Design Briefs: Don’t Get Caught Without Them

Starting a project without a design brief is like setting out on a backpacking trip with no map or compass…only worse. There’s really no harm in wandering aimlessly in the wilderness if you have no destination and there’s no fear of getting lost. (This might be called fine art though.)

But while no parameters might sound like every designer’s dream, this approach is a recipe for failure for both sides but in different ways. The designer shoulders too much responsibility for designing in a vacuum and the client risks getting watered-down ideas and faces avoidable costs down the road.

What is a design brief exactly and who creates it?

• A brief can come from the client but a designer usually has their own and will initiate a discovery process.

• It can consist of 3 questions or 10, depending on the project and the person.

• It’s best to be done in person, via Skype or over the phone so that you can be challenged to provide bold, unambiguous answers.

• The brief will define the why, who, how, what and when of the project.

• It addresses the specific results you want to achieve.

Why people avoid it and why you should embrace it.

Shaping what doesn’t exist is harder than reacting to what you see. But your business is unique. You want to start going in the direction that leads to you and not start at a point that leads to every business like yours. A designer who guesses who you are without your valuable input is, well, guessing.

Underestimating the value of your values. And for that matter, why you exist, who you most want to serve and why you’re different from the competition. Design can be a murky, mysterious process that leads you to think your input doesn’t shape the design. Not whether you like red or want a key in your logo, but how your values, mission or aspirations lead the designer to ideas that define you—the most important signposts along the designer’s path. Your task as a client is to get as comfortable with murky as you can.

When you’re eager to see ideas it’s tempting to skip the planning. Your excitement is understandable. Your project might also be long overdue or the key decision makers are too busy to give input. When a brief is finally approved, the designer passes “go.” That’s when the creative juices start flowing and the most important work is done. You don’t want to go backtrack later because you took steps in the wrong direction at the beginning.

Self examination is hard but leads to a stronger brand. It’s this discovery phase where you say who you are, but also also who you are not. If that seems like shutting doors, keeping too many open can lead to a confusing and bland identity.

A reluctance to believe that good design is good business. We all have a different view of what makes good design. Start with someone in your camp who truly wants to see you succeed. That way, you can trust them to take leaps you might otherwise not feel comfortable with. Good design doesn’t just look good, it’s also about the right tools and how they function.

Here’s another post about working with a design brief, and another.

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(Image credit: Flickr creative commons / John ‘K’)