A designer’s brief

Not quite getting what you want or expected from the designer you’ve commissioned? Not quite certain what you want but sure on what you don’t want? Wondering why they just aren’t getting it? There’s a key to getting it right when briefing designers and yet so often people get it wrong…here’s how to avoid that situation and make the most of a designer’s creativity and your resources.

Ever been in that situation where you’ve ‘briefed’ a designer: told them everything in your head about your visions for the project, what you want the design to imply, how you want it to be the best thing since sliced bread (or perhaps the iPhone) and you send them off on their merry-way to use their creative genius and magic a fantastic design, only to find that when the designs come back they’re nothing like what you imagined. In fact they’re exactly what you don’t want – and you can’t work out why didn’t they just get it?!

Well let’s take a few steps back before heaping the blame on the designer’s inadequate mind-reading abilities and assess what went wrong.

You briefed them, right? You used words such as ‘edgy’, ‘different’, ‘inspiring’, ‘brand consistent’ and ‘ground-breaking’, you may have also explained everything to them about your company or organisation and why you need it just ‘so’, you may even have written a 4 page ‘design brief’ outlining all this and detailing your future strategy and plans, hell even your personal development ideas. But did you actually tell them what they needed to know?

There are 2 key points to remember before beginning a brief:

Keep it brief

A brief is called a ‘brief’ for a reason. Having worked with numerous designers and agencies I know they’re incredibly talented people who have such creative flair and can get it so right when properly directed but I also know that that’s where their talents and passions are focused – they are creative, visual people, they’re not going to be at their best reading a 4 page document and even if they do they’ll likely be visualising ideas before the end of the first page*. So keep the brief – brief.

*Obviously this doesn’t apply to all designers – I’m sure there’s some text-loving ones out there so no offence intended!

Make it count

It’s not just about the length of the document. You can have 2 pages of absolute drivel or 4 pages of intense information overload but neither is correct nor directive – let alone inspiring. When writing a brief you need to ensure you cover all the necessary and, more importantly, relevant information that the designer needs to know. So that doesn’t mean your purpose for being or life’s aspiration, it means the crucial details that will influence not only the design but also those who view the final product/design.

So what should it cover?

Background/Overview of project: it’s important to give a background to the reasons why you’re doing the project so that the designer has a proper understanding of how this fits within the wider plans of the organisation or campaign/project. Keep it short and sweet though – no more than 2/3 sentences.

Aim of project: why are you doing this particular project? To achieve what objective or goal? To meet what purpose? By clarifying this you can help outline the context and overall requirements for the design.

Audience: who is the main target and what is the outcome you want? For example perhaps the design is for a campaign page to encourage people to take an action or donate, or perhaps it’s an advert aimed at politicians but for members to support. Either way know both your target and your audience. Who will see this design and what do you want them to do/feel upon seeing it?

Use: where will this design appear? This is important to determine what the technical criteria is such as layout, resources, size. There may also be certain legalities or standards that need to be flagged if, for example, the use is public/mass media so defining this will help shape the outcome.

Tone: what vibe do you want the design to portray? It may be stern or friendly, educational or informative, shocking or humourous. Whichever way it’s important to note this to ensure that you don’t end up with a hilarious design idea for a serious topic – or vice versa!

Key message: if there’s a key message or slogan that needs to be featured then spell it out. It’s important that your design is on brand as well as your message and that both work together well so outlining what the message or slogan is and how it should feature is crucial.

Technical requirements: this should be pretty straightforward but always double check that your requirements can be realistically and sufficiently met within your resources and budget. For webpage designs outline the technical integration, if the designer is expected to do this outline the supporting platform and other specifications. Equally if the design is for print or a still image outline the colour guidelines and size.

At the end of the day it’s down to communication – clear, calm and concise guidance and feedback is essential throughout the design process. Once a brief has been submitted you should clarify and queries with the designer before they begin first designs/mock-ups. If you’re not getting what you want or what was specified (if it was!) then you need to clearly outline what parts you aren’t satisfied and discuss directly with the designer their thoughts on how to improve it to meet your requirements. You won’t get it right first time but often there’s a reason behind why they have done something in a certain way – perhaps design related or perhaps down to simple misunderstanding.

Working together clearly to outline your expectations from the start will allow a smoother, more efficient process and a more successful outcome.

For a fantastic summary on how to write a great web brief see Rachel Collinson’s blog post on the FairSay site.

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