Let’s start with the good news – there has never been a better time to hire a designer. With designers all over the world just a click away, you have an immense supply of talent at your fingertips. A generation ago, you would have been left to pick from only the designers available in your geographic area. Now, the talent market spans the globe, and the possibilities are endless.
So, what’s the bad news? Despite the advantages afforded by modern technology, many businesses still struggle to find the right designer for their needs. Lost in a sea of choice, many waste time and money on designers who are not the right fit. This process can be frustrating and can hold your business back from reaching its potential.
To avoid this fate, you need to master the art of the design brief. This critical document will lay out exactly what you expect from your designer. If you’ve struggled in the past with finding talent to meet your design requirements, read on.
Quick design brief template
|Company overview||What is your company about?|
|Objective||What are you trying to accomplish?|
|Budget||How much money do you have allocated for your project?|
|Timeline||What milestones do you need completed and by when?|
|Target audience||Who are you trying to reach?|
|Brand image||What image are you trying to portray?|
|Challenges||What obstacles do you foresee in obtaining your goals?|
|Materials||What do you have and what do you need to complete your project?|
|Deliverables||What is being delivered by the designer?|
What is a design brief?
A design brief is a document you will create early on in the process of hiring a designer for a new project. You will include many important pieces of information in this document, and it will lay out the guidelines and expectations for the job. You may create a design brief after you have selected a designer, or you may create one in advance to use as part of the search process.
While it’s certainly not required to use a design brief for every project, it is a good idea to complete this step – especially for bigger jobs with a significant financial investment.
Like most business documents, design briefs come in many shapes and sizes. However, most of them include a few key components, which are outlined below –
- An introduction. A well-written brief is going to help the prospective designers gain a good understanding of your organization. Are you a for-profit company or a non-profit? How many employees do you have, and what is it that you do? Establishing a clear profile of your organization at the start is going to help the designer decide if they are interested in the job.
- Main objectives. What are you trying to accomplish with this design project? This is a good time for a ‘big picture’ overview of the job at hand. For instance, it could be a revision of an old design (like maybe a website redesign), or it could be a completely new project.
- Expected timeline. This is a big one. Some designers simply won’t be able to deliver in the time you have available to complete this job. It’s important to establish timeline parameters in the brief so there are no surprises later on when a designer can’t meet a deadline. And, if you don’t have a particular deadline in mind, say so – an open-ended timeline might encourage an otherwise busy designer to take on the project.
- Deliverables. What do you expect the chosen designer to deliver when all is said and done? As is the case with so much of what goes into your brief, this is all about avoiding surprises. If you want to receive five different pieces of work at the end of the job, highlight each and every one of them clearly in the brief.
- Budget. This one can be a little touchy. On the one hand, it is helpful to offer a budget range within the brief, so you can weed out designers that are simply too expensive for your needs. On the other hand, it might be hard to negotiate a good deal if you set out an amount within the brief. One option is to offer a fairly wide range for your budget. This will be enough to inform the designers of generally what they can expect without committing you to a specific price.
- Style direction. You aren’t going to lay out exactly what the final design should look like in your brief – because then there would be no reason to hire a designer! Instead, you should simply point the designer in the right direction, offering up some points about what you like and what you don’t. For instance, if there are any colors or types of imagery you simply don’t want to use, point those out in the brief so the design doesn’t need to be revised later.
The list above might feel a little overwhelming at the moment. Don’t worry – once you get started, you’ll find that writing a brief is actually pretty simple, and it might even help you organize the scope of the job in your own mind.
Prepare your company overview
We mentioned earlier than an introduction of your organization should be present in the brief. We’d like to expand on that point in this section, as it plays a surprisingly critical role in the process.
If you don’t yet have a designer, and you are using this brief as part of a search, your business overview is going to help convince an experienced professional that you are worth their time. An in-demand designer may have a lot of options, and may only work with established, reliable companies as a result. Introducing your business properly just may help you get a foot in the door.
Some of the key pieces of information to include are as follows –
The industry you are in and the clients you serve (or would like to attract) When the company was founded Short-term and long-term goals for the business The identity of your closest competitors
Written by the Right People
Depending on the size of your organization, it might be important to take some time to think about who will write this brief. If you are a solo entrepreneur, the choice is easy – you do it all! For a team, however, it’s important to make sure the right people are behind the creation of the document.
For a larger organization, some collaboration on this part of the brief might be beneficial. For instance, if a marketing manager is responsible for writing the brief, that individual may not have all of the knowledge or information necessary to fill out this section. So, the owner or an executive could be of assistance.
The easiest way to decide who should write the document is to think about who will be most involved with the project as it moves along. Even if that person is not in charge of the marketing department, he or she is probably the best choice to create the brief. You want someone with direct, day-to-day knowledge of this project and its goals. If necessary, decision-makers higher up in the organization can review the brief before it is sent out.
Present Plenty of Examples
One of the best ways to explain what you are looking for is to show the designer examples from other businesses. That doesn’t mean their designs will be copied – it’s simply a way to get on the same page and point the design in the right direction.
On a logo design project, you could include a few logo designs that you love, and maybe a few that you don’t like. These don’t need to be from your industry, and it might even be better if they aren’t (just to avoid imitation). Look around the web at various logos and you will start to notice patterns in design styles and features. Figure out what you like and pass some of those on in the brief.
This same line of thinking works nicely for website design. You probably spend a lot of time on the web each day, and you likely have a few specific sites that you think look great. Include links to those sites when writing a brief for a web design project. That inspiration can go a long way toward making sure the final product is something you’ll love.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Stuffy
The term ‘design brief’ might bring to mind a formal document with single spacing an 11-point font. And, to be sure, there are plenty of those. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Your design brief can take any form you want, and it should reflect the style of your brand and the culture of your organization.
In fact, if you have an in-house design team that you will be augmenting for this project, you could have those designers work on designing a visual brief with minimal written copy. Such an approach would not only be engaging to view, but it would also help demonstrate what you like in a design. Feel free to let your creative juices flow and allow your brief to take on whatever form will get the job done.
If you have already chosen a designer and are simply working on the specifics of your project, you don’t need to worry much about this point. You can feel free to include as many details as you want, even if the end result ends up being a rather beefy document. However, if you are using your brief in the search for a design, keeping it concise will be an advantage.
Some designers simply aren’t going to read through a 10-page brief for a job they might not even want in the end. When you present such a big document, you are asking for a lot of that person’s time. By tightening it up, you are more likely to have your whole brief read, which should get you more proposals in the end.
Set project goals
Gather existing and aspirational examples
Most likely, you are going to have some existing materials to provide your designer (unless this is a brand-new business). Pretty much any other designs that have been created for your business previously can be provided to a new designer as inspiration. Of course, if you have some materials you don’t like and want to leave in the past, those can be omitted.
Past materials can be useful for a number of reasons. At the very least, it will offer a starting point, much like sending over materials from other businesses as inspiration. In some cases, portions of the previous designs may be incorporated into the new product. This kind of ‘update’ instead of a new design should offer a quicker turnaround time and a lower cost.
Decide timeline and budget
Avoid potential blockers
Sometimes, the best way to learn how to do something is to understand the mistakes you need to avoid. By steering clear of common errors, you are far more likely to be left with a useful document. The three mistakes below are seen over and over again in design briefs – and they are a sure way to frustrate your designer before the job even begins.
- Ambiguous expectations. Designers want specificity in a brief. By offering clarity right from the start, it will be easier for the designer to hit the ground running when the project begins. Be as clear as possible with your objectives for the project and what deliverables you need to receive. Here’s an easy tip – after you write the first draft of your brief, pass it along to a couple of colleagues who are not in on the project. Ask them to reply with their impression of what you want from the designer. If they can’t figure it out, chances are the designer will be confused, as well.
- An unrealistic timeline. This is a common error, especially when the brief is created before the search for a designer has begun. If you want a brand-new website designed for your business, and you want it completed in a week – no serious designer is going to pay any attention to your project. Setting unrealistic timelines is only going to cause frustration and turn away quality talent from the job. Once you establish the scope of your project, do a little research to learn what kind of timeline you can expect. Or, leave it open-ended and ask the designer for input on how long the work will take.
- Contradictory information. Your brief should be a cohesive document from start to finish. Don’t say something in the early in the brief that is contradicted later on – even if it is subtle. Again, clarity is key. In addition to having your brief peer-reviewed for clarity, you can also set it aside for a couple of days after you write it. Then, come back and read it with fresh eyes, looking for anything that might be contradictory. Presenting your designer with a clean, clear outline of the project is the best way to be happy with the end result.
Are design briefs important? Absolutely. Do they have to adhere to a specific template and formula? Absolutely not. Our goal with this article is to give you an understanding of what a design brief is, what it usually includes, and what it is trying to accomplish. The rest is up to you. With a little practice, you can get this down to a science and lead one successful design project after the next. Good luck!