The Creative Brief: 10 questions I ask before starting a project

It's Game on for Youth Soccer fans at The North Toronto Soccer Club starting every Spring.

Summarizing all the factors that can impact your communications strategy in one document is essential to keeping in track at all stages of the development of a website or product.

10 things you need to know:

1. Company Background
  • Corporate and industry descriptions. What's your business? 
  • Description of the competition. What are you offering that's different?
  • Contact information:
    - who are the decision makers, who´s responsible for what
    - are their any other outside contractors working on the project or materials produced to date that we should be aware of
    - how much time can you commit to this?

2. Project Overview
  • Mission statement. SWOT:  Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats
  • Branding. Is there existing direction or existing assets?
  • What are the important factors for success
    for example
    - integrated web strategy & corporate strategy
    - a web strategy to fit your marketing plans
    - Renovation. repurposing of existing content or information
    - creating a community for dedicated visitors
    - a quality multimedia experience (well executed graphics, writing, navigation)
    - Speed. I'm in a rush to market
    - ease of maintenance
    - doing better than our competition on the web
    - staying within the budget
    - people bookmark the site because they get so much out of it regularly
    - sending the message that we know the web and use it appropriately
  • Are there any plans to measure success

3. Project Goals or Objectives
  • What are the basic goals of this project:
    for example
    - branding and identity reinforcement
    - improving access to information. collect and distribute information
    - online sales, direct sales
    - corporate communication. interacting with customers.

4. Target Audiences
  • Primary web audiences 
  • Secondary web audiences
  • Who is the audience. Who do we want to attract
  • What are the different groups within the audience(s)
  • What jobs/functions/activities do they perform
  • Are they in one or more locations (depts, countries, companies, facilities)
  • Do we have a multilingual audience
Requirements for using/accessing information
  • Will the web site be used for:
    - providing or acquiring product information
    - purchasing products/services
    - answer questions for themselves and others
    - locate related resources
    - gain new knowledge and skills
    - perform procedures
    - conduct research
Knowledge of content
  • What is the primary web audience's knowledge of the content:
    - is it new to them
    - are they familiar with the content
  • What is the secondary web audience's knowledge of the content:
    - is it new to them
    - are they familiar with the content
Experience with technology
  • What is the comfort level with the web and the browser
  • What kind of browsers are they likely to use
  • Are there bandwidth or download issues to consider
  • Is the audience comfortable using a search function and other interactive features
  • Will the audience need to print what they see on the web.

5. Information Summary
What information needs to be included
  • Where will the information come from
  • does the information already exist
  • in what format does it exist.
    How will it be supplied:
    - brochures, current web site, define electronic format and delivery
  • Do we need to:
    - create new content. Writer required.
    - edit existing content. Editor required. 
  • Does video, audio, graphics or animation need to be created to support the topics.
    - Does any already exist. How much and in what form?
Ownership of information
  • Did the information come from inside the company
  • Do we have permission to use it
  • Are there sensitivities regarding the approval process within different business units or partner arrangements
Updates/revisions needed
  • Is any information provided not appropriate for the web
  • How many sets of revisions are anticipated before the information is ready for development
  • Is the information static or dynamic or a combination
  • How often are updates and revisions required
  • Who will be responsible for updates
  • Is the information currently accurate.

6. Branding: Desired Image Attributes
This provides guidance for the tone and manner of the organization's communications and function as criteria for the development and evaluation of the site.
  • Define the image attributes. What it is, what it isn't.
  • Provide illustrative tips for visually (assist in look and feel) and verbally (assist in copy development) defining your desired image attributes.
  • What qualities do you want to emulate on your web site.
  • What sites or companies.

Here are some examples of image attributes

A world-class corporation whose operating companies have recognized reputations and proven track records of performance, experience and expertise in energy transportation, distribution and related services.
  • high quality production and paper stocks
  • use of imagery
  • full colour
  • copy should be, forward-focused, while referencing past successes
  • reference entire organization to convey breadth, depth and expertise
Leading IS:
  • Well-regarded. Evolving. Experienced. Skilled. Visionary. Wise
Leading IS NOT:
  • Complacent. Rigid. Arrogant. Bureaucratic. Risk-averse
A company with the momentum, insight and motivation to continually meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of the evolving energy industry.
  • expansive layouts
  • ample "white space"
  • graphic representations of growth (e.g. charts, maps)
  • speak of initiatives throughout the organization
  • use benchmark measurements to illustrate improvements and set context for growth
Growing IS: 
  • Energetic. Agile. Strategic. International. Proactive. Opportunistic
Growing IS NOT:
  • Unfocused. Reactive. Staid. Short-sighted. Impulsive
A market-oriented company that delivers results and satisfaction by anticipating and meeting customers' needs , requirements and expectations.
  • active people-based illustration and photography
  • developed friendly graphics, clear lines and simple layouts
  • use clear, professional language that communicates expertise and demonstrates understanding
  • benefit-driven copy and headlines
Customer-focused IS:
  • Responsive. Flexible. Understanding. Accessible. Cooperative. Knowledgeable
Customer-focused IS NOT:
  • Inwardly-focused. Condescending. Presumptuous. Complicated. Remote. Uncompromising
A consistently dependable and trusted company that is focused, financially sound, socially responsible and ethically credible.
  • bold use of colour, shapes and graphics
  • use a crisp, confident tone without appearing arrogant
  • use bulleted text to emphasize key points
  • avoid flowery, overly-descriptive prose
Strong IS:
  • Established. Trustworthy. Responsible. Stable. Honest. Consistent
Strong IS NOT:
  • Overbearing. Insincere. Flighty. Over extended. Invincible
A forward thinking, technologically astute company that finds creative, progressive ways to better serve its customers, improve operations and deliver value.
  • unusual cropping of imagery
  • unexpected combinations creating visual interest
  • develop refreshing uses of well known concepts
  • provide status reports and updates
  • solicit input and utilize interactive and electronic formats (e.g. Q & A, intranet)
Innovative IS:
  • Progressive. Leading-edge. Continually improving. Incremental. Creative. Inquisitive
Innovative IS NOT:
  • Traditional. Confined. Historic. Satisfied. Finished


Provide your overall favourite sites and reasons for your choices
- colours, look and feel, user interface, layout
- size of site
- publishing model
- quality of graphics and content
- functional elements.

7. Functionality
  • What functional requirements do you believe are necessary
  • What do you want your visitors to be able to do at the site:
    - download areas (extranet)
    - database-driven
    - catalog, e-commerce
    - applications
    - submit forms
  • Who will update and maintain functionality
  • Are there any security issues or considerations
  • Have you budgeted for hosting and maintenance of the site
  • How will the site be served/hosted
  • What type of database systems are in place
  • What is your longterm plan for the site
  • online catalog of products and have full e-commerce capabilities
  • input on surveys
  • enter contest or promotions
  • member account services including the V.I.P.program.

8. Target Audience Configuration Assumptions 

Operating System and browser compatibility

What platform or device will your audience be viewing your materials on. eg standard desktop browser, laptop, ipad, mobile device etc. Browsers include Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari etc.

HTML Component examples
  • All HTML pages will minimally be developed using the W3C XTML standard. (displayed to end user as HTML 5)
  • Animated GIFs
  • CSS (cascading stylesheets) will be implemented to control the style of the Web documents without compromising its structure. By separating visual design elements (fonts, colors, margins, and so on) from the structural logic of a Web page, CSS gives visual control without sacrificing the integrity of the data - thus maintaining its usability in multiple environments. In addition, defining typographic design and page layout from within a single, distinct block of code - to minimize the use of image maps, <font> tags, tables, and spacer GIFs - allows for faster downloads, streamlined site maintenance, and instantaneous global control of design attributes across multiple pages.
  • JavaScript to extend the capabilities of HTML.
  • User interface rollovers, menu bars, page behaviour, and routines to create dynamic, user-centred design.
  • Layout & CSS scaling design, relative layout, conditional colours, and routines for scripting the design.

9. Final Deliverables
Expectations on project delivery:
  • Design prototype - HTML templates
  • Web Site design components (flattened or layered photoshop files, original jpegs, cut up and optimized graphics)
  • Other format considerations, (Print, TV/Video) branding across multiple media
  • Style Guide - document of development decisions
  • Site Inventory (print outs, style guide, site architecture, content inventory checklist)
  • Partnership considerations
  • Return of supplied materials.

10. Additional requirements
  • Competitive Analysis. What's the competition up to?
  • Search Engine Optimization [SEO]
  • Social Media marketing strategy.