“I’m a designer, not a mind reader!”

By: Matt Stocker
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Many business situations involve design. Design communicates your brand and is required for even the most basic of business communication. Think about your logo, business card, letterhead, compliments slip, brochure, catalogue, email newsletters, website, banner stands, advertisements, posters, company reports, proposals, invoices, white papers, data sheets, menus, signage, packaging, special offers, social media profiles and more—all of these involve design! Design is also integral to how we interact with a product (think of the design of the computer you’re sitting at now) and is even implicated in other vital interactions such as store design, office design, customer experience design, service design and more.

For many of us, whilst we appreciate great design when we see it, designing anything for ourselves can prove somewhat of a challenge. Great designers typically have a healthy dose of natural talent and have spent hours and hours practicing their trade. Neither of these factors make DIY design easy!

That is not to say that we mere mortals do not have ideas, opinions and an overall direction that we would like to take the design of our brand, product, customer experience or store. In an ideal world, a designer would be able to read our minds and would have complete insight into our business strategy. They would just know what we wanted. In reality, it just doesn’t work that way. If your other half can’t read your mind, how does your designer have a hope?!

Help is at hand

A design brief is a tool that helps you to clearly communicate your ideas and requirements to your designer ensuring that he/she effectively meets your objectives. A design brief can also be used to obtain accurate quotes and precise pitches from a selection of designers, thereby aiding your decision making process.

What should be included in a design brief?

Item(s) to be designed

First things first, you probably know what item(s) you want designed, whether it’s a brochure, email newsletter, website, office space or a whole new brand identity. Communicate this upfront to give the designer an idea of the scope of your project.

Company profile

In all likelihood, a designer won’t know your business inside out, so a clear description of your organisation provides a solid foundation for your project. It will also ensure that your designer creates designs that are appropriate for your industry. Even if you feel your brand is a household name, don’t assume that a designer will know your side of the story—it’s really helpful for them to hear it in your own words. Aim to answer questions such as:

  • What does your business do?
  • What is its history?
  • How are you different to your competitors?

Objectives

Good design can help you to meet your business objectives. It will therefore help if your designer understands how this project fits into your wider objectives and what you would consider a successful outcome from this work. Aim to answer questions such as:

  • What are the goals of this design project?
  • What has brought about the need for this work—for example, are you launching a new product, trying to sell more products, raise brand awareness and so on?
  • What do you want the design to communicate?
  • What is your most important take home message?

Target audience

Describe the people who will be interacting with your design, including their unique characteristics. Consider providing demographic details (such as occupation, gender, age range, nationality), details about their seniority within an organisation and their job role, behavioural details (such as loyalty, usage, the benefits they are looking for) and psychographic details (such as values, attitudes, opinions, interests). Alternatively, you could take a more persona based approach: “John is a…”. Aim to answer questions such as:

  • Who are the people you would like to reach with this design?
  • Why do they care about your company/product/service?
  • If you have several target audiences, who is the most/least important?

Context

From a designer’s perspective, it can be difficult for them to know how much creative freedom they have within a project and what your expectations are. Be clear about the results you are hoping for and how the design will fit within the wider brand/marketing context of your business. Answer questions such as:

  • How will this design fit into the wider activities of your business—for example, will you be running multiple promotions, additional events and so on?
  • Does the current design need to conform with/complement existing marketing material and, if so, what?
  • Do you want to update your existing collateral or are you looking for a complete redesign?

Where you have existing collateral available, it can be really helpful to include a few examples of these within your brief.  For example, you could provide a link to your website, a sheet of your letterhead, an existing brochure and so on.

Inspiration

You may have already seen various designs you like and others that you hate, not only within your own industry but even within other industries, your home and in everyday life. By providing your designer with this information, you’ll give them invaluable insights as to what kind of creative approach will work well for you. Answer questions such as:

  • What examples of design do you like?
  • What examples of design do you hate?
  • What do you like about your existing material and is there anything you would like to change?
  • What words or metaphors describe the feel that you would like your new design to have?

Specification, constraints and available materials

It may be that you have a clearly defined specification for this project or there may be elements of it that are still up in the air. Define what you already know and highlight those areas that still need clarification or that you would like support from your designer to answer. Answer questions such as:

  • Are there any constraints to what is being designed—for example, does the design need to conform to a particular size, shape, colour palette and so on?
  • Are you looking only for design services or would you like a full service that includes printing, production, web coding, mailing and so on?
  • What copy/pictures/photographs/diagrams need to be included in the design?
  • Are images available or will these need to be sourced?
  • Will a professional copywriter or photographer be needed?

Budget and schedule

If you have a budget range in mind, be upfront with your designer. Whilst it can be tempting to think that designers will see your budget as a target, in reality it helps them to understand the scope of your project so they can create a design that fits your needs. If you’re not looking for a full service from your designer, don’t forget to also budget for additional elements such as printing, web coding, mailing and so on.

Similarly, be upfront with your designer about your schedule. Although they may face their own scheduling constraints and good design usually takes time, it is vital that they are aware of deadlines such as an upcoming product launch, trade show, holiday offer and so on. Answer questions such as:

  • How much are you looking to spend on this design?
  • How soon would you like the work to be completed and do you have a specific deadline to meet?
  • Is your schedule flexible in any way?
  • How do you see the timeline of the various phases involved in the design work?

A stitch in time saves nine

Whilst there can be a temptation to believe that your time would be better spent diving straight into the design work instead of taking the time to write a brief, in reality you’ll find that this approach is a false economy (much like building a house without agreeing the plans first). As you start to write the brief, you may find that you don’t yet know all the answers you need—this is just confirmation of the brief’s importance. If you don’t yet know what you are looking for, how can you expect your designer to?

As you collate your ideas, involve your colleagues and don’t be shy about asking for their input. Ensure that you obtain sign-off on the completed brief from both senior management and other relevant parties too—there can be differing views on objectives internally and it’s always best to find this out at the start rather than when everyone complains about the finished design! The bigger the project, the more important collaboration and sign-off become.

All in all, you’ll find that having a good design brief not only ensures that your designer will love you forever but also that you get a better design for less money and with less confusion, hassle and headaches along the way.

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Article by:

Matt Stocker

Matt is founder and director of Stocker Partnership, a strategy and innovation consultancy. As a strategist, designer, innovator and geek, he's known for his creative thinking. Matt thrives in challenging environments and loves to push the boundaries of possibility. He's a big picture, visual thinker who is always running 5 to 10 years ahead. Find out more

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