How to write better briefs for design projects

Design projects typically start with a brief, but the form that this takes can vary widely. Some government design tenders resemble a small book, while other projects begin with a verbal brief over a coffee. 

After more than twenty years in the design industry, I must have seen more than one thousand briefs, and I’ve learnt what makes a good one, and when problems can occur.


So what is a design brief? 

A design brief is the starting point of any design project, whether that’s brand, print or digital. The design brief outlines the problem that you’re looking to solve, the budget and the timeline.

The brief gives the agency receiving the design brief a feel for the scale of the project and the critical information that they’ll need to respond.

A design brief is usually a written document and breaks the project which you wish to commission down into three sections: the context, the problem and the deliverables. 

Writing a Design Brief

As mentioned earlier, we’ve taken verbal design briefs over coffee or on the phone, but I’ve come to understand the importance of a written design brief.

Going through the process of writing a brief gives you the chance to dissect the project. To clarify in your mind what your expectations are and the results that you’re trying to achieve.

In my experience, it isn’t just the agency which gets a clearer idea of what the project needs from a written design brief. The client does so as well. 

Context

Your Design Brief should start by giving context to the problem which you want to solve. What’s the story so far, the background to the project, and your strategy going forwards?

Give links to further relevant information that the design company can study, essential research, website links etc.

What’s the Problem?

Once you’ve given some background to the project, your design brief needs to dig into the problem that you need to be solved.

What do you need the design agency to tackle? What problem are you looking to fix or what’s the opportunity? How does this fit into the bigger picture? Who is your target audience, and who is your competition?

Ask yourself what your expectations are from the project, how will you know if the design agencies work is effective? 

Dig into the detail

Finally, you need to be clear about you need the agency to deliver. 

If your design brief is for a website, do you require hosting and maintenance as well as design and production? 

If it’s for a brochure, do you need your agency to do the copywriting or will you supply the text? And how many do you need printing?

As well as outlining the deliverables, you need to give a timeline for delivery and a ballpark budget. 

Putting a budget in your design brief avoids an agency proposing a solution that isn’t right for the client and makes it more likely that you get the right fit for your project.

It’s good to talk

It’s almost always necessary to have a conversation about the brief. Sometimes this comes in the form of a briefing meeting, or sometimes it’s just a brief phone call.

To me, there is no substitute for sitting face-to-face with a client and talking through the brief and getting to know the project.

It’s incredible how often you identify opportunities or negate problems by just taking the time to talk. 

Obviously, from a clients perspective, this can be time-consuming if you are speaking to several different agencies. 

But, most (good) design companies won’t entertain working with a company who can’t give them at least 15 minutes to discuss a brief on the phone.

In conclusion

A good design brief is essential when looking for a design company to help you with a new project. 

A design brief will help you to clarify what it is you need both for yourself and for the agencies who you’re speaking with.

A design brief will tell an agency whether they’re the right fit for your project and give them the information that they need to provide you with a price.

Are you writing a design brief? Don’t forget to send it to us when it’s finished.