Writing the Design Brief

A prospect has contacted you with a great opportunity, and you can’t wait to get started. But hold your horses — you don’t want to accept the project without knowing the details first. Or worse, you decide to dive right in, only to discover that the client is less than pleasant to work with.

Here’s where the design brief comes in. Its purpose is to identify the scope, purpose, objectives and core details of the project, while establishing a clear set of expectations between you and the client. As a result, you will be able to make informed decisions and use your resources wisely from conception to completion of the project.

See also: A Typical Design Process

Furthermore, by encouraging the client to participate in the design process, you give them a sense of responsibility, so they don’t immediately push the blame to you whenever issues arise. Sometimes, a client will demand ideas that go against your design principles and are totally irrelevant to their business; having a design brief allows them to reassess their priorities, and gives you the chance to decide whether you’re the right fit for the job.

In addition, a project usually involves a few stakeholders, and it isn’t uncommon for new people to get involved in the middle of the design process. Because they have no knowledge of the information exchanged beforehand, they might suggest things that hinder your progress. In such cases, you can just refer everyone back to the design brief so they are kept up to date on the project.

After creating the design brief, you can use it as a template for different clients, saving you a lot of time.


WHAT’S IN A DESIGN BRIEF?

A design brief contains important questions that will help you move forward with the design process. Don’t worry about asking too much — sometimes more information is better than not enough.

You can word the questions differently, but your design brief should include these core sections:

THE BRAND PROFILE

The brand profile gives you a better idea of who you’re working with. It’s useful to have such first-hand knowledge, since you might not be able to obtain them from just your own research.

Sample questions:

What industry is your brand in?

What is the history of your brand?

What products do your brand offer?

What mission, vision and values do your brand have?


THE TARGET AUDIENCE

As a graphic designer, you need to know the client’s target audience to effectively reach out to them. And it’s not just understanding the demographics (who they are), but also the psychographics (why they buy).

Sample questions:

What is the race, gender and age range of your target audience?

How often does your target audience buy or use your products?

How much does your target audience usually spend on your products?

How do your products fit with the lifestyle choices of your target audience?

What attracts target audience to your products?


THE COMPETITION

By learning how the client differentiate themselves from their competitors, you can leverage the information in the design.

Sample questions:

Does your brand have any competitors?

How do your products stand out from the competition?


THE PROJECT SCOPE

The project scope outlines the expectations between you and the client. It includes what needs to be achieved and the work that must be done to deliver the project. More specifically, the scope of the project should cover:

Timeline and Deadline

The client should have a deadline in mind — and you have to make sure that it’s realistic and fits into your own schedule.

Besides the deadline, you should encourage the client to come up with a timeline and milestones. The timeline also has to be flexible enough to account for sudden and unexpected changes.

Budget

By knowing the budget, you can decide whether the project is worthwhile to take on. It’s always a point of contention, since you and the client don’t want to be on the losing end when costs are involved.

If the client is uncomfortable with disclosing their budget, try to ask for a range. It’s not ideal, but definitely better than having no information.

Deliverables

It’s important to define the deliverables so you know what the client wants.

Specifications

Imagine creating the design in A4 size, only to discover at the end that the client wants A3 size instead. Designing to spec will prevent such situations from happening.

Additional Materials

Oftentimes, the client will want you to incorporate additional materials into the design, such as a marketing copies or photographs.

Design Guidelines

Sometimes, the client will expect you to follow their design guidelines, such as using a color palette or specific fonts.


GOALS AND OBJECTIVES

Goals reflect the overall purpose of the project, while objectives highlight the steps required to achieve those goals. Having clear and measurable objectives increases your chances of achieving them.

Sample questions:

What are the goals and objectives of the project?

How will success be measured?

Are you trying to increase awareness about your brand?

Are you looking to generate more sales of your products?


PREFERENCES

The client will often have preferences on the look and feel of the design. As such, it’s a good idea to request for references of what they like and don’t like. Asking for adjectives is one other way for the client to describe what they want the design to convey.

Sample questions:

Are there any concepts or inspirations that you think will work well?

Do you have a specific tone or imagery in mind?


STAKEHOLDERS

It’s easy to keep in touch if the client is just an individual. However, if the client is a company or organization, knowing who the stakeholders in the project are will allow you to foresee communication problems and come up with ways to keep them in the loop.

Sample questions:

Who are the stakeholders in this project?

Am I working in a team for this project?

Who should I present my concepts to?


CLIENTS AND THE DESIGN BRIEF

Some clients will offer you ‘full creative freedom’, going so far as to abandon the design brief altogether. However, a lack of information and direction will often lead to issues during the design process — and ultimately discontent between you and the client.

Similarly, a design brief that is all over the place is a red flag, since it tells you that the client is not serious about the project. You can try to schedule a meeting and obtain more information from them. However, oftentimes it’s best to avoid working with the client.

See also: Avoiding Bad Clients


WHEN TO SEND THE DESIGN BRIEF?

Opinions differ among graphic designers, but sending the design brief before the project begins is a good choice. Not only does it gives you a chance to decide if you want to take on the project or not, but the information provided will help guide the rest of your design process.


The design brief plays a key role in ensuring the project’s success by allowing you and client to manage expectations early on. Remember, the more you ask, the more you get — and the more value for money the client will receive from you as a freelance graphic designer.

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