The Role of the Creative Brief

Designing a website is a very creative and imaginative process. But to ensure a successful outcome, it helps to write down the structure, style, content, strategy and other requirements in clear language that the whole team will understand. We recommend allowing some time to write what’s called a creative brief. A creative brief is a concise document that articulates the goals of a creative project. While a creative brief is helpful and often necessary for any marketing project, we’ll focus for now on how it relates to the planning and preparation for a web site. At the end of this article you should find a sample template to help you create your own.

When working on a creative project, especially on a collaborative one, it is important to spell out the objectives of the project. At a minimum, the creative brief should answer the following questions:

  1. What are we creating?
  2. Why are we creating it?
  3. Whom are we creating it for?
  4. Why will ours be better?
The answers should include clear directions to each member of the team and to those supervising the project. The team will benefit from understanding and sharing in accomplishing the objectives, and management will have a way of monitoring the progress of the web site.

There are no hard-and-fast rules to follow when writing a creative brief, but it can be helpful to follow our template to avoid overlooking any important questions. These questions are not always easy to answer, but they can help pinpoint flaws early on. Citing favorite sites can be useful, but understand that you have to make an effort to understand why they appeal to you. It is our experience that every web project is different. The creative brief should focus on what is unique about the project and devote less time to what it shares in common with other sites. On the other hand, if your site parodies or pays tribute to another one, then clearly show, perhaps in table format, what it must share in common and what it must not.

I can’t go into detail now about copyright and original content, but it goes without saying that you will want to protect your efforts from accusations of plagiarism. There are plenty of ongoing lawsuits about copyright and patent infringement; look at your material with a keen eye and get outside assistance if you think it will help you discern how original your content actually is. Otherwise, you’re beautiful web site may end up in court instead of the first page of Google’s search results. No one wants to get a sternly worded cease-and-desist letter along with monetary damages.

There are other important questions to answer like what functions and capabilities the site should provide along with the primary message you want to convey. If a specific element should be included, describe it in sufficient detail so the team won’t miss or minimize it. In general, a creative brief should include:

  • A brief overview of the entire project
  • The current status of the existing site, if there is one
  • Target demographics for the site
  • Goals and objectives
  • Specific required elements
  • Promotional plan
  • Desired completion date

If you plan to develop a site with sophisticated features that require custom database development, then a creative brief won’t be sufficient. You’ll need to generate a site document. A site document comes after the creative brief and includes technical information about how the site should function. It also includes layouts of individual screens, user interface design (particular buttons and their function, navigation) and a wireframe that diagrams how the site flows from one page to the next.

The art of any great design project is in knowing how the pieces should fit together. Taking the time to create a solid creative brief will help ensure that these pieces fit snugly together. Having said that, there are a few cases where highly successful creative endeavors happened with little or no planning. Some may even argue that a document such as creative brief, movie script, or architectural blueprint hinders the creative process by creating too rigid a structure. That's a high-risk approach, and while it may work in some cases, you'll be better served to start with a road map. Later on, if you choose to change direction, you can revise the brief and circulate it with the team to make sure everyone understands the reasons.

Download Sample Creative Brief