Writing a design brief
designer, freelance, graphic, branding, brand, logo, identity, corporate, visual language, mrs smith, wordpress, freelancer
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Writing a design brief

This is a great article from www.betterbydesign.org.nz on how to write a good graphic design brief. It is so important that the initial brief to a designer is comprehensive and details the exact requirements. The quality of the design work produced is a result of the quality of the brief.

The quality of work from your design partner is most often a reflection on the amount of thought and effort you put into your design brief. A bad brief can lead to bad work – it’s the old ‘rubbish in – rubbish out’ scenario. If you’re not clear about what you want, then you can’t expect your design partner to second guess you. After all, you know your business better than they do.

While it is important to spend time upfront on developing a clear brief, you should also expect your design partner to interrogate the brief and to ask some probing questions to ensure they truly understand what your business needs.Briefs do change over time, and often what you begin with, may end up changing as a result of some additional insights gained from working together with your design partner. So a brief is not a tablet cast in stone to be handed down to your design partner with a command to start work. Rather it’s a starting point for some intelligent discussion and debate to ensure that both you and your design partner have the same understanding and expectations of what needs to be done.The following areas should be covered when you prepare your brief.

Provide the context for the design project. What market is your company or product operating in, how is it positioned in relation to competitors and how is it performing, what issues does it face?

Objective of design project
Graphic design projects should be capable of generating measurable results for your business. Unless you are clear on what you want the results to be, and how you’re going to measure those, then you risk spending money with no guarantee of a useful return.Typical reasons for commissioning a graphic design project can include:

  • differentiating yourself against the competition
  • a need for brand consistency and alignment across all your company’s material
  • improving customer satisfaction or reduce customer complaints through better design of marketing collateral or packaging (including instructions)
  • refreshing an old or tired product or service
  • launching a new product or service
  • increasing sales / market share
  • competing against a new offering from a competitor
  • responding to customer feedback or insights gained from market research
  • entering a new market
  • leveraging off a new event, or commercial partnership


It may be helpful to define your project in terms of what the result of this new design work will do for your business, and what will it do for your customers / end users ie what does success look like?

Design task
What do you want your design partner to produce? A website? Sales support material for a new product? A display or theme for a conference? Or do you want to refresh or totally reinvent your brand? While you might be quite clear about what you want, it still pays to be open-minded to new ideas they might generate that will help achieve your objectives.

Content vs copy
You might have some basic content or information that you want incorporated onto your new website, product material or packaging. Getting this right is as important as the graphic design.You need to be clear who is providing the basic content, and who is doing the copywriting. Your design partner should know of some expert freelance copywriters who can sharpen up your content into sparkling copy.It is recommended that you provide the base content at your initial briefing so your design partner has a feel for how much text needs to be incorporated within the final design solution.

Who are you designing for?
What insights do you have about the customers or users who will be exposed to your new design work? Who are they, what do they think of you and what might they expect of you? The more information you can provide about the typical customer or user, the easier it is for a design partner to create something that will resonate with them. If you have research to guide you, share this with your design partner.If you can, paint a word picture of a typical customer. Make them real, give them a personality and not just straight demographics such as blue-collar male, aged between 35 and 50.

Something like: “Fred is 40, has a small spare tyre and is a bit of a reluctant exerciser. He’s more likely to be found watching sport than playing it. He hates shopping except for electronic and entertainment products which are a high involvement category for him. Wouldn’t be seen dead in a lingerie store and buys his wife a gift voucher from Farmers every birthday. Loves English football, is a Top Gear addict and a dab hand at making stir fry chicken and veggies.”

Tone and manner
If you have your brand story and your brand standards well articulated, then the tone and manner of any new piece of design work should reflect your ‘voice’. If you don’t have these resolved, then in the interests of future consistency of your design work, you should take some time to work through this.Try and avoid words such as ‘professional’ (who wants to be unprofessional?), but use more evocative statements such as:- fresh, edgy, approachable, smart, etc. Doing this makes it much easier to evaluate the design work you are presented with.

Try and set realistic deadlines for the completion of work from your design partner. When do you want to see initial concepts and when do you need the final work completed by? Rushing design work helps no-one and mistakes can be made if a complex job is pushed through without time to review and check things carefully. Discuss with your design partner what an achievable timeframe would be. Realistically there will be times when you do need things in a hurry. That’s fine if you’re upfront with your design partner and give them an opportunity to work out if they can deliver. Be aware, this will mean pressure comes back on you to make decisions and turn around proofs to deadline.

The budget determines the design direction. What you can achieve for R5,000 is very different from R50,000. A clear budget helps frame the creative process and allows your design partner to explore the full range of possibilities.Without a budget guide, your design partner is likely to come back with a solution that is not in keeping with your expectations. And there’s nothing worse than falling in love with a design solution that you can’t afford, which then gets hopelessly compromised to fit your budget.

Next steps
For larger scale graphic design projects, it is standard practice to ask your design agency for a reverse brief. This is where they respond to your brief with their initial thoughts and understanding of the design problem, clarify any questions they may have, and outline how they will approach the design project.This helps both parties to form a common understanding of the business problem and strategic direction that needs to be taken.

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