How to Write a Design Brief

What is a design brief and why is it needed?

Does hiring a designer or design agency have to be a painful process? In short, the answer is no. Design briefs or creative briefs are documents that help the client and designer communicate and outline your project details to avoid any delays or unnecessary expenses to maximize your investment dollars. Design briefs are especially useful for project managers and teams that are juggling multiple projects.

As a marketing executive that’s been launching and growing companies for decades and someone that’s been moonlighting and navigating the freelance and consulting spaces for most of my career, I’m going to explain the elements of a good design brief and how it all comes together to make the process of hiring and working with a designer more like a smooth ride on a sunny weekend afternoon and less like being stuck in rush-hour traffic during a natural disaster.

Design Brief Worksheet

I’ve outlined the elements of a design brief below that you can use as a worksheet to help you evaluate the information for your design brief. Keep in mind the most important information a designer is going to need are your objectives, target audience, timeline and budget.

Company Overview: What is your company about?
Objective/Goals: 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?

Elements of a Good Design Brief

There’s certain information that your designer or creative agency needs in order to create beautiful designs to match the tone, image, and audience of your project. By supplying the necessary details in your design brief project managers are provided with everything they need to plan and complete your project and there’s less confusion for all stakeholders involved. The most important information to include in the design brief are your objectives or purpose, target audience, timeline, and budget. It’s like missing the main ingredients to a gourmet meal you are about to prepare.

Company Overview

It’s good practice to include as much information about your company, company history, and goals of your project in order to maintain or improve your brand identity. Since you are hiring a designer or agency to portray your brand visually, it’s a good idea to supply them with a design brief that includes everything they need to accurately portray your brand message to the right people at the right time.

  • Company History – Providing information about your company’s background will help us better understand your story to accurately portray your message visually and with clarity. A few good things to include  or ask yourself are:
    • When was the business started?
    • How was the company started?
    • Where is the company located or headquartered?
    • What are the key products and services?
    • What is the size of the company?
  • Company Mission – Why does your company exist? People create businesses to fulfill a need or solve a problem. What problem is your company trying to solve? Who are you and who are you trying to reach?
    • Mission Statement – A mission statement is a sentence that describes why your company exists. It should describe your company’s function, markets, competitive advantages, and the overall goals of your operation. Good mission statements also make great taglines.
    • Good Mission Statement Examples
      • “To help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly.” – asana
      • “Spread ideas.” – TED
      • “To help bring creative projects to life.” – Kickstarter
  • Key Stakeholders – Stakeholders are people with any interest in your project’s outcome. They are typically executives, investors, communities, governments, project sponsors, customers and users.
  • Team Members – The team members of a project are usually project managers, suppliers, vendors, freelancers, employees, and other contractors.
  • Industry – The most important things you’ll want to include in your design brief are your industry and product or service offerings.
  • USP (Unique Selling Proposition) – What makes your product or service unique or stand out from the noise of the already overly crowded internet space?
  • Competitors – It’s a good idea to include a competitive analysis so we designers and marketers can help make you dazzle and sparkle against the competition.

Objective or Purpose of the Project

What is the desired benefit, outcome, or improvement of your project? Your goals should include measurable results such as increased sales or revenue by the end of the quarter or increase website traffic and engagement. Maybe your objective is to raise awareness for a good cause. Whatever the purpose of your project, it should be clearly defined in the design brief – leaving less room for miscommunication or wasted time and dollars.  Goals ultimately help us stay focused on the outcome of the final project.

  • S.M.A.R.T. Goals: S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. SMART became popular in the 1980s when Management Review published an article written about it by George Doran.

S Specific • What do I want to accomplish?
• Why do I want to accomplish this?
• What are the requirements?
• What are the constraints?

 
M Measurable • How will I measure my progress?
• How will I know when the goal is accomplished?
 
A Achievable

• How can the goal be accomplished?
• What are the logical steps I should take?

 
R Relevant • Is this a worthwhile goal?
• Is this the right time?
• Do I have the necessary resources to accomplish this goal?
• Is this goal in line with my long term objectives?
 
T Achievable

• How long will it take to accomplish this goal?
• When is the completion of this goal due?
• When am I going to work on this goal?

 
Final statement:

 

Budget

What is the budget allocated for your design project? Including your budget in your design brief will allow project managers to know what financing is available and balance their spending within budget to complete the project. If your project is small, you can include the budget and financials in the design brief as an alternative to additional Proposals or SOWs (Statements or Scopes of Work) contracts.

It’s not the end of the world if you are short on cash. Figure out how much money you need to complete your project. There are many resources and opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs, you just have to look around for a bit. If you are short on funds, I saved you some time by providing a few options to raise capital below:

  • Small Business Loans
  • Government Grants
  • Lines of Credit
  • Peer-to-Peer Lending
  • Crowdfunding
  • Venture Capital
  • Angel Investment
  • Microloans
  • Pitch Competitions
  • Bootstrapping
  • Friends and Family

Timeline

The dreaded deadline. It’s one of the most crucial elements your design brief. We’ve all been there and we know why it’s important to have timelines and deadlines. Good project managers should have good time management in their skill-set. Setting small milestones to track the progress of your project. It’s whatever the client and designer or agency agree on. It’s advisable to allow extra time for human error and get everything in writing for when unforeseen circumstances should arise. If you need to have your trade show graphics at the venue by a certain date, you don’t want the deliverables for your project submitted on the day of the show.

Target Audience

Who are you trying to reach? The definition of target market is a group of potential customers to whom a company wants to sell its products and services. Targeting a specific market in your design brief doesn’t mean you are eliminating or omitting people that don’t meet your criteria, it means you would rather spend your marketing dollars on specific markets that are more likely to buy from you or resonate with your brand messaging. Some things to consider when targeting your marketing efforts:

  • Demographics
  • Age
  • Location
  • Gender
  • Income level
  • Education level
  • Marital or family status
  • Ethnic background
  • Professional roles
  • Values and goals
  • Challenges
  • Sources of influence
  • Buying decisions
  • Other psychographics

Once you define your target market it’s important to understand what drives them to make purchasing decisions and whether or not there are enough people that fit your criteria.

Desired Image and Branding

Your brand image is a combination of your name, logo, colors of your brand, language used in your advertising, types of images, design elements, and how your employees interact with customers. Your brand identity is used to cultivate and distinguish a certain image in a consumer’s mind. Below are some things to consider when building a brand identity

  • Analyze the company and the market with a SWOT analysis.
    • SWOT analysis is a strategic planning technique used to help a person or organization identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to business competition or project planning.
  • Define key business goals.
  • Identify your customers.
  • Determine the personality, tone and message you wants to portray.

If you have any existing style guides or branding guidelines, include it with your design brief. To save some time it is good practice to include the following to your designer:

  • Campaigns that you’ve used in the past
  • Samples of designs and styles that you like and why
  • Include samples of what you don’t like as well so we know what to avoid
  • Brochures, presentations, and other marketing and sales materials
  • Results of past campaigns

I know this all seems overwhelming, but working with designers doesn’t have to be so intimidating and we are here to use our knowledge and experience to help you achieve creative goals and outcomes.

Challenges

Common challenges new businesses face are establishing a brand image or you have project that you need graphics for, but you don’t have a professional designer on staff. That’s why you are here reading this, right? It’s almost like this article on how to write a design brief was written just for you.

Some other common business challenges in relation to design are:

  • Lack of funding
  • Leveraging consultants and business advisors
  • Designing systems and processes
  • Lack of clear direction or vision
  • Dealing with competition
  • Shifts and transformations in markets
  • Hiring and retaining top talent
  • Time management
  • Lack of communication
  • Landing new business or retaining customers
  • Keeping up with innovation
  • Training employees, staff, and contractors
  • Productivity or automation problems

Materials Available/Needed

Depending on the specific type of design project you are working on, the materials listed in your design brief should also be specific to your project and industry. The materials needed for an architecture design project aren’t going to be the same for a website design project. For this example, we’ll use a new e-commerce website. The client and designer should decide what materials and resources are needed to complete the project.

Do you already have a logo, images, and copy for your website? If not, you may want to talk to your designer about creating a logo and branding package for you. How about a content management system for website updates?

Deliverables

Deliverables is a project management term that can be tangible or intangible and used to describe quantifiable products or services that are handed over to the client upon project completion. In the web design world, deliverables are described as a way to document the different phases of the website design or development and is usually quantified by milestones. Below are some examples of an ecommerce website design project.

  • Creative Brief
  • Logo design
  • Color or style guide
  • Website graphics
  • Website copy
  • Wireframes
  • Mockups
  • Prototypes
  • Launching and testing
  • Banner design
  • Completed project

The deliverables in your design brief can act as a checklist for the milestones of your design project and are usually established by the client and designer or creative agency before the start of a project.

Related Documents and Contracts

Most business owners are familiar with the many legal documents that comes along with entrepreneurship. Often design briefs can be replaced with or accompany creative briefs, SOWs, proposals, marketing plans, NDAs, service agreements and contracts. Below are some common documents you’ll come across when working with designers and creative agencies.

  • Creative Brief – A creative brief is similar to a design brief and is used by creative and marketing professionals as a guide for creative deliverables like photographs, copy, videos, websites, advertising, etc. A creative brief serves act as an outline that tells a story of what your project is about and is usually developed by the people who use them most – designers, writers, and the rest of the creative team.
  • SOW (Statement or Scope of Work) – A statement of work document is used by project managers,  contractors and other contingent workers to define all aspects of your project including deliverables, timeline, and other project-specific activities.
  • Proposals – A proposal is a written document between a buyer and a seller to enter into an agreement by both parties to buy each other’s goods or services. This is also considered the preliminary phase of a binding contract.
  • Marketing Plan – A marketing plan outlines your overall marketing objectives, strategies and actions to be taken for the desired results. The 7 Ps formula will help you identify, evaluate, and achieve your goals and consists product, price, promotion, place, packaging, positioning and people.
  • NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements) – A non-disclosure agreement is a confidentiality agreement where the parties agree not to disclose non-public business information such as proprietary information and trade secrets. An NDA acts as a legal contract that is a secrecy agreement between parties not to disclose any information they deem to be confidential.

Conclusion

There is not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach when creating legal business contracts and documents. Design briefs help us communicate project goals with execution guidelines to ensure your project is delivered on time and on budget. Design and creative briefs also serve as a reference point and checklist for your design project. Understanding the elements and the process of creating a design brief will make it less confusing when you are ready to work with a designer or creative agency.

“The role of the designer is that of a good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.” – Charles Eames

Annette C. Sage / CEO at Sage Design Group

Marketing Executive / Creative Director / Business Development.

Creative and reliable team player with personal and professional goals to excel. I’m good at branding, growth hacking, getting startups off the ground, and growing businesses. I’ve also got some design skills and earned an MBA in International Marketing.

Visit my other websites at https://annettesage.com and https://sagedesigngroup.agency