Design Brief

Universal Design Brief

  • Express the Essence
  • Create Emotional Impact
  • Delivery the Gift of Delight
  • Compel People to Think
  • Inspire People to Act

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design-brief template

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Three references for Advice on creating  the Design Brief

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—V. Ryan, Problem & Brief

The Design Problem and Design Brief are sometimes viewed as two different sections of the design process. However, they are very closely related. Before you can can start a design project you must find a ‘problem’ to solve. Sometimes this may be given to you as an assignment question or set by a client and is usually a paragraph of writing. The ‘design brief’ follows the ‘problem’ and states clearly how you intend to solve the design problem.

  1. Always start the design brief with “I am going to design and make…”. This is followed by a general description of the type of device you feel will answer the design problem.
  2. Do not be too specific. The brief should be a general description that allows you flexibility regarding the type of product you intend to make. For example, if your are designing an automatic animal feeder it may be a good idea not to say the type of animal it is for, at least not at this stage in the project.
  3. Do not be specific about materials. It may be wise to avoid stating the exact materials it will be manufactured from (eg. pine, steel, perspex etc…). Instead describe the materials to be used as strong, tough, flexible, natural, manmade, recycled, water-proof or similar general descriptions.
  4. Mention points such as; safety, general size, what it will do (it’s functions), general properties of the materials needed, who it is for (eg children), basic cost of manufacture or a lower and upper cost limits, circuit requirements and other points you feel are important.

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—Shaun Crowley, Freelance Switch

Your design can only be as good as the brief you worked from. The best projects are borne from creative briefs that are open enough to inspire ideas, while being specific enough to feel workable. Learn how you can elicit these kinds of briefs by providing clients with briefing templates.

Picture the scene. You’ve just landed a new client, who hurries a brief to you for a marketing brochure. There are a few holes in the brief, but instead of asking for constant clarification, you get to work. Later you’re told the design “isn’t quite right”. Before you know it, the client is refusing to pay.

Familiar story? All too familiar for most freelance designers I know. Ambiguous design briefs are infuriating. What’s worse, clients who set you up to fail often go away thinking you stuffed up.

So what can you do to avoid this?

The only way is to formalize the briefing procedure. I say this as a client myself; when I hook up with a designer I need a formal brief at hand. It helps me turn the gobbledegook in my head into well-articulated language. And it reassures me that my designer has some pointers to refer to after we meet.

Unfortunately, clients who aren’t familiar with the design process don’t see carefully-written briefs as a high priority. This may be because they don’t have time. Quite often, it’s because the client hasn’t made fundamental decisions about the objectives of their marketing collateral.

By supplying your client with a briefing template and briefing tips, like the ones below, you can elicit the information you need from a few carefully crafted questions. You may even draw attention to the things your client hasn’t thought of—like “Have I got all the artwork my designer needs?” or even in some cases “Who am I targeting with this item?”

A formal handover template gives you the opportunity to offer a few pointers, so the client learns how to get the most from your talent. It’s a frame of reference when you meet to discuss the assignment, and a point of review if your first proofs don’t pass muster.

Remind your client that a formal design brief is not unnecessary red tape. It’s there to ensure your client gets value for money from your service. The trick is to educate your clients without patronizing or victimizing them. Maybe post the templates on your website and offer a link to them in your email correspondence. Make the templates subliminally accessible for your clients.

Maybe then, you can make that dream design brief a reality on every project.

Good Things to Include in Your Design Brief

  • Title of item.
  • Delivery mechanism and marketing objectives.
  • Format.
  • Budget and schedule.
  • What are you providing the designer with: Product shots, website screen shots, photographs, diagrams, etc. (Check these are high-resolution.)
  • General description of format: Describe any formatting issues you have arranged with the printer.
  • Description of target audience: Occupation, gender ratio, average age, nationality/location, psychological demographic, lifestyle preferences.
  • Message objectives: Hierarchy of copy messages, treatment of headlines, body copy, visuals, product samples, call-to-action.
  • Where to look for inspiration: Give brief examples of style / overall look you want the item to achieve. What aspects of the product or branding can be used as a starting point for the design? What feelings or metaphors reflect the spirit of your product or company?
  • What not to do: Also give examples of what the design shouldn’t include and what styles to avoid.

Tips for Briefing a Designer

1. THINK ABOUT THE MESSAGE OF THE DESIGN.

Offer guidance to help the designer marry the “look” of the item with the “voice” of the copy.

2. DON’T PRESCRIBE SOLUTIONS.

You are paying for the designer’s ideas, so avoid the temptation to tell the designer what to do. Instead, be clear about what the item needs to achieve, so the designer can explore ideas. This is where you need the designer’s expertise.

It’s rarely a good idea to give a designer a mocked up layout – they will simply follow your instructions which are not necessarily making the best use of the space.

3. DO YOUR SCHEDULING BEFORE YOU BRIEF A DESIGNER.

Make sure you schedule the whole project before you brief a designer, incorporating appropriate feedback and incubation stages. Ask your designer to inform you in advance if deadlines or set budgets are unrealistic.

4. FORMALIZE DESIGN BRIEFING.

Carefully word your brief in an email or as a front page to your copy, and use this as a reference point when you meet. Always brief designers face-to-face, or on the phone for smaller projects.

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—David Airey, Graphic Designer

Any graphic design project needs a detailed design brief. There are two main reasons:

  1. It ensures the client knows exactly what s/he wants to achieve from the project.
  2. It acts as a point of reference for designers, forming the focus of their work.

This means less time (and money) is spent on the result. It comes down to this: The more information a client provides from the outset, the more value for money s/he will receive from the graphic designer.

Topics for inclusion in a design brief:

Corporate profile

Clients shouldn’t assume that people know their business well. Incorrect assumptions can render the entire opening discussion meaningless. A summary of the business and a brief history will help.

Market position

A realistic evaluation of the company’s service/product relative to what the competition is doing.

Current situation

An explanation of what’s happening to bring about the need for this project e.g., a new product launch.

Communication background

This includes both previous and present communication activity, such as research, advertising, direct mail, graphic design, public relations etc.

Communication task — “the message”

What’s the context of the specific message in relation to the business plan? Where possible, include information to be shown in the designed item e.g. taglines, body text, imagery, etc.

Target market

Demographics — the age, gender, income, employment, geography, lifestyle of those the client wants to reach.

Objectives

What does the client want to achieve? Make the objectives specific and the results measurable.

Schedule and deadline

The designer should have a detailed and realistic schedule of how the client wants the project to advance, considering these pointers:

  • Consultation (research, strategy)
  • Creation (concept and design development)
  • Production (artwork and print procurement)
  • Delivery (file handover)

If, as a designer, you’re dealing with a client who hasn’t produced a design brief, it’s vitally important to have your own questionnaire that you can supply at the beginning.

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