Briefs and Specifications - Essential Ingredients to Web Site
So you've decided that your Web site needs an overhaul. Before
you start work, however, you and your Web design firm need to do
a bit of planning. Going off building a web site half-cocked is
a sure fire recipe for disaster. This up-front planning takes the
form of "briefs." The briefs, once approved, get fleshed out, and
turned into "specifications," the blueprints for the functionality,
layout, and programming of your Web site.
First, we'll start with the briefs. There are a number of briefs
that then must be drawn up before moving forward on the site development.
- The strategic brief outlines the strategic direction
for the site. It includes a mission statement, marketing goals,
competitive analysis, user requirements, branding strategy, and
the metrics that you will use to measure your success.
- The technical brief describes the visitors' equipment,
including their monitor size, connection speed, computer processor
speed, amount of RAM, color depth, installed plug-ins, etc.
- The functional brief delineates what the site should
do for visitors, both now and in the future. Be careful to separate
the functionality from the execution, keep the technical constraints
of the typical user's PC in mind, and avoid "feature creep" (enlarged
project scope due to poor planning in the initial stages), if
at all possible.
- The creative brief lays out the proposed visual design
directions to explore, the objectives of the upcoming creative
exploration, the audience, the "story" the site should tell, the
tone and imagery that the site should take on.
- Finally, the content plan, although not a brief, is just
as essential and delineates who is responsible for what content
and when. The columns of the content plan should include: description
of the deliverable, content provider, writer/editor, due date,
date submitted, and priority.
The strategic brief is completed first, and it involves both your
Internet team and your Web development firm. The creative, technical,
and functional briefs then follow, and these primarily involve your
Web development firm.
After the briefs come a number of specifications that will need
to be developed then maintained through the course of the project.
These specifications - or "specs" - include the technical spec,
engineering spec, creative spec, markup and layout spec, and functional
- The technical spec describes the basic approach and technologies
that will be used in the markup and layout of the site, but not
the functionality. This spec will address issues such as whether
the site will be database-driven, have cascading style sheets,
require plug-ins, or be optimized for a particular color depth,
screen resolution, platform, or browser.
- The functional spec is a continuation of the functional
brief and describes, in non-technical terms, the actions
(functionalities) of the site but not how those actions are to
- The engineering spec explains how the desired
site functionality will be achieved. This document helps
determine what functionality will be included in the site, weighing
costs with benefits.
- The creative spec is an extension of the creative brief,
and it fleshes out the site structure, navigation, and several
mock-ups (storyboards) of the home page and a secondary page.
Choose the winning mock-up using a "criteria matrix" (see
www.netconcepts.com/criteriamatrix.html for an example).
- Finally, the markup and layout spec describes how the
mocked up pages are to be implemented in HTML, including dimensions,
font faces and sizes, and use of animation (animated GIFs, Flash).
The good news is that it's primarily the responsibility of your
Web development firm to author the specifications for your Web site.
However, it is still your responsibility as the client to make sure
that you are happy with those specs.
Further reading: Secrets of Successful Web Sites by David
Siegel, ISBN 1568303823.
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