8 Tips for Writing a Better Design Brief

8 Tips for Writing a Better Design Brief

Introduction

First, let’s clear a common misconception. There is no magic bullet for creating a perfect design brief. Just like other processes where you set goals and objectives, it is important that you have a clear line of communication between yourself and the designer.

Some people express themselves better in writing, others don’t. If you prefer to talk to people, then agree on upfront with the designer that he/she has a certain amount of latitude in the design brief and you may need multiple revisions to achieve an acceptable design.

Just remember, that this will affect your budget. Designers work by the hour and each revision takes time. So if you prefer a ‘loose design brief’, just be sure to set the right expectations and budget allowance upfront.

So what are the commonly accepted steps for crafting a better design brief? I have assembled 8 tips for writing a better design brief. Follow these and you should have a much happier designer.

1. Your Objectives and Goals

I like to use the analogy of a storyteller. You need to take the dialogue from what is inside your head to another point in space. Take a moment to step outside of yourself. Think of what it would be like for someone to encounter you for the first time and to understand what’s going on insider your mind. As the client, you need to be able to spell out what the designer will need to do and the constraints which you face.

The designer needs to become aware of where you are now and where you wish to take the vision. You need to convey the ‘do’s’ and the ‘do not’, both from your personal perspective and the perspective of your intended customers. And don’t be afraid to poll feedback from your colleagues, family and friends. Information is power and establishing your objectives and goals should never be understated in the selling of a product or service.

2. Talk about the Budget & Schedule

Get away from the idea that the client/designer relationship needs to be adversarial. You may be the customer who controls the cheque book, but this does not mean that you should not talk about money or your delivery expectations.

As I mentioned before, time for a designer is money. If you low-ball the price, don’t expect to receive a design that has been weeks in the making. And when you get to the discussion about price, locking a designer into a fixed price project where you insist on countless revisions is simply not going to fly. You also need to think about the cost of taking a product from point x to point y. A good design can completely transform a product and result in a total repositioning of the product and revenue gain.

Obviously, magic does sometimes happen. My favourite story comes from Nike where Phil Knight, the founder and current CEO, paid a designer $380 to design the original swish logo. At the time, a young design student was more than happy to accept the commission. Clearly the success of the brand and the now-iconic logo suggests she may have undersold herself.

While the Nike story is something that everyone chuckles about, it does suggest that the price you pay today can often be seen as a bargain in years to come. Often a good design becomes part of your business DNA, suggesting that price and scheduling may be insignificant if your goals and objectives are achieved.

3. Who is your Target Audience?

This can sometimes be a tough question. The audience that you have today may not be the same audience that you have tomorrow.

Good design can help position a product in the mind of a buyer. This spins us into the realm of emotion, of culture, of age and of gender. The recommendation I give is to describe your ‘ideal customer’. Model it on who buys your product today or who uses your services. Try to describe these people and think about how you might extend the demographic to reach a broader audience.

4. What is the Scope of the Project?

Projects obviously vary. Your logo design of today is a very different project to a corporate-wide rebranding exercise.

The issue to consider is whether you want to adapt an existing template or other design. Take the example of a new website design. Do you want a single page brochure site or do you also need the site to offer eCommerce functionality? These are two very different projects with a myriad of complexity involved in presenting an operational and secure eCommerce site.

So when you are thinking about the scope of your project, think very carefully about the scope of your project; both today and in the future. To pop up and say at the midpoint and say… “Now for one more small thing” can totally change the scheduling, the budget and the overall success of the project.

The takeaway on this point is that transparency, openness and honesty are important virtues in defining the scope of a project. No one likes surprises!

5. What are the Available Materials that you can Provide?

Sometimes helping a designer can be as easy as to give him or her access to your archive of promotional material and literature.

While as they say, “A picture speaks a thousand words”. This will give your designer a valuable insight into past ideas and how they can improve on these existing themes.

What’s useful in this phase is to document what you like and don’t like and what has been most successful in leveraging sales in your business.

Be sure to spell out these priorities so that the mistakes of the past are avoided and your designer is guided away from potential ‘rat holes’.

6. Talk about Style

Everyone has their own sense of design style and perception of how your product is positioned in the eyes of your customers. If we talk about interior house designs, then terms like Modern, Minimalist, Traditional, Industrial and Scandinavian conjure up images that most people are familiar with. The terms used in the graphic design sector are often less understood and may carry very different meaning between individuals. Terms like Art Nouveau, Art Deco, American Kitsch, Swiss International, Grunge and Minimalist, while well understood in classic design literature may mean something very different to designers who have not had any formal training.

The rule of thumb is to always show examples of what you like and what you don’t like. Often this can be as simple as compiling an illustrated scrapbook that explains your design preferences.

7. Be Open About What you Don’t Like

This comes back to my earlier point about the scope of your project. You need to be able to clearly articulate what you do like and what you don’t like.

Start by making a simple list of design features that you like and the features that you don’t like. This can include elements such as colour, layout, features, UI characteristics, packaging materials, shape, cost etcetera.

Again, openness and honesty during the briefing stage will always get you a better final product without the necessity of revision or extended deadlines.

8. The Reverse Brief

A reverse brief is a document that you request your designer to write. This document needs to summarise what they see as the key takeaway points from your design brief.

It is a formal way of checking that the designer has absorbed many of the key points in your design brief. It also demonstrates the direction that your designer will most likely adopt and is a useful traffic signal for the project to either STOP, PAUSE or GO.

Summary

A good design brief is vital The design brief serves as the guiding document for the project. Think of it as a business plan for a specific project. It should cover everything necessary to the project, in a manner that is easy to refer to throughout the project timeline.

Make notes on your design brief once you start the project. Keep your proposal along with it, as well as other important documents. Highlight the important parts of each, or make notes in the margins. Don’t just look it over at the beginning and then file it away somewhere. Effectively, using a design brief throughout the process can result in a much better end result.