The Design Brief: Planning is 80% of the Design Process

Design Brief

When you’re in school, or you’re first starting out on your own, you’re eager to jump to the computer and start pushing pixels around. While this may seem like a way to jump ahead in the design process, you’re really hurling yourself backwards. A design brief is the 1st step to any design project. It lays the groundwork for the entire project. Let’s take a look at what’s in a typical design brief.

design brief

What is a Design Brief?

A design brief is a document that specifies all of the objectives that need to be met at the end of the project. A design brief is essentially your blueprint for everything that needs to go into your design concept. It shouldn’t have anything related to the actual design, because it focuses on the goals on the client. It helps us as designers to keep our minds on results. That’s really all our clients care about, are the results that we can produce, and how we can do this effectively.

How do you get this information?

That’s a matter of debate, but I’ll tell you what I do. I have a written set of questions, based on the information listed below, and I conduct an interview with the client. Some designers submit a questionnaire to their clients, but I find that impersonal. When you’re a design consultant, it’s usually because they are sold on you. They want you to handle things. I like to meet personally with clients at their office or over coffee, and find out what makes them tick.

A lot of times, clients just answer a questionnaire to get it done. It’s hard to pry for more information with a questionnaire. Face value answers from a sheet of paper usually don’t give you the insight you need to actually solve their problems. I find that sitting down with them enables me to delve deeper into their business, and it’s easier to get to the root of the problem.

Essential Parts of a Good Design Brief

There is specific information that should be included in a design brief to help us understand everything we can about a company. It’s tough to create a design solution for a company we know nothing about. Here are some things we’ll need to know.

Company information

How large in the company? How many people do you employ? What are the products or services offered by the company? Is it an umbrella company, which breaks down into different divisions? What does each division do?

Objective

What are you trying to achieve? What do you want to do that you aren’t doing now? Does the owner have input as to what direction they want to take with their business? You need to find out things like this in order to understand how to provide the results they want. Imagine a company that caters mainly to males, but they suddenly decide to branch into products for women. They’ll need to apply an entirely different approach to advertising and designing products, packaging and more to them.

Target Audience

This aspect should be in every project you do. This has the biggest effect on what you do for the duration of the project. Focusing on the right audience will make sure that you send you message to the ones who will understand it. Your entire project could change, depending on the audience you’re marketing to. You wouldn’t add a hip-hop or R&B flair to a design project targeting Vietnam War Vets.

Competitor Analysis

One of the best ways to drive new sales and generate leads in a new market is to determine what your competitors are doing. Assessing their products and services, and providing better ones is the key to staying competitive. If you can offer something the competition won’t or can’t, you’ll get customers they don’t have access to.

Schedule

Every project has a deadline. Clients aren’t going to let you just work on it until it gets done. Some (most) projects run their course in stages. You assemble a design brief, do research, meet with the client, set a schedule, create initial concepts, etc. The idea that a project happens all at once never really happens. I’ve done a one-off logo here and there, but that’s a rarity. In this field, patience and planning is a virtue.

Budget

It’s important to know your client’s budget, so you can stay on track. This helps you to focus on the main things that you can do to help them if they have a smaller budget. As time persists, you can add things as their budget allows. A lot of project are spread over the span of months. I’ve had a lot of projects, especially during the downturn of the economy, that were spread out over time. Since the economy has bounced back, this doesn’t happen quite as often.

Existing Elements

Sometimes, especially for a redesign, or when you’re helping a company to refocus their efforts, you won’t get to scrap everything. Many times, you’ll have existing collateral that carries over from their existing design. This could be a logo, signage, etc. Gathering all of that ahead of time will save you from reworking it needlessly. If elements carry over, and they don’t call for a redo, then you’ll need to have those handy.

Company Profile/Personality

Sometimes, when you’re designing for a company, there are some things you just don’t do. You don’t want to take a company away from its main objective and make it unrecognizable to their existing audience. You know as well as I do that brand recognition stands the test of time. That’s the cardinal rule you don’t break.

Here’s a good example. You wouldn’t design an Apple website page with earth tones and gritty textures would you? I hope not. That’s not the Apple people know and love. You’d design their site with the look and style that their customer base instantly recognizes.

Conclusion

A design brief should be a integral part of your design process. It enables you to deliver much more effective solutions for your clients, because it narrows your focus. Understanding all aspects of your client’s business will help you to see the bigger picture overall. Is there anything you include in your design brief that helps you specifically?