News | Tech for good | Think Pieces | Top Tips

How to Write A Perfect Brief?

The Reason Digital team share the knowledge on how to write the perfect brief that will get you the proposals desire.

By Reason Digital · July 1, 2024

How to write a perfect brief?  

Writing a brief can be quite daunting. Writing a perfect one can be even more challenging. As an agency in our 16th year, we have seen many briefs come through to us. Our team of experts has developed a keen eye for what makes a brief stand out, what excites us and what you need to write to get the highest quality proposals. 

In this blog, Jane Murison, UX and Design Director (formerly BBC) attempts to answer the question: ‘How to write a perfect brief?’ Having spent 18 years on the client side and then moving to agencies – Jane’s unique perspective helps address the question from both sides.  

Two sides of the coin 

Our team of experts have unique perspectives on what makes a perfect brief. 

I was a ‘client’ for a long time (commissioning research and design work and procuring framework agreements for rosters of agencies when I worked at the BBC). I know how hard it can be to secure the right conditions to make sure good work can happen. You need to deal with a vast range of stakeholders with different expectations and opinions and secure a budget, and often, that comes with very specific requirements about what needs to be delivered with that money. You’re caught between the expectations of your own team, policies you need to stick to, and the hopes and needs of the agency you’re working with. And if it’s an agency you haven’t worked with before, you’re putting a lot of faith in them to do a good job for you. 


Now I’m on the agency side, and of course, I’ve seen a different side to it!   


We all came to work at Reason Digital because we want to use our skills to make a difference. So, the causes our clients work for, are what motivates us too. 

We had a wonderful conversation during a pitch recently, where the person running the meeting concluded by reminding everyone that however complex the project was, it was also very exciting because of the good it could do for their beneficiaries. It was uplifting to be a part of and we left with a spring in our step (even if we don’t get it!) 

Big Hairy Problems 

We love a big, open problem. We’re aware of the trust you’re extending asking a question where you’re not sure of the answer, but we love it when we can help shape a future development brief for ourselves or others. The team is well-versed in making the intangible tangible through facilitated creative sessions, formative research and strategic planning.   

We’ve had some amazing and impactful research projects on how charities deliver their services and getting to meet the amazing staff and beneficiaries in their own contexts.  These briefs might look like ‘We know we have a problem with for example, how much it costs to deliver our services, and we want to reach more people with the same budget – how could digital technology help?’ A smallish piece of qualitative user research can uncover a huge wealth of insight into the charity’s ‘secret sauce’ – what makes them special and what the beneficiaries most value about them; and where they really struggle. It is massively rewarding when we know our strategic recommendations help a charity achieve their goals without compromising their ethos. 

Outcomes over Features  

We love it when challenges are expressed as ‘How Might We’ statements. It’s the difference between ‘I’d like to buy a Hotpoint QuantumWash 3400k’ and ‘How might I do my laundry cheaply, quickly and with the least impact to the planet’. Of course, sometimes, you just know the answer – you’ve done the thinking already – but we love helping people to find the answers. 

While it’s impossible to avoid some ‘non-negotiables’, we love it when project success is expressed in outcomes rather than specific solutions. It allows us all to consider the bigger picture and come up with more interesting ways to solve problems. 

Progressive Learning 

Because we work with digital technology, change is a constant for us. This can be exciting and maddening in equal measure – exciting because things become possible, become cheaper, or more accessible to more people; maddening because things go out of date, upgrades happen, and something that was secure before suddenly isn’t any more, and the big tech companies aren’t exactly trustworthy. We embrace/cope with this change with the understanding that we need to be constantly learning, open to new ideas from any source and nimble enough to change direction on the basis of that new information (and checking for plug-in updates!). 

There’s an element of pragmatism that is really appreciated from our side. Share your vision with us, but realise that compromises may need to be made and give us some boundaries to work within and areas where we can flex or be creative 

So, it’s great if we can make this part of our projects – we’re happy to break up projects into stages so our clients can control risk and cost, and we love it when we can pilot, research with users, and learn from client expertise to inform our decision-making. We’re at our best when we can develop trust with a client, and partner to solve problems together through this cycle of testing, learning and building. 

What are the briefs we get most excited about? 

Apart from Jane, we have also asked our leadership team to describe what excites them in a brief.  

Knowing what part of your current infrastructure is fixed and cannot move vs the technology that can be improved helps think more about the future of the project, and how to start a journey today that will lead to the best outcome, even if the project needs to be phased over time. This prevents optimising small pieces of the puzzle – but that don’t work together over time.

Mark, Technical Director

man with glasses

I really love it when the organisation's personality comes through in the brief. It's a great chance for us to get a feel for the culture, values and people we'll be working with. I also really appreciate organisations being transparent and pragmatic about where they're at with digital. Show us your vision, but don't shy away from telling us the warts and all story!

Lucy, Head of Strategy and Transformation

a woman with long blond hair

It always excites me to see in a brief that a client is willing to be led by the process and research findings, what we discover along the way by engaging with the beneficiaries always leads us down a path of unexpected excitement and a really valuable and often surprising outcomes.

From a practical perspective, it is always useful to understand the things that cannot be compromised up, a specific deadline that may have a significant campaign linked to it or the start of a new term at a University or School for example. This really helps us form an approach to achieve an outcome that is suitable, robust and can accommodate the things that can not be de-prioritised or compromised upon.

Deborah, Operations Director

Deborah: Operations Director

If you can, don’t hold back when sharing a budget or budget range for your brief and ongoing digital investment. If we have an idea of what range we’re working with or the expectations set within the organisation, we can scope out an initial recommended solution that takes this into account; setting the right expectations and being transparent about what’s achievable when delivering against the initial brief, and also longer term.

Leighanne, Head of Commercial

Leighanne: Head of Commercial

What does the perfect brief look like in practice?  

If you need a place to start, we recommend you include information in the following 5 key areas in the brief you are preparing.  

1. Key information about your project/tender  

  • Processes 
  • Stages 
  • Submission/Panel meetings 
  • Budget 
  • Scoring criteria 
  • What you are looking for from a partner 

2. Information about your Organisation  

  • Mission and values 
  • Goals/Strategy 
  • Overview of services and funding 
  • Other projects that might be related 

3. Key information about the project 

  • Summary of what you need 
  • Background to the work 
  • Why are you doing it right now 
  • What’s important to you in this project 
  • Timelines and what’s driving them  
  • Any dependencies/risks 

4. Information about your audience(s) 

  • External or internal? 
  • What research has been done to date (if any) 
  • Insights from research done 
  • What are the known needs/actions of your audience in relation to your organisation? 
  • What’s working and what’s not working 

5. Technical information 

  • Current tech stack and your opinions on this 
  • Integrations required 
  • Technical preferences 
  • Any 3rd parties involved and their scope of work in the project 
  • What’s most important technically (accessibility, speed etc.)