The design brief is one of the essential parts of the design process. Starting a project without one would be a bit like proceeding to build a house without a blueprint. Although it may be possible to do, you may finish the house and then realize that you should have put your door elsewhere. Or you might have to spend valuable time and resources to tear up the newly-finished hardwood floor to run the water lines to the downstairs bathroom which you had not been informed about earlier.
What is it?
A design brief is a document outlining the business objectives and corresponding design strategies for a project. It gets the design wheels rolling and helps the designer think strategically about design solutions. It also encourages the client (you) to process and clarify what they need from the project, who it is being done for (target audience), and who the key stake-holders are. The design brief must also address the competition, current industry trends, time-line, budget and measurement of success.
A design brief should primarily focus on the outcomes and the business objectives and should not attempt to deal with the aesthetic details of design… That is the responsibility of the designer. You are paying for the designer’s ideas, so the brief should not be used to tell the designer what to do. Instead, it should clarify what the project needs to achieve, so the designer can explore ideas.
Which projects require a design brief?
Ninety percent of the time, completing a design brief is worth the time and effort. Even if the job is not complex, thinking through some of the tough questions helps bring clarity and focus to the project. There are, of course, some cases in which it may not be necessary. A few examples might be: you want to reprint your business cards or letterhead, you would like to add a plug-in or extend the functionality of your website, you need to make a very minor tweak to your brochure before reprinting. If you have any doubts about whether or not you should fill it out, don’t hesitate to ask.
Ultimately, the design brief is your responsibility (the client). Your designer can only be as good as the brief he/she works from, so it’s in your best interest to provide one that is well-crafted. Some designers may choose to proceed without one if the client is not interested, but this is certainly not the best scenario for either the designer or the client and there is high chance of wasting time and energy. So, take the time to craft a design brief whenever possible. And remember… every minute you invest in the design brief is probably equal to three minutes saved in tweaking or re-working things later.
What does a design brief look like?
Design briefs can take on various forms. Some designers provide a template to help you get started. But many clients may have their own templates that they prefer using. I provide a website-based form that can be used to as a tool for creating/submitting an initial brief. But regardless of the tool you use, here are a few qualities that all briefs have in common:
What happens after a design brief is presented?
When you first present your design brief, give your designer a bit of time to look over the details. He/she may have questions or suggestions for improvement. Sometimes it may be necessary to modify or hone some specific aspects of it. For example, based on your project details, the designer may suggest an alternate size or folding for your print piece. Although it is not always possible to work out all the details at this stage, it is important that both the client and the designer have a document that they feel good about. Sometimes it may take a few rounds between the designer and client to reach that point.
Some Food For Thought
Remember that your project is to be designed with your customers in mind. It should be what they want to see and what they need, not necessarily what you would like to see.
Your designer(s) have likely been through the process many times before and worked with a large variety of different audiences, as well as constantly researching to find out what’s working for others.