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 project is more trouble than it’s worth. Here’s where the importance of writing the design brief as a freelance graphic designer 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.
Furthermore, you share responsibility of a project with the client by encouraging them to participate in the design process. As such, they are less likely to immediately push the blame to you if any issues arise. Sometimes a client will make demands that go against your design principles or are totally irrelevant to the project — having a design brief allows both parties to lay things out beforehand, giving you the chance to decide whether it’s worth it to take up the job.
In addition, a project can involve a few stakeholders, and it isn’t uncommon for new people to get involved during the design process. Because they have no knowledge of the information exchanged previously, they might unintentionally suggest or demand things that are completely outside of what has been discussed. In such cases, you can refer them back to the design brief so they at least have a basic understanding of the project scope that has been agreed upon.
Consider creating a few design brief templates that can be used for different projects — it will save you time in the long run.
Steps to Writing the Design Brief
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 — 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 are working with. It’s useful to have such first-hand knowledge, since you might not be able to obtain them from your research.
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).
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?
By learning how the client differentiates themselves from their competitors, you can leverage such information in the design creation.
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 finalize the project. More specifically, the scope of the project should cover:
Timeline and Deadline
The client should have a deadline in mind. Your job is to make sure that it’s realistic and in line with your schedule.
Besides the deadline, work with the client to come up with a timeline and milestones. The project timeline also has to be flexible enough to account for sudden and unexpected changes.
By knowing the client’s 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 important to define the deliverables so you can deliver the right files to the client.
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.
There might be times when the client wants you to incorporate additional materials into the design, such as marketing copies or photographs.
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.
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?
The client will often have preferences on how the design should look and feel. 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 their preferences.
Are there any concepts or inspirations that you think will work well?
Do you have a specific tone or imagery in mind?
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.
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 and signifies that the client is not serious about the project. In such cases, you can try to schedule a meeting to obtain more information from them. However, oftentimes the best approach is to avoid working with such clients.
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 higher the chances of completing the project successfully.