How to write a design brief

on Tuesday, 26 May 2015. Posted in N21 Experts

If you are a small business owner, work freelance or are involved with the organisation of a club, charity or community group, you might need the services of a designer, to help you to communicate with your target audience. Often you may be unsure about exactly what you want your design to look like, indeed it is up to your designer to come up with concepts and designs but the more information you can provide about your organisation, you you wish to 'talk to' and why, then the better the outcome. The more clues you can provide, the more likely the solution will be close to your aims.


This short article is intended to help you to prepare a brief for your designer; questions that you need to be thinking about.


What is a design brief?

The brief is the starting point of your design project, outlining the aims and key objectives. It states what you're hoping to achieve and sets the scope of what you expect your designers to do. A thorough and articulate brief will not only guide you through the creative process, it will also allow you to evaluate how successful your project has been, once it is completed.


The brief is a critical part of the design process that helps develop trust and understanding between the client and designer – and serves as an essential point of reference for both parties – especially if it is the first time client and designer have worked together. Above all, it ensures that important design issues are considered and questioned before the designer starts work. It isn't a scientific process but one that ultimately involves equal amounts of inspiration and perspiration. A creative director once said to me that design is simply about 'putting together the right words and pictures'. Overly simplistic perhaps, but an element of truth in what he said. Likewise, the design brief is a series of questions that result in the answers that provide guidance to ensure the best end results.


Two heads are better than one


Try and meet face to face. In this age of technology, where we are glued to our screens and devices, more of us are working remotely via email and conference calls. However, personal meetings make a lot of difference. Sometimes you pick up on a comment or facial expression that sparks an idea and could get missed if you don't actually meet.


10 Key steps to producing an effective design brief

1 The basic information about your business or organisation

  • What markets are you are in?
  • What do you need to achieve?
  • Who is your audience?
  • Who is your competition? What are they doing and is it successful?
  • Define your market.
  • Don't assume everybody knows what you do or how you run your business or organisation.


A good designer should do their own research and sometimes find out something about your business area that either you didn't know or didn't have time to find out. 


2. What are the objectives and what results do you want?

  • Are you starting from scratch or redefining an existing business or organisation?
  • Is it about generating more sales?
  • Achieving a wider audience for your products and services
  • To raise funds (if you are a charity for example).


3 Determining the project budget

Some people find talking about money difficult, but it is essential that both parties have a clear understanding of the budget and what will be delivered, before the designer puts pen to paper so to speak. Even if you are working on behalf of a large organisation think about using a freelance designer or smaller company; you can be buying experience and enthusiasum without agency overhads. 


This can be a difficult area for many reasons. Sometimes the client will have an idea how much the project is worth to them and just as often the designer will have a completed a similar project so they have something to refer to. The question is whether both parties agree the value is the same. I have worked for clients who are used to paying agency rates three or four times higher than freelance designers who have lower overheads yet the deliverables are often to the same standard. Remember that after you see the initial designs, almost certainly you will want to make some changes, so bear this in mind when you are agreeing the fee. The best advice for both parties is, break it down into clear stages.


4. What are the deliverables?

It could be a brand, a brochure or a website., The client may think they need one particular deliverable when they need something entirely different. The brief may help determine what the answer is to this area. E.g. the client asked for a brochure but ended up with a video that was more effective due to social media coverage.


5 Set a schedule and timings

If you are organising an event there are obvious deadlines. Many projects do not have such defined deadlines, but it is worth establishing some benchmarks and meeting expectations.


6. Are there any key messages, words, phrases that your designer must use? 

Your designer may specialise in visuals, but may not be a wordsmith, he or she may need you to provide copy or can recommend a copywriter who could encapsulate your messages more effectively than you. Design is about teamwork.


7. What are your company values?

This is always a useful tool to give the designer some insight into what you do. It doesn't matter how large or small your company is, we all have values. Your company may be innovative, traditional or cutting edge. A charity branding project came to life because they had a mission statement that included key words about 'providing a helping hand' 'support' and 'hope'. Those were the 'clues' needed to start the creative process.


8. Subjective issues

Sometimes they are illogical but often, our personal preferences are difficult to ignore. Are there colours you don't like or are overused in your industry? Similarly you may feel strongly about typefaces, or the use of capital or lower case letters or logos etc.


9. How important is Social Media to your business?

We are all being told (mainly by social media companies!) how important this is but it can also take up a lot of time. Decide if this is important and relevant to you and your target audience.


10. Why are you using this designer?

Maybe this should be the first question for you to consider, not the last, but always look at examples of the designer's past work. Look at it with your 'design hat' on - ie. not just as pretty pictures and clever text, but what is the design is meant to convey and whether you think it achieves it. 


Finally don't forget to both to sign off the brief and write your designer a nice testimonial if you think they have done a good job!


This illustration, from the Design Council might help you to understand the design process.





My name is Neil Littman. I am an experienced graphic designer, living and working in Winchmore Hill. I would be pleased to talk to you in more detail about your design brief.


Read my page on n21online here





Winchmore Hill graphic designer provides guidance on writing a design brief that will help you to get the best work out of your designer

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.