How to write the perfect web brief – arts and culture edition
The full-service, digital solutions provider Splitpixel takes us through the key elements that make the perfect web brief. Based on over 15 years experience delivering websites for arts and cultural organisations of all sizes this guide and template helps ensure you get the site you need and want and reduces what can often be a fraught and stressful process. A Splitpixel resource.
Photo by Drew Dizzy Graham on Unsplash
So, it’s time for a new website…
Your current digital presence needs improving. Maybe users are finding your current website inaccessible and hard to navigate, maybe you’re finding it a pain to manage and it’s ranking poorly on Google. Maybe you need something new and updated to reflect your growth, or perhaps you’re looking for your very first website.
There are so many reasons why your organisation might need a new website and each reason can have an impact on the end result – how the new site looks and how it functions.
But your website isn't designed to only address a single issue, it's meant to represent your organisation entirely.
Not simply a place to take bookings, donations, or enquiries – your website is the most important digital representation of your organisation and therefore the most valuable digital marketing tool at your disposal.
That’s why you need a web brief – something that establishes who you are, what you need, and why you need it. Starting with a good brief is the way to ensure your new site performs like you need it to for years to come.
In this guide, we'll take you through the process of writing a strong brief to send out to web agencies, and everything you'll need to include in that brief to achieve the website that your organisation needs.
All you see here is based on our 15 years of experience in delivering websites for arts and culture organisations of all sizes – from those who have their new website strategy already mapped out by their marketing team, to those who need their very first website and have no idea where to begin.
What is a website brief?
A web brief sets out your needs, goals, and expectations for a new, bespoke website project. It will help you to find the right agency for the job – a team who can meet your particular budget and requirements.
A brief isn’t a fixed contract, but something that will naturally change and develop depending on who you work with. But it does form the basis of any website project and establishes any non-negotiables if you’ve got them.
When the brief is a true and honest reflection of what you want, you’ll be able to set your expectations for the agency you work with, so they can fully understand your organisation and what you’re aiming to achieve.
And what makes a good brief?
Briefs come in all different shapes and sizes, but the best ones always have a few things in common…
- A good brief should be clear.
Give clear objectives for the project; split your brief into sections, deal with each point one at a time. While an agency should take the time to research your organisation in detail before responding, your brief may be the first time they've ever heard of you. So, take a step back and ask yourself if the brief would make sense to someone outside of your organisation who doesn’t know how you run things.
- A good brief should be honest.
Be up-front about what you want. You will get the best responses to your brief if the people responding know exactly what criteria they're trying to meet, so don't hold back any key information. This is the best way to get a result that meets your expectations. Fixed budgets or deadlines are key!
- A good brief should be realistic.
Planning, designing, building, and populating a new website takes time and hard work – especially if you’re integrating a box office system, shop or CRM. The bigger and more complex your project is, the longer it will take to complete, and the higher the quote is likely to be. This means you should be realistic about the budget needed to achieve your organisation’s goals.
It's also important to be realistic about yourselves – who you are, where you sit in the arts and culture industry, how your audiences perceive you – as this will also have an impact on the best website strategy goals for you. Things that work for one organisation won’t always apply to another.
- A good brief should be detailed.
It's commonly understood that creative briefs should be short and to-the-point. Dare we say it? Brief. But as long as you organise things clearly, there’s no such thing as too much detail!
By listing all your requirements, an agency can know whether or not they can deliver what you need. In-depth briefs will also mean they can give you a far more accurate quote.
- A good brief should be inspiring!
Perhaps the most overlooked element of a great brief is that it should make an agency excited to work with you. By sharing your long-term goals and plans for the future within the arts and culture industry, you’ll find an agency who shares your vision and values.
And even if you know exactly what you want from your website, the best agencies will always have ideas that you'd never have considered – giving a little space to stretch those creative wings will always see you receive a more involved and innovative response.
What will you achieve with a good brief?
Ultimately, a good brief can benefit both you and the agency you pick. Here’s how…
- A good brief will save time and money.
If you don't create a brief, the agency building your website will have to develop it themselves. They can’t read your mind so there will be some back and forth as they find a solution that ticks all the boxes you've got in your head. Save everyone time by telling them what you have in mind at the start.
As most web agencies will calculate their quote based on an hourly or daily rate, saving time means saving costs, too. It's that simple!
- A good brief will help measure success.
When everyone understands the project objectives, it's easier to see if the agency has achieved what you asked of them. By setting expectations at the start, you can measure the success of the project.
A proper brief means there won't be any dispute as to whether your agency has delivered or not. It provides a bit of security and confidence for both sides – something so valuable in a creative project.
- (Most importantly) A good brief will achieve a better website.
Creating a website involves a highly technical collaborative artistic process. That’s a fancy way of saying that it’s a balancing act – one that blends your arts and culture industry expertise and understanding of your audience with an agency’s web design expertise and SEO best practice.
You get out what you put in. So, if any of those factors are missing, the finished project will be lacking. If you start with a brief that fully captures your vision and objectives, your website will reflect that.
Photo by Angelos Michalopoulos on Unsplash
Some things to consider before you start…
Avoid a verbal brief – and always follow up with an email
Web projects are a team effort, and every part of the project may impact other parts of the job. This is why verbal briefings are best avoided – details can get missed, and these lost details might impact the overall project result. Put everything in writing to keep a record of the project progress.
In many scenarios, a verbal brief followed up with an email to confirm is usually a convenient way of working. But in a web project, it's also best to have a record of who has requested what, and when they’ve made that request. This will make meeting your needs and measuring project success after launch, a much easier process.
Once the project is underway, it may become clear that the brief needs to change to best meet your objectives. And that's fine – the brief should never limit a project or prevent new ideas from being discussed.
Be totally honest and raise your ideas for changes with your agency as soon as possible whenever necessary. Explain clearly and specifically what you want to change, rather than a vague "make it more this-or-that".
It's important to understand that what seems like a small change can have a major impact on web development, especially if it comes a bit later down the line, and the time needed to make these changes might not be covered by the initial quote.
Your agency will want to find the solution that gives you exactly what you want, and they may also have some alternative solutions that achieve the same thing in a different way, while keeping costs down for you.
Whatever happens, communication is the most important thing! Teamwork makes projects run smoothly.
What to include in an arts and culture website brief
Who you are…and how you want to be seen by your audience.
A long-term vision can really inspire and motivate an agency – helping them to see what truly matters to you. So talk about your mission, vision, and values. What do you love about your organisation and its history?
Perhaps most importantly – how does your audience currently see you? And how would you like them to see you in the future? Does their perception of you match reality, and would you like that to change?
A good agency will carry out in-depth research into your organisation before working with you. But they can only use information that’s publicly available, so share any key information that isn’t.
Let them see how things work behind the curtain. Any core values that you might not talk about outside internal meetings but that still guide your decisions – these are incredibly beneficial to share in your brief.
Be honest and realistic about your position in the wider arts and culture industry, too. While we'd never discourage you from shooting for the stars, your starting point is fundamental – particularly when it comes to how your new website approaches search engine optimisation (SEO).
What you do…and how your website is used.
Give us an overview of what you offer your audience or visitors and what makes you special within the industry.
Why do people make bookings with your organisation or venue? What events, shows, or activities do you offer?
Do you offer any additional services, facilities, or programmes – either at a fixed venue, remotely, or digitally? Do you run classes or workshops? Sell merchandise through an online shop? Receive digital donations?
Tell us how your audience uses your current website and how you would like them to use your new website. Will they need to make purchases or donations, manage bookings, find information, or access content?
Who you serve…and who you’d like to serve.
- Details about your typical audience, visitors, or service users and why they choose your organisation.
- Do you operate locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally? What is your reputation at each of these levels?
- Is your current audience reflective of your target audience? Has who you target changed over time, and how? Are there any underrepresented groups you want to engage that you’ve struggled to connect with in the past?
- If you mainly serve the general public, share any key information and demographic data that you have available. Do you also work with other organisations, bodies, or businesses?
Reasons for new site…what you need and how your existing site misses the mark.
Any good arts and culture web project will start with a good, hard look at the website you currently have.
- How is your current website falling short?
- What has motivated you to seek a new website now?
- Does it rank poorly on Google or receive low traffic?
- Is the website failing to convert traffic into user bookings?
- Does the website load slowly? Is it difficult to use on mobile?
- Is it outdated, missing new info or fresh branding? You may want comprehensive digital rebranding; many agencies will be able to design new branding for you.
You might not know exactly why you need a new site; you might have just received negative feedback about it.
If that's the case, say so! Although more detailed information is useful, this is where agencies start to set themselves apart – identifying problems for you and offering tailored solutions.
Aims and objectives…how you’ll measure success.
This is where you state your goals for the new website to achieve and the order of priority for these goals.
Improving upon your current site is a place to start, but here are a few suggestions for common objectives:
- Increase website traffic.
- Increase bookings or newsletter sign-ups.
- Improve donation or membership metrics.
- Improve website search engine performance.
- Enhance website accessibility and sustainability.
- Enhance mobile display and user journey.
- Better showcase merchandise and gifts.
- Better showcase brand identity and values.
- Raise awareness of full arts and culture offering.
- Raise awareness of other service offerings.
Be detailed. Be as detailed and as you can with your objectives, preferably with clear quantitative or qualitative goalposts. For example, increase event bookings – by how much? Enhance website accessibility – to what standard?
Be realistic. Again, it's important to be realistic – a new website is an investment that will take time to pay off in results. You won't automatically sell all your event tickets or start ranking at the top of Google overnight, for example.
Agree what success looks like. Importantly, this is one area of the brief that can and will develop as the project progresses. As long as you're clear in what you want to see, you'll be able to agree on what success looks like with your chosen agency.
Are you interested in ongoing digital marketing support for your organisation once your website is launched? This could include social media management, SEO blogs, paid advertising campaigns, monthly analysis and reporting to identify opportunities for you. An agency could help you really get the most from your new site.
Brand guidelines…what you have and anything you want to change.
You may already have an established set of digital brand guidelines you’d like an agency to work within. Alternatively, you might need new or updated guidelines to reflect new branding or accessibility considerations.
How flexible are your existing brand guidelines? Have these guidelines been tested for visual accessibility?
Ultimately, it’s important for an agency to know exactly what design constraints they’re working with in order to deliver a website that remains compliant with your existing brand and ensures digital brand consistency.
Ticketing platform…what you use and how you use it.
Explain, in as much detail as you can, how you currently manage bookings through your website (if applicable). What online ticketing platform do you currently use? Will you be using a new platform with your new site? Popular platforms include Spektrix, Ticketsolve, TicketSource, Ticketmaster, Eventbrite, Tessitura, and Savoy.
Custom platform integrations are a complex process for a web development team that not all agencies will be able to accommodate. So tell them exactly which platform you’ll be using, by name, and let them know if you’d like help selecting a new ticketing platform to use going forward – one they can integrate into your site.
Key features. Talk about any key features of this platform that you either currently use or intend to use on your new website.
Will you use your ticketing platform for ticket sales, merchandise, donations, memberships, bundle booking, supplementary events, pre-sale, paywall features, festival listings, facilitated booking, or mailing lists?
Website platform and hosting…and any additional software integrations.
Talk about the platform or CMS (content management system) that you use to manage your current website.
- What do you like about your current CMS system?
- What don’t you like about this system? Do you want to change systems?
- Who hosts your current website?
- Do you have a reliable web server?
- Will you need hosting for your new site?
Many web design agencies will specialise in particular platforms to ensure they can offer a bespoke solution. Many agencies will also offer website hosting, but not all of them will. If you have any needs or expectations for your future CMS or hosting requirements, this is your opportunity to talk about it in clear detail.
Additional software. Talk about any additional pieces of software that you use and would like your new website to work alongside. Do you use any external donation platforms, room hire/appointment booking software, or CRM emailing tools?
Sitemap…and any ideas about structure.
If you have a specific sitemap or structure in mind for your website, share this in your website project brief.
- How would you like pages to be grouped together?
- What new areas do you plan to incorporate into your site?
- Will your new site follow a similar structure to your existing site, or does it need rethinking and restructuring?
One of the first things an agency will do when planning your new site is to create a sitemap – this is a visual diagram to show how all the pages on your new site will be connected. It’s how we plan a user journey.
- Think about the structure for your current site and how well you think it achieves your website goals.
- What key areas of your current site are overlooked? What sort of user journey would you like to facilitate?
Don’t worry if you don’t have any idea how things should be structured. A good agency will be able to look at your website goals and use their expertise to create a sitemap that will help achieve these things for you.
Website content…what will go on your new site, who will create it, who will optimise it.
Talk about the different types of content that feature on your current site, aside from your events or webpages. How much content will be migrated across from your current site? How much content will be brand new?
Types of content could include:
- Downloadable resources
- Video or audio library
- Image galleries
- Events archive
- News articles
- Case studies
- Blog posts
The amount of content will directly impact the size and speed of your site, so this can affect both the timescale and cost of the overall project. An agency will need to account for this in their quote and their approach.
You may take this opportunity to refresh some of the content on your site, such as copywriting and images.
You might do this yourself, but you should include it in your brief to see what support an agency can offer. Many agencies will provide support for photography, copywriting, branding, content marketing, and more.
Keyword research. Don’t forget to include any existing keyword research you’ve completed for SEO (search engine optimisation). Again, don’t worry if you haven’t done this or don’t understand SEO – a good agency will be able to explain how relevant this will be for your organisation and offer their keyword research and SEO services for you.
Similar organisations…they might not be your competitors.
- Talk about any organisations that are particularly similar or comparable to yours in terms of service offering.
- Which organisations do people associate you with or compare you to? How are you different from each other?
- Are these organisations local to you or do they operate on a regional, national, or international scale?
Arts and culture organisations don’t always have ‘competitors’ in the traditional sense, but some certainly will.
Do any of your events or services, such as room hire or activity classes, have to compete for customers locally? Direct commercial competitors could be local conference rooms and wedding venues, rather than Arts venues.
It’s really beneficial to look at the digital presence of similar organisations to see what they’re doing successfully.
An agency should conduct their own competitor research during the planning phase of the website project.
They can then plan a strategy that allows you to stand out from (or compete against) similar organisations.
Current site strengths and weaknesses… features you want to keep and issues you want to solve.
Beyond anything general, give a detailed list of any specific things that work or don’t work on your current site.
Are there any features of your current site that you would like to keep, such as how it looks or how it functions? Are there any specific issues you’ve experienced with your current site, either for your users or site managers?
It is important to talk about all the things you see as strengths in your current website with your chosen agency. They can aim to retain the things you like but also identify if these features will impact your overall objectives. An example would be a particular colour scheme that you like but doesn’t pass web accessibility standards.
If your website users have reported any specific problems they have while browsing your current site or the people who manage content have any notable grievances updating the CMS, include these things in your brief. Discussing any issues you’ve had with your current website will help prevent them occurring on your new site.
Analytics and research data. If you have any analytics or research data, including keyword research or page performance statistics – these will be incredibly beneficial to the agency building your new website. Don’t worry if you don’t, an agency may be able to investigate all of this for you, wherever possible. This will help create an informed project strategy.
Website inspiration…what you've seen elsewhere that you like (or don’t).
Name any websites you enjoy and talk about any of their features that you would like reflected in your new site.
- Which websites do you find enjoyable and easy to use?
- Which website designs do you think look fantastic?
- What features of these sites are particularly notable for you?
- Are there any websites you don’t enjoy, and why?
It's not the most essential part of the brief, but it can provide a helpful reference point for a design agency. Your examples don’t need to be from your specific arts and culture niche – they just need to speak to you. Include any links or screenshots of these features so the agency can easily identify what you’re talking about.
No agency worth your time will directly copy another web design, but they will be able to take inspiration from any website features that you have identified and reinterpret them through the lens of your unique identity. The more detailed and specific you can be about what you like, the easier they’ll find it to translate across.
But if you compare the designs presented by your agency to a secret standard of other websites that you didn’t tell them about, your designers will be left with the painstaking process of trying to read your mind.
Your deadlines…and their flexibility.
Clearly establish any fixed or flexible deadlines for the web project in your brief, with as much detail as possible.
- Do you need the project quote by a particular date?
- Do you need your website to launch by a particular date?
- Does your website launch coincide with a particular event or involve any another organisations or stakeholders?
Any agency will want to meet your expectations and launch your website on time, but you need to be realistic.
Bespoke websites take time to build. If you want your new site to meet best practices for design, accessibility, integrations, SEO, and security, you need to understand the timescale of such a project and plan accordingly.
It is likely that your project will take a few months to build, with larger projects taking the best part of a year.
If you're too tight with your deadlines, you may struggle to find an agency that can meet all of your needs.
Anyone promising to complete the project in couple of weeks is likely giving you an out-of-the-box template.
Your budget…and its constraints.
Set out the budget you have for your web project and clearly indicate if this is an estimate or an absolute limit.
- Does your budget include initial hosting costs – for example, for the first year or two – or is this separate?
- If you have a rough estimate, would you like the agency to offer a range of pricing options for you to pick from?
- If you’ve got a fixed figure for your web project budget, does that figure include VAT?
Many arts and culture web projects will be paid for using funding grants that put a fixed limit on the budget. These grants may also come with additional project stipulations and specifications – be very clear about these. The more information you give in your brief, the more an agency can understand the context of the budget.
The deciding factor in choosing an agency can often come down to cost, so it's important to be honest and specific about your planned budgets so anyone pitching can tell you exactly what you can get for your money. If you keep it vague, you might not get a full or accurate picture.
Each agency will have its own hourly and daily rates as well as their own pricing systems for web projects. We've mentioned earlier that most agencies quote their projects on the overall time it will take to develop your site and, as we also mentioned, bespoke web projects do take time (and therefore money) to build.
A few years ago, there was a big boom of small agencies promising new sites for just a few hundred pounds. While you might still find the occasional agency that does this, you won't be getting something as effective. Rome wasn’t built in a day – and neither are the best arts and culture sector websites!
Website Brief Template
Here's a simple template for a website brief based on the factors we've discussed above. It's by no means the only way to write a brief, but it will put any agency in the best place to create an informed proposal for you.
If you want an accurate quote, and to be sure that your chosen agency can meet your needs, it’s helpful to provide as much information about your requirements as possible. Writing project briefs for websites that integrate with ticketing systems or external software are a bit different to writing ones for websites that don’t.
|Who we are||Tell us a bit about your organisation: its history, its values, and its vision.
How are you currently perceived and how would you like to be perceived?
|What we do||Tell us about your service offering: your events and facilities.
What type of events do you sell tickets for? e.g. live shows, classes, screenings, workshops, etc.
What else do you have on offer? e.g. café, gift shop, community outreach, room hire, etc.
|Who we serve||Tell us about the audience groups that your organisation serves.
What are the main demographics? Are they reflective of your local area?
Are there any audiences that you’re trying to reach but have traditionally struggled with?
|Reasons for new site||Tell us why you need a new website.
Are you changing your brand or service offering? How does your current site fall short?
|Aims and objectives||Tell us about the primary goals for the new website that will measure the project’s success.
e.g. increased ticket sales or newsletter signups, heightened brand awareness and service visibility, improved accessibility and sustainability, better mobile user experience, etc.
|Brand guidelines||Tell us about your brand guidelines (if applicable): what they cover and how flexible they are.
Do you want to update your existing guidelines? Are you looking for new brand guidelines?
Have your current guidelines been tested for visual accessibility?
|Ticketing platform||Tell us about the ticket booking platform you currently use (if you use one).
Will you be maintaining the system for the new site, or switching to a new one?
e.g. Spektrix, Tessitura, Ticketsolve, TicketSource, Eventbrite, Ticketmaster, Savoy, etc.
|Ticketing platform features||Tell us as much as you can about the ticketing platform features you want the website to use.
Does your current website employ these features, or will they be new to your organisation?
e.g. ticket sales, merchandise, donations, memberships, bundle booking, supplementary events, pre-sale, paywall features, festival listings, facilitated booking, mailing lists, etc.
|Website platform and hosting||Tell us about the platform or CMS (content management system) your current site is built on.
Are you looking to use the same CMS, or switch to a different one? Will you require hosting?
e.g. WordPress, Drupal, Umbraco, Joomla, Craft, Concrete5, Ruby on Rails
|Additional integrations||Tell us about any additional external software your new site needs to work in conjunction with.
e.g. external donation platforms, CRM tools, room hire/appointment booking software
|Sitemap||Tell us about any sitemap ideas you have for your new website.
Do you have a structure in mind for key areas of content aside from your events?
e.g. artistic development, visitor info, volunteering, sponsorships, donations, etc.
|Content types||Tell us about any types of content your website will feature aside from events and basic pages. e.g. downloadable resources, case studies, videos, news articles, blog posts, etc.|
|Content creation||Tell us about who will be responsible for creating and managing the new website’s content.
How much content will need migrating from your existing site and how much will be new?
Do you need content creation support, such as branding, copywriting, or photography?
|Content-driven SEO||Tell us about any research you’ve carried out on website SEO (search engine optimisation).
Have you conducted keyword research? Might you need SEO support, now or in the future?
|Similar organisations||Tell us about any organisations, venues, or competitors with a similar service offering to you.
Do you have any local service offering competitors for things like venue/room hire?
|Current site weaknesses||Tell us about the issues you experience with your current website.
What issues do your users face? What issues do your web management team face?
|Current site strengths||Tell us about the strengths of your current website.
What do you like about it and are there any features would you like to retain?
|Website inspiration||Tell us about any websites that inspire you and how you’d like your new site to emulate them.
Are there any websites you enjoy, in the arts and culture sector and beyond?
What about their aesthetics or functionality inspires you?
|Deadlines||Tell us your deadlines for receiving a quote, starting the project, and launching the website.
Are there any specific reasons for these deadlines? Are they fixed or flexible?
|Budget||Tell us about your budget for the project, if possible, either fixed or approximate.
If you do have a specific figure in mind, does that figure include or exclude VAT?
Does that figure need to include any initial hosting costs, or are these separate?
Founded in 2008, we’ve grown over 15 years to become a trusted website provider and partner to a range of arts organisations across the UK and beyond. We’ve been delivering ticketing platform integrations since 2015.
We have strong links with the Arts Council, as well as many major ticketing providers like Spektrix and Ticketsolve. Organisations we have worked with include Leeds Playhouse, Mercury Theatre, Exeter Northcott Theatre, Harrogate Theatre, Junction Goole, Cambridge Junction, HOME Slough, Wells Maltings, ThickSkin Theatre, Mind the Gap, Lime Art, Harlow Museum & Gardens, Brewhouse Theatre, Sunny Bank Mills, and London-based theatres Jacksons Lane, Half Moon, and the Landmark Arts Centre.