Even within the design community, the power of a decent design brief can be hugely unappreciated. In the initial flurry of activity and enthusiasm, it is all too easy to just jump headfirst into developing ideas and cranking the designs out.

I have even seen some people actively avoid getting a brief as they feel this would give them more freedom in their design. But this can be a costly mistake for everyone involved.


The advantages of producing a good design brief

Investing a bit of time in having kick-off conversations and producing a good brief allows the designer to hit the ground running, reduces the number of amends required, and therefore the amount of frustrating back and forth. This, in turn, reduces costs and production time.

It ensures the product is design for the right audience, provides direction from the outset, and helps to put the designer in the mindset of the customer’s preferences.

It makes sure you all start with the same understanding of the purpose of the design.

It explains the messaging that is to guide the project.

It lays out the brand and design elements that must be included and the tone of voice. It will guide you to branding guidelines that must be followed.

In short, it helps the designer to visualise what is in the customer’s head and focuses on what’s important. And it will lay all of this information out so the designer doesn’t have e to go looking for it or making (un)educated guesses.


What should a good design brief include?

There are some key pieces of information that a good design brief should cover:

  • A brief overview of the project
  • Overview of the client’s business
  • Details of the product(s) – website, poster, e-learning module, infographic, etc
  • Goals and objectives
  • Desired outcome
  • Style guidelines/branding requirements
  • Target audience
  • Tone of voice
  • File format/specifics required

Depending on what accompanying documentation you have, you may also want to include:

  • Deadlines and time constraints
  • Review rounds
  • Reference to the budget
  • People involved and their role

At some point in their career every designer has heard the dreaded “I don’t know what I want but I’ll know when I see it” from a customer. My key advice here (learned from experience) is to run for the hills. However, should you be willing to persevere, or just love a sadistic challenge, a design brief that explores the client’s end goals, together with moodboards, will help to gain some sort of direction out of the uninspired drudge that has been provided.

Basically, a successful design brief hits 3 key factors – it saves costs, frustration, and time. And who doesn’t want that?

I have a template brief you can use on my Resources page here.


Just for fun – here’s how not to do it

I have been a designer for 15 years now and so have had my fair share of crappy briefs and feedback. Here are some examples.

I don’t like anything

A builder approached me to create a logo for his company – a high-end property development company. He didn’t want the logo to include his business name (which was also his surname), any shapes, anything representing building or tools, or anything like it. On trying to ascertain some direction I asked him to give me some examples of logos he liked, from any industry. His response – “I have never seen anything I have liked”. Helen – exit stage left. Funnily enough, 10 years on I have looked him up and he still doesn’t have a logo.

Is that not enough?

A recent one – an email was fired to me by a customer I have done a few (often frustrating) jobs for. The subject line was ‘I need a poster’. Okay, I can do that.

I opened the email expecting information…

Closed and reopened email to check it wasn’t that it just hadn’t loaded.

Nope, that was it.

I replied to ask for details to be asked “Is that not enough?”


Make it sparkle

The only feedback ever received off one very painful customer was repeatedly to ‘make it sparkle’. FFS.

I never did get to the bottom of what this meant, short of adding some diamonds and jewels. I am not sure we ever made it bling.

Can you add lipstick on that monkey?

Yes, the more random of my design briefs – for a guy trying to create a brand that featured a monkey. It started alright until he came back for phase 2 – wanting a whole series of monkeys, wearing snapbacks (yes I had to Google this), sucking on a dummy, and… wearing leopard print and lipstick. The result was a monkey that looked like it belonged in a drag act. But he was happy, so what do I know?

It was one of those times you have to bite your tongue and just make sure your name is never attributed to the piece of work. And a double lesson learned, as I never did get the last payment out of him.


​Write 52: Week 47
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