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Saving Time and Money with a Web Design Brief

December 10, 2008
at 12:00 pm PST

If you’ve ever managed a web project, you know how vexing it can be to get started with a clear scope and direction, especially if a redesign is part of the agenda. Maybe you’ve worked on a web project in the past where some important starting criteria wasn’t identified early, or the team forgot to define some specific items like success objectives, or calls to action, or desired metrics or customer needs. When this happens, this definition gap causes resets and rework. Worse, if you were working with an outside web design vendor, this rework and redefinition probably slowed down the project, degraded final quality, and added to the final cost of design and delivery. So, it’s important to get projects started on the right track. We do so at Cisco by way of a magical document called a Web Design Brief. I thought you might be interested in the format we use, and may find it useful in your own organization. So, you can download our Web Design Brief template here. The idea of the Design Brief is simple: (1) Answer some key project questions in a friendly PowerPoint format, and then (2) share it with your web team and designers or (if the project is big) prospective design vendors. It’s an easy and effective way of figuring out what you’re really trying to do with a new design or section revamp.imageA design brief will save you time, aggravation, and money, by answering fundamental questions such as:

  • Why are you embarking on this new web project, anyway?
  • What are your primary business objectives and success measures?
  • Who are you audiences and what are your users key requirements?
  • What similar sites or projects inspire you?
  • What kinds of customer data and site metrics do you have available to inform the design?
  • Who are the key contacts and stakeholders, and what other related projects are underway?
  • What is the global reach of the project?
We created the Cisco.com Design Brief based on best practices across industries, and we use it to catch the important questions early and get projects started off on the right foot. We’ve found projects that start with a standard Design Brief have much better success:
  • The objectives of the project are clear, so projects get kicked more efficiently with our design resources, saving time and money
  • The projects get completed more predictably, since there are fewer restarts and resets
  • Considerations like metrics plans and global deployment aren’t surprises, since they’re flagged up front
  • Design estimates with vendors tend to be better, since the project is well defined
Have a look at our design brief format, and feel free to adopt it to your next web project, especially if it involves design. Enjoy!

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45 Comments.


  1. Nice post.I’m really impressed with your article,I am a programmer and now I am inspired to create a site on Programming tricks and tips etc… such great information you mentioned here.. Thanks

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  2. I can definitely relate to this post. As a programmer I have encountered some of what was posted on this blog. It’s good to tips for programmers like me.Good job.

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  3. nice article thanks a lot for presenting the info in such an easy way

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  4. That is a good point. Cutting your work time will save money and also help get you through the project.

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  5. most of the websites with huge traffic and good page ranks have simple designs

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  6. good experience and creative skills require to start webdesigning of sites

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  7. your web design brief is a right kind of approach..

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  8. Great article!I’ve had unpleasant experiences in the past for not taking seriously the results that good design can provide, as the credibility and professionalism to your business. Congratulations on the form of light to expose your ideas!

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  9. Hello , thanks for your sharing,here are some of my additional opinions apart from this post.Always use flash”" at introduction with rich content/animations.(not more than 20%).Always use Breadcrumbs at each page for simple website browsing.create a logo that purely identifies your brand/product/business.Use moderate sized images.Use the 80% or less of the page size for layout.Update every 6months.”

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  10. We’ve spent a while developing our systems within our agency, and one thing we’ve learnt again and again is to clarify the brief, and to get client approval, before starting work. It’s like insurance – a small cost that can save you a lot.

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  11. Thank you very much for your enlightening post. I know there are plenty of web developers out there who are in need of such information. I am a web designer and have been involved in quite a number of web projects. I can say that some were successful while in others certain problems like the ones you have highlighted were encountered. It seemed the more projects we had the more mistakes we made- maybe because of the pressure. Now we have learnt to take one project at a time and set clear objectives. Your post will be of much help to other developers.

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  12. Good one, but short. There are few good and longer ones out there that i came across in last few years. So i collected them and made one that works perfectly for us. Since then i don’t dare to start working on a project with out that brief. It saves so much time. And this one could work really good.

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  13. Nice post! liked too =)

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  14. Another often overlooked element in this process is SEO. Building a nice website is fine, but how are you going to set up the page structure and navigation to be search friendly, and what content are you going to be developing that is link worthy, and how are you going to promote it.

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  15. I know some of my teammates can lose motivation when projects run twice as long as they should have been.

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  16. Nice work, keep good work up.

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  17. You got a really useful blog I have been here reading for about an hour. I am a newbie and your success is very much an inspiration for me.

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  18. Thank you for this explanation. I am just a novice in web designing so your step by step instructions were very helpful.Cheers

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  19. Hi, Firstly hats off to you all Cisco guys!! for taking out such a good tool so that where in we can handle project right from the starting phase of it in a proper manner and deliver it on time to the clients.Secondly, i will tell you my own experience, when i was doing a health care project, it was a big web site which was supposed to be designed, we had many difficulties while doing this project and we then later had to work on it again which was a double time consuming task. I hope this document would really help me out to have a better strategy for handling projects from the starting phase. Thanks.

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  20. I think the classic software engineering book: The Mythical Man Month”" sums it up when they say plan to throw the first version out. This can apply to webpages to, the first design is really just a feeler to see what direction to take the website.”

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  21. This is a really good discussion! It is interesting that it has spanned over a few years and is still relevant. Thanks for the viewpoints – Happy 2010!

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  22. Thanks for such a great post and the review, I am totally impressed! Keep stuff like this coming.

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  23. Very interesting site of yours!Congratulations!

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  24. I think the classic software engineering book: “The Mythical Man Month” sums it up when they say plan to throw the first version out. This can apply to webpages to, the first design is really just a feeler to see what direction to take the website.

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  25. hi..thanks for the share.. what i have notiched though from my experience, requirments should be short and simple. Main thing is to get the right prototype with spot on requirments..

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  26. This Web Design Brief is really a useful tool/guide in developing a clear scope and direction for starting a new webdesign project. Thanks for letting us to have it downloaded and follow the Cisco way :-)

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  27. Very well said, Martin. I like the idea of the Design Brief and I agree it is sample and it save our time, aggravation, and money. Keep up the good work!

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  28. That is a good point. Cutting your work time will save money and also help get you.

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  29. Plan, plan, plan I say. The more you plan and get it right in the brief, the less work you’ll have to do after the implementation process has been completed.

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  30. A webdesign-brief not only saves money, it also saves time and (unnecessary) frustration ;o)

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  31. Elegantly written. It is sad to realize how little control any of has over anything when it comes right down to it… rated.

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  32. Agreed – clarifying the brief before client approval sure does save alot of headaches. Sometimes a back-up brief is beneficial as well…because you know the first will be met with opposition.

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  33. Really looking forward to the next few days when people start properly aggregating this information. Will be interesting to see if what Google reports seem to match the studies we have done on the basis of your experiments for our website http://www.eurekaminds.comThanks for the information

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  34. Really looking forward to the next few days when people start properly aggregating this information. Will be interesting to see if what Google reports seem to match the studies we have done on the basis of your experiments for our website eurekaminds.

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  35. If you were working with an outside web design vendor, this rework and redefinition probably slowed down the project, degraded final quality, and added to the final cost of design and delivery.

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  36. The starting point and the most difficult point in web project is the wireframe of project , what should be the element. and hot to start with it.

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  37. Thank you very much.

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  38. Hi Martin Hardee,This is really wonderfull article you shared, I am a web designer and I got lot of concepts. Thanks for this article.

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  39. very nice post man! thankss a lot! =)

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  40. Thank you for making life rather simpler, really appreciate it, keep updating here, will be back for more!!

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  41. Really looking forward to the next few days when people start properly aggregating this information. Will be interesting to see if what Google reports seem to match the studies we have done on the basis of your experiments for our website eurekaminds.Caps

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  42. most of the websites with huge traffic and good page ranks have simple designs

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  43. A design brief prevents so many problems occurring further down the line, and gives both the client and the designer a great overview of the project from the word go. Huge benefits for relatively little effort. Good article.

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