#31: Design Process: The [design] Brief


Welcome to post number two in my series on the Design Process. Every single step is crucial to the outcome of a design, but the first few steps will be the foundation of whatever you will create as a designer.
Last week we talked about the Client Meeting. The next step is something I think a lot of designers and creatives skip. It’s “The Brief”. Commonly called a “design brief” or “creative brief”, it’s basically a questionnaire. Many designers wait to do a brief until they know everything they are working with and they create a sort of summary of the information and call it a brief. I call that a project summary, where you give a quick final synopsis of what you will do for the client. I include the summary in the official design proposal. But that’s for another day, this week, we are going to talk about what a design brief is, what it is not, and why it is so very important that you have one.
What the brief is.
The brief is in essence your best communication between the client and yourself about the project they are inquiring about. In the brief that I currently use, I have complied what I have found to be the most useful and core questions. But it is definitely not exhaustive. There are many different ways of coming up with your brief. I even have a different brief for logos and web design, to ensure that I ask the right questions for each project.
Some of the most important questions in the brief are meant to help your clients figure out what it is they actually want out of the new design. Whether they already have a clear idea or are clueless, the well-created brief should force them to have to think more deeply about the project.
Here are some examples of the kinds elements your brief should contain:
  • Information about the company (competition, background, contact, etc.)
  • Ideal target audience profile (demographics, phychographics, etc.)
  • Project goals and scope (increase sales, encourage referrals, etc.)
  • Overall visual style, and concept references (descriptive words to help you with your brainstorming)
  • Material requirements (who will provide copy, photos, etc.)
  • Deadline information (fixed or flexible)
  • Visual likes and dislikes (colors to avoid, etc.)

The questions in each of these sections will provide the best information for us to give our clients the very best design solutions. Unless the client completely changes their mind or answers the questions incorrectly, we will never have to back track on the direction we are taking.

The brief is the designer’s roadmap to a foolproof design solution.

What the brief is not.

The design brief is not meant to solve problems for you. It is to act as a simple guiding document where all of your most pertinent information will be easy to access throughout the design process.

It is not meant to be held over your client as a permanent document. There are definitely times where a brief might need to be reworked or redone entirely due to many different circumstances. You want to be firm but flexible and discern which of these options are best should this come up.

Why you need it.

The brief creates a solid framework for exactly what direction to take, what to do, and the constraints to work within. Aside from meeting the client, the [design] brief is the single most important step in the design process. Without it, you will be lost. It is another key area where you, as a designer, have the opportunity to use words first to make sure that you have a well-described path to follow before you create a single graphic. Initially it will take some time on the part of the client (to fill it out) but in the end it saves everyone an incredible amount of time. It will get you focused on the details that best cater to their target audience, show you where you need to research, and then you can start working on the project in as timely a manner as possible.

The brief should also contain descriptive words throughout the varying sections of it that you can use as starting points for your mind map (brainstorming) stage. This is the stage that will get you to a true and solid concept for your project. It will help you start to come up with words that you will use to visualize graphics, layout, even colors and fonts.

As a side note, I ask that every inquiry from a potential client for a design, is answered with, “I will send you a questionnaire so I can get an idea about your project, then I will send you a quote.” This will weed out people who are just checking you out for fun and the people who are serious. It also serves the amazing purpose of giving you a more accurate place to give them prices from, as you will know all the facets of the project from the very beginning and (in theory) there won’t be any surprises.
Whether you already have a sort of brief that you use or you’ve never used one before, I urge you to value it and use it to its full potential. For those of you who don’t have one or are curious what mine looks like, I have created one for you to download, for free.
I absolutely guarantee that if you use a brief, that you will increase your productivity and your creative ideas will be more precise and purposeful. 
The one I have here as a free download, has taken me years to complete. I believe it is both comprehensive and straightforward without being too overwhelming. Let me know what you think and if it works for you! Design is a wonderful world. I hope you’ll join me here, because design matters.
Design Brief by BrandiSea 


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