With more than a decade of experience in the design industry, I have observed many problems that may arise when there is no design brief assigned to a project. For instance, much of the required information may get lost in the middle of the long chain of communication between the client, marketing manager, creative director and, finally, the designer. Some of this information may be as important as the design style, company portfolio, project budget or timeline.
Before we explore the components of a successful design brief, let’s define it, since many professionals and non-professionals in the design industry tend to get confused when it comes to finding a clear definition of a design brief or creative brief.
A design brief, also known as a marketing brief or project brief, is a document that provides the designer with required information about the project’s objectives, budget and milestones. It can also include information such as the company portfolio, target audience and previous research related to the topic.
So, what makes a successful design brief? There are a number of factors that affect its success, such as who writes it and what information it should contain.
1. Start your project with the design brief
As the design brief describes the major characteristics of the project, it needs to be written at an early stage of the process before the team starts working on the project. Usually, the design brief is written after a discussion between the client and design head, such as the creative director or the marketing manager.
Writing the brief at a later time is like putting the cart before the horse, which may adversely affect the whole design process.
2. Who writes the design brief?
Putting the task of writing the brief in the wrong hands can lead to unexpected issues, such as ending up with a useless design brief or one that causes confusion for the designers. In his book, “Creating the Perfect Design Brief,” Peter L. Philips defines the relationship between the designer and the project owners more like a partnership than a client-employee relationship. The designer does not only apply the requirements of the project owner but also collaborates with the project owner to identify solutions for the project’s problems. This collaboration puts both partners in the position of responsibility for the project planning.
Because of that responsibility, the partners or their representatives should be involved in putting together the design brief and in agreement on all the different facets of it. The project owner discusses the project requirements and problems with the design manager or creative director, who will then use visual design elements to solve those problems.
3. Consider the company’s size and line of business
Many designers believe the design brief is only used in large companies with large design teams, which is not true. The purpose of the design brief is to make the design process clearer and provide guidelines for it regardless of the size of the company or the type of the project.
For example, a bakery would like to introduce a new item on its menu and would like to solve this problem through design. The business owner can simply hire a small design agency or even a freelance designer to achieve this goal. At this stage, the design brief comes to define the problem and solution as well as the different project characteristics, such as the budget and time frame.
In addition, the design brief is important for different design industries, not just advertising and product design, as many designers think. You can create a creative brief for your digital design project, website design project, mobile application development, etc.
Defining the size of the company and its line of business helps write a useful design brief. For instance, the small company does not need a lengthy brief; instead, the partners can write a quick and handy brief that focuses on the problem that needs to be solved or the product that needs to be created.
The line of business of a company affects the information that should be included in the design brief. While there is always core information, such as the company portfolio, project budget and scope, there is also important industry-specific information. For example, an interactive design brief may include user experience requirements to indicate how the user should be able to interact with the UI design.
Beyond the aforementioned tips, there are some other components related to the design brief content and priorities that come highly recommended, such as the following:
4. Company portfolio
Usually, a design brief begins by introducing the company to the design team. It is very important to learn about the company in order to choose a creative idea and design that match the company’s marketing message and target audience.
The company portfolio includes information about its activities and core competencies. For example, Mercedes-Benz focuses on safety, so you can find this commitment clearly addressed in its advertising campaigns.
5. Project overview
The project overview gives a complete summary of the project, its scope, problem and solution. Because many people define design as a problem-solving science and art, it is a good idea to start your project overview by discussing the problem and how the design should solve it.
The project problem varies based on the project type. For example, university students sometimes have problems finding books and resources in the library, especially on weekends when there are no employees to help them.
The suggested solution is to design a website that can help students both on campus and off campus to access the library’s database and easily find the book they are looking for when they visit the library.
Another project scope may involve solving a problem of low sales for a specific product. The solution, in this case, may be designing a campaign that will help draw attention to the new product and introduce it to the target audience.
6. Target audience
If you do not know your audience, how can you find a suitable idea or concept to solve the client’s problem? The creative brief should include clear information about the target audience, including demographic information. For example, if you are targeting children or young people, you might consider using bright colors in your design and a causal layout style. On the other hand, products targeting old people would likely be best designed using larger typography and easy-to-follow instructions.
One of the most common problems designers face is that they do not have a clear understanding of the project’s overall time frame and the amounts of time assigned for specific design tasks. This factor can affect the decision about which style of design the team should pursue. Some design styles may require more time to create and could depend on external resources that can put a timely design delivery at risk.
Design is one industry that can involve a long period of brainstorming and developing the creative concept. If the project deadline is tight, this can put pressure on the brainstorming stage and force the design team to reach a workable solution in a shorter time.
The budget is another significant limitation for projects. Honestly, I have never seen a project that is not tight in its budget, especially in design. Many clients have difficulty estimating the design budget for their project, so most designers strive to achieve their best creative idea within the lowest budget available, unless the client is generous enough to increase the design budget.
Generally, the budget is one of the most important factors listed in the design brief because it helps designers understand the project limitations.
Breaking both the timeline and budget into phases or milestones within the creative brief can help you more accurately envision the demands of the project and ensure it will achieve its goals along the way.
9. Design specifications and style
In some projects, designers need to know about project specifications and styles, such as website standards and support for mobile and tablet devices, which is known as responsive design. If the client would like to implement standards-compliant responsive design, the team should consider making versions of the design layout that fit different mobile and tablet screen sizes.
10. Data research
Data research involves any previous research and design-related information that can be helpful in the design process. Data research can include information about the target audience and how the market interacted with previous campaigns.
Ultimately, the design brief does not have a fixed form or structure. It should be smart enough to supply the design team with enough pertinent information to ensure a professional design process and output that helps solve the client’s problem.
The above tips are all helpful guidelines you can use when initiating a design project or getting feedback from the client. You can use the basics explained above in addition to other necessary pieces of information depending on the needs of the design project at hand.