How to write a design brief that creative agencies can use
You’ve got an idea in your mind of something that you want to bring to life. You have all the details for your new visual identity or marketing campaign that’s just waiting to spring into action, but you need someone with a specific set of skills to translate your dreams into something tangible.
The perfect design can easily transform your business, taking your company to the next level and opening doors for growth. However, if you want to save time, money, and frustration on paying for a design that doesn’t match your specific goals, you’ll need to prepare. A successful project begins with giving your design team the resources that they need to create your ideas.
At Fabrik, we often deal with a broad collection of different design briefs from a range of clients, and potential clients. Sometimes these briefs contain enough information for us to craft the perfect result first time around, whereas other times, they force us to spend days chasing up questions or re-writing the brief for specific answers.
The problem today is that too many companies underestimate the importance of a detailed design brief. Knowing how to write a design brief that’s thorough and articulate can give clients the guidance they need to save time and boost the accuracy of their results. By understanding what writing a design brief should entail, clients can bridge the gap of understanding between themselves, and the company that they’re working with, to create a clear path towards a specific goal.
Here, we’re going to look closer at the question “What is a design brief?”, and give you the comprehensive design brief template you need to simplify any future job.
What is a design brief? The design brief definition
Before you can understand how to write a design brief successfully, you’ll need to understand what it is, and what it can do for your business. In simple terms, a design brief is a document for project management that helps you to identify the scale, scope, and core details of your upcoming project. It can be used to inform design decisions and guide the flow of your work, from conception to completion.
Though every agency and designer tackles briefs differently, you’ll find that there are some specifics you can cover before approaching a design agency, that make your brief instantly more informative. The more you focus on delivering detail with your brief, the more chance you have of avoiding those unwanted “We didn’t ask for that” moments, when evaluating your end work.
Of course, there are different kinds of briefs for different kinds of project. At Fabrik, we wouldn’t expect a fully detailed written brief for something as simple as an A5 flyer. However, if we’re creating an entirely new brand, we’ll create a detailed design brief after carrying out an initial phase of consultancy, where we get to know your business, and ambitions better. In more detailed case, this means that you might end up having your initial brief superseded by one that’s written by your design company.
In many situations, we, and any other designer would require a high-quality, highly-detailed brief. For instance, if we were helping you to launch a new product, or issue a new campaign to a new audience. In these cases, your design brief would provide our expert designers with the necessary insight, and foundation for your visual design. Though we’ll go into the details a little deeper below, a good creative brief will answer some of these basic questions:
- What do you want to be done?
- What is the project for?
- Who are you tailoring this project to?
It’s important to remember that creative design is a highly amorphous thing. Creative designers work on how each aspect of your design is going to look, and how it will appeal to the people that are most important in your market. We focus on everything from the tiny nuances of font and size, to the bigger concerns like colour, content, and brand development.
With the right design brief, the client benefits from:
- Clarified objectives and goals.
- Detailed facts and assumptions.
- The ability to agree on ideas with teams and stakeholders.
- The chance to build a consensus within the company.
- Some criteria for future evaluation of success metrics.
And the design team benefits from:
- A comprehensive background of the company that shapes the personality of the design.
- A deeper understanding of the manifesto and needs of the brand.
- A guideline of the client’s preferences.
Here, we’re going to discuss the anatomy of a great design brief. One that not only lays all your plans in front of you, so that you can be fully prepared for the next step in your business development, but also gives your designers the background they need to create the solution that’s right for you.
The anatomy of your design brief: Design brief template
As we mentioned above, briefs are versatile. They can come in a range of sizes and shapes depending on the kind of project you’re developing and the goals that you want to achieve as a company. Although the design company that you work with is likely to give you specific guidelines of what they might expect in terms of a brief, you can begin preparing the information you need by understanding the basic anatomy of how to write a design brief.
The following parts will come together to create a design brief template that you can use every time you’re considering a creative project.
How to write a design brief part 1: The company profile
First things first, if you want your design to be effective, then you need to be sure that your designer understands your business. At Fabrik, we make a point of learning as much about the clients that we work with as possible before engaging in any major design projects. The reason for this is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to design.
In a saturated market, full of companies competing for business, it’s crucial to outline what makes you, and your business stand out. This might mean looking at your manifesto, or the goals and ambitions of your business overall, or it may mean simply conducting an interview where you discuss your history and background with your new designer.
Creating a company profile will help to streamline the design process, as you’ll have a document that draws attention to the key aspects of your business, including:
- The company details: The name, industry, product lines, etc.
- The USP: What makes you special, or do you need some help deciding that?
- Brand mission: Every business should have a set of goals that drives them. What are your ambitions and values, what is your manifesto?
- Key stakeholders: People who might need to be contacted when making essential decisions about your company design.
- Competitors: Who are you trying to set yourself apart from?
The company profile section of a design brief informs all the other aspects of the brief, from what the project is trying to achieve, to the information included. Your company profile will even help you determine which illustrations or photography are best for your audience.
How to write a design brief part 2: Project overview
Once you’ve outlined all the important details that make your business special, you’ll be ready to start thinking about what you want to achieve with your project. There are plenty of different ways to boost your business with design. For instance, you might be looking for an entire re-brand based on a new company manifesto. Alternatively, you might want to stick to your existing brand ethos, but also expand it by appealing to a new audience.
The project overview is the part of writing a design brief where you need to ask yourself: “What are you doing, and why are you doing it?”
The “what” part of this process is simple. Your overview is going to define the scale and scope of the project and its deliverables. For instance, you might want a new set of brochures describing your product, or you may need signage and wayfinding creating for your office building or stores. Maybe you’re building something new, or perhaps you’re redesigning something that already exists. During the “what”, you can explain your product information, technical requirements, and the preferred media channels you want to use.
When deciding “what” you want, remember to cover:
- The media you want to use.
- The copy that needs to be included (marketing copy, contact information, etc).
- The scope of the project (how much there is to do).
The “why” is a little more complex. The best way to answer this question is to identify the design problems you’re already facing in your business. For instance, do the current brochures you have seem outdated and underwhelming? Do you need to change your appearance to appeal to a new type of demographic? Are you hoping to simply create something that will engage your audience, inspire action, and inform?
A project overview will put you in the perfect position to outline your key objectives, and goals.
How to write a design brief part 3: Key objectives and goals
The “why” that you began to explore in the section above, defines the goals and objectives of your overall project. For instance, if you decide that you want to create some new deliverables to engage teenagers, as well as older audience members, then your goal is to increase interactions with a younger audience.
That overarching goal is likely to break down into a series of other ambitions that you’ll hope to accomplish with your design. For instance, you might hope that a new brochure encourages more people to call through to your advice line and place orders on your eCommerce store.
Nailing down what your goals are can help you to highlight the main issues that you want to address with your design. If the company you’re working with knows what you’re trying to achieve, then they will be better equipped to create an outcome that you’re happy with. After all, designers approach projects that are intended to increase awareness differently than those that are intended to sell a service or product.
Each goal comes with a unique set of techniques and methods to try. Establishing your key objectives and goals lays out a specific path for your designer to follow, so you’re both moving on the right track.
How to write a design brief part 4: Choosing your target audience
Another important aspect informing your design decisions, and the changes that your designer makes on your behalf, will be the kind of audience you’re trying to appeal to. Designers have a unique understanding of the graphics, techniques, and even colours that appeal to different demographics. By identifying your target audience, they can even offer advice as to how you can make your current campaigns more successful.
If you’ve been in business for a little while, then the chances are that you’ll already have some relevant research about your target audience that you can share with your designer. However, newer companies can struggle to gather the data that they need for a comprehensive customer portfolio. If you’re in this situation, then the best thing you can do is brainstorm with your team about what kind of customer is most likely to be interested in your business.
Usually, it can be helpful to look into the audience members that your competitors are targeting, and think carefully about any aspects of your product that might make it appeal to a specific demographic. As a business, create an “audience persona”: a distinct image of your perfect customer. This persona should include details such as:
- Age: It doesn’t need to be a single number, but an age range like 16-25 can help designers significantly when choosing the right fonts and graphics.
- Gender: Colours and images can appeal differently to each gender.
- Geographical location: Is there a specific city, region, country or continent?
- Media consumption habits: Which media is most appealing to them.
- Pain points and needs: What problem can your customer overcome using your product.
You might find that different services or products that your business offers correlate with different buyer personas. For each project, you’ll need to determine which audience you want to appeal to, and how you’d like to interact with them in your design brief template.
How to write a design brief part 5: Basic design requirements
If you’re seeking the help of a professional design team, then you probably have a general idea of what you’d like to accomplish in mind. You might not know all the different technicalities of the design, but you can draw attention to certain specifics that might round out your brief, and ensure that you don’t have to ask the designer to make numerous adjustments after they’re finished creating.
Requirements generally vary for each project, but some of the basic elements that you should think about include:
- The required colour palette.
- The media you’d like to use.
- The sizes of images, print-outs, and other media.
- Specific image assets (Logos and branding).
- Copy: Do you need copy creating, or do you have your own?
- Products and service offerings that need to be outlined.
- Specific brand guidelines.
- Contact information.
In this section, you can also include reference materials that might help your designer. For instance, this could include mock-ups, mood boards, and competitor insights that you’ve gained during your own research. The more thorough you are with your design brief example and case studies, the less chance your designer will run into roadblocks during the creative process.
Remember to include all your existing product photos, brochures, logos, and materials that would be useful to the design project. Sometimes, examining existing promotional materials can make it easier for a designer to understand what their client is trying to accomplish.
How to write a design brief part 6: Schedule and budget
Budget can be a difficult subject to broach with certain clients. Many clients feel that if they share budgets with their designers before they’re given a quote, they’ll be overcharged. However, the truth is that designers need to know what kind of budget they’re working with if they’re going to give you the best value for your money.
Additionally, having a budget in mind may also give you a better understanding of the ROI you want to achieve with your new design project, and what kind of targets you’d like to measure for.
Similarly, your schedule is almost as important as your budget. Some clients genuinely don’t understand how long the creative process takes. Other clients will have deadlines in mind that are specific to an event happening in their company or industry. By informing your designer of the restrictions around your project, you reduce your risk of losing valuable cash and time.
Remember to be realistic about your schedule and budgetary needs. Though many designers will do their best to meet your guidelines, certain things won’t be possible, and you’ll need to give yourself enough time to either find a different designer or reconsider your goals.
How to write a design brief part 7: Defining your overall style
Finally, once you’ve got all the technical details down on paper, it’ll be time to discuss the fun part – your style.
A lot of companies simply expect that their designer will automatically have the same picture in their mind after reading their brand guidelines, technical requirements, and goals, but that’s not always the case. You might have a grungy design in mind while your designer is picturing something clean and modern.
Don’t be afraid to simply identify your likes and dislikes somewhere during your design brief. If you struggle to explain what your preferences are, then you could use examples from competitors to outline what you do, and don’t want.
Remember, identifying your style isn’t just important for the colours and imagery used in your design brief. It’s also important to determine your style in terms of copy too. Are you going to be using a professional copywriter? Do they use informal or formal writing? What kind of copy needs to be included in the design if you’re not providing it?
At the very least, if you can’t identify what you do want for your designer, then draw attention to what you don’t want. In a difficult project, designers who have a list of specific elements to avoid can have an easier time crafting the outcomes that their clients are looking for.
Writing a design brief: The key to a successful project
Every project is different.
Some are more in-depth than others. Some clients are looking for a completely customised solution to their business problems, whereas others simply want to adapt existing templates. Some clients are looking for a way to re-brand and re-design their entire business, while others are searching for a little extra “something” to make them stand out.
A design brief helps your designer to understand the scope, and requirements of your project in advance, reducing the amount of time that you both need to spend fixing problems, and reiterating certain points. Though your goals might seem obvious to you, it’s important to make sure that your designer is aware of every detail. Design is very subjective.
A clear, concise brief is like strong leadership. It’s inspiring, precise, and helps to direct the energy of your design team. False starts are avoided, and you’re in the best possible position to demand a solution that works for your business.
Often, design briefs are ineffective because they’re too vague. Target audiences can’t be “everyone”, and your USP can’t be simply “good quality”. If you don’t know your goals, your preferences, or who you’re targeting, then you may need to spend some more time getting to know your business before you begin to design. Remember, the design elements that you create represent your business, and you need to be sure that you’re having the right impression, on the right audience.
It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth the effort. Design, done right, can be powerful, and a good brief ensures that you get more out of your investment.
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