to recoup much of the pre-sales working in a PM component, although often, much of this is just written off to cost of sale, as more and more so I'm finding price to be a much bigger factor than quality here in NZ compared to the UK.

But useful to get an idea at which point you develop the creative brief and this makes sense - I guess most of the creative brief that I develop gets put into my proposal in one form or another, but then they just stays there and is not often revisited - I think I'll give this new method a try as I can see that it'll bring some more ownership and focus to the web project from the customers' perspective.

Thanks for your insight. I'd be really interested in a few more examples and background of some the deliverables that your process produces - especially things that aren't inherently created by the development team such as the communication plan and final reviews.

Kind regards,
-Dan

That was awesome. Thank you for the help, I had no idea on how to write one and i have a class that as a project it was our first one Thank you

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