Since the dawn of the commercial web, a Battle of the Briefs has existed in how to best document and plan web projects. On the IT/technology side, the preferred approach was a “project brief”; for marketers/branders, it was a “creative brief”.

Do You Really Need a Pair of Briefs?

The Project Brief and Creative Brief are similar, but historically different.

  • The project brief might be described as the bird’s-eye view of the IT project. A project brief should focus on the “big picture,” while ensuring all the details of the challenge are clear and understood.
  • The creative brief is a document created through meetings, interviews, readings, and discussions between the client and creative team before any work begins. The creative brief defines how to best connect with the target audience by clarifying their needs and motivations.

The Web, however, is the great convergence of IT and Creative: form and function. Web projects require more than the technical concerns of a Project Brief; effective web projects are “user-centric” — the target audience’s needs and motivations are critical components for the very success of the project.

Web projects are also more than the nebulous concerns of creatives. The technology that powers the ideas must be robust enough to serve rapidly increasing web traffic demands. It must envision an infrastructure that is not only plausible but realistic to deliver the given scope of the effort within budget and schedule.

Moreover, words matter — both “project brief” and “creative brief” carry emotional baggage. So, instead of carrying this verbal weight along for the arduous journey into the unknowns of a Web project, why not instead leverage the assets of both? Let’s replace those terms with something that fits the modern needs of web projects.

We call this the SHERPA Field Guide.

The Only Brief You Need

The term “field guide” is traditionally defined as follows:

A field guide is a type of reference book, meant to be carried in the field, to aid in the identification of plants and animals. They often make use of classification and identification systems called keys by which one may, through observation, determine the exact identity of a specific plant or animal. A field guide may also be intended for the identification of other naturally occurring objects such as gemstones or other minerals and man-made objects such as boats, cars, coins, or antiques.

The SHERPA Field Guide provides all team member a bird’s eye view of the effort before them. It is a multimedia reference guide — both textual and visual — that identifies the target audience while detailing the challenge at hand.

The SHERPA Field Guide is a dynamic document that lives in a collaborative space — accessible on all devices and mediums — ready to adapt to the changes of a project while remaining focused on the original objectives and goals of the initiative.

A Guide to Snug, Well-Fitting Briefs

Below are the top 10 factors that must be included in an effective Field Guide.

  1. Overview: This section explains what the project is expected to achieve and how it will improve the existing problem or situation. What is the project? What are we designing and why? Why do we need this project? What’s the opportunity?
  2. People: Projects are realized through the efforts of individuals. This section defines the key players and their roles, including financial personnel. Who are we reporting to? Who exactly is approving this work? Who needs to be informed of our progress? By what means?
  3. Background: This section provides context to the initiative. Who is the client? What is the product or service? What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (or SWOTs) involved with this product or service? Are there existing research, reports and other documents that help you understand the situation?
  4. Constraints: This section gives shape to the project by delineating any limitations or restrictions. Timeline, schedule, budget? List of expected deliverables? Preconceived ideas? Format parameters?
  5. Drivers: This section discusses goals that the project must achieve to be considered a success. What is our goal for this project? What are we trying to achieve? What is the purpose of our work? What are our top three objectives?
  6. Audience: This section helps us understand the target “user” of the technology. Who are we talking to? What do they think of us? Why should they care?
  7. Tone: This section helps us understand *how* we should be communicating with the audience. What adjectives describe the feeling or approach?
  8. Message: This section provides us insight into *what* we should be saying. Are the words already developed or do we need to develop them? What do we want audiences to take away?
  9. Assets. This section explores and takes an inventory of any pre-existing assets. Are we developing new images or picking up existing ones? Are there pre-existing codebase or technologies to consider?
  10. Competitors: This section provides us intelligence so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Who is the competition? What are they telling the audience that we should be telling them? SWOT analysis on them? What differentiates us from them?
David Felfoldi

David Felfoldi

David Felfoldi is a digital marketing strategist for SHERPA Global. Over the past 15 years, David has guided the digital strategy behind notable organizations such as ADP, Spanx, Racetrac, Gables, and the National Center of Civil and Human Rights. When not tinkering with technology or musing on marketing David enjoys running and cycling adventures across the globe.

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