A brief is a starting point. The foundation of a successful project. It is a document with specific information about vital details for the creation of the designer.

It sums up a project’s mission, goals, challenges, target audience, messaging, and other key features that will be delivered to the graphic designer before the project begins. Many aspects have to be covered to write a strong, compelling brief that provides accurate specifics to the graphic designer and, simultaneously, focuses on what is really important to the client.  

It is the foundation of our work to our client and more important than ever.

business group writing a brief
Source: Reta Ferguson from Pexels

This article is written by a designer based on the design’s perspectives to ensure that the brief will be beneficial to the client and the designer.

A designer with the correct worded brief can create direction, meaning, and purpose to communicate the identity and message of a trustworthy brand.

“To believe that good design is produced merely by pleasing arranging of some visual miscellany is an erroneous concept of the graphic designer’s function.”

Paul Rand

What Is A Design Brief?

A design brief is a project management document that provides the designer with all the information (scope, scale, core details) and the objectives of the design. It does not cover aesthetics. But it allows the designer to focus exactly on what the client wants before any work starts on the project.

The brief informs design decisions and guidance to the overall workflow of the project, from conception to final delivery.

The graphic designer is confronted with three classes of material, as Paul Rand declares: the given, the formal and the psychological. The given can be the products, the copy, the logos, the digital technology, the production process; the formal is the space, the colours, the repetitions, the values, the shapes; the psychological is the perceptions of the target audience along with the graphic designer’s own emotional desires.

“Briefing comes from the American Military language meaning a deployment discussion with a short description of the situation and an explanation of the goals and details of the strategy. Introduced in advertisements by Ross Reeves, an American advertising executive and the copywriter David Ogilvy.”

Thank you for the info, Olu Eletu!

Analysing the information the Brief offers, the graphic designer can break down this complex construction in simple components: the how, why, when and where to solve the problem or find a solution. The design deals with the target audience or the users, analysing their reactions in the message’s communication and meeting their aesthetic needs.  It is an essential task, and that should be done professionally and comprehensively.

It is difficult to state how important a brief is to the designer process. Someone already said, “No brief, no project!”. We will teach you how to write a graphic design brief outlining the client’s perspective with a focus on the results and outcomes of the project.

Effective Design Brief Objectives

Brief designs can be of all sorts. They can be:

  • Written by the client;
  • A collaborative effort between the client and the designer; or
  • Written and presented by the designer to the client after an initial meeting.

In most cases, the client presents the brief, but it is common for freelance designers to write a brief to pitch to a potential client.

The freelance design’s aim is to build a client base that will be the foundation of their audiences. Social media can help. But it is not all. You could get disillusioned with your hard work and just a few “likes” or “followers”. We, graphic designers, need clients to pay our bills.

Through the years you learn that the good work you deliver and the talks you maintain directly with your clients with the focus to solve their problems with high-quality service is the best way to be successful in your creative career.

Collaboration Makes The Difference

Even when the brief is written by the client, a collaborative effort between the client and the designer is essential. Many times, the client gives not everything us designers need to know, mainly by their lack of knowledge of the design perspectives. So, it is essential to have our own ‘templates’ to deliver what the clients want and show them our professionalism and, I would say, save the clients’ future problems and money.  

Both parties, the client and the designer, have different objectives. But a collaborative effort will allow both parties to clarify their goals and objectives with input from stakeholders and agreed, written, accountability for the final product.

My suggestion is: write briefs, study then, compare them with your work routine to learn from it and use those drafts to a comprehensive brief that will help you in future pitches.

The Benefits Of Design Briefs

illustration of a mushroom
  • Provide designers with insight, background and substance for the effective creation of the visual design.
  • Offer the designer a clear expectation from the client for the work to be delivered.
  • Helps both clients and designers to keep track of the project on time and budget.
  • Gives the client the added value of collaboration in the project’s process.
  • Provides the designer with scope, scale, and core details of the project upfront.
  • Helps the designer understand the client’s style and identify the pros and cons of the project’s design.

What To Include In The Brief

Project Overview

Define the client’s needs. Focus on the project’s goal to be achieved within a timeframe.

Project’s Background and Brand

Explain the circumstances that provoked the need and the opportunity to solve and top the problem. Have access to a bank of suitable materials, such as brochures, photographs, corporate image requirements and anything else that may be useful.

Provide access to the designer to details of the information or research the client has done in the past, which is not sensitive to release. Bring forth past and present communication and what worked and what did not.

The client should provide information about how they plan to test the design products, such as a brochure or a logo so that the designer can plan their creation timetable to allow for the testing periods.

Clients should not assume that the designer knows about their business and should include a summary of who they are and what they do, but we, designers should do our homework too in researching their history, with the products or services they provide and their distribution.  

Target Audience

Who will receive the project’s message? The demographics of the people the client wants to reach, including their age, gender, income, location, lifestyle and behaviours.

view of a target game for a brief

The client needs to define their specific target audience in relation to behaviour and level of awareness and knowledge and how they want the results to change with the project.

It is important that the designer takes into consideration that their graphic design or website needs to be designed for legibility. That includes fonts that need to be read by people with poor sight or provide an alternative source of information. Tests with people from the target audience or pursuing advice from special interest groups.

The client’s market position, the product or service standing amongst the competition and what makes that client different from the others should be included.

Challenges And Objectives

The client must clearly define what they want to accomplish with the project so that the designer knows what the client wants to archive. Does the client want a poster, a promotional flyer, a manual or a website?

My approach to this item is that we must clarify the client’s key message, not in words or jingles, but in the essence of what they intend to communicate. Good communication with the design includes clear, concise information on the project’s purpose. Otherwise, the final result could end up weak because the purpose was not clearly communicated to the designer.

Responsibilities

The client needs to outline clearly what they want the designer to do. Consult the client to make sure they have included as many details as possible about the requirements. They must include style guides and methodologies and mandatory information, if available.

view of coloured pencils pointing to a goal in a brief

The understanding of the client’s audience will guide the designer decision-making regarding the recommended format for the project and, in printed designs, how many copies of each item they might require.  

Illustrative material that already exists and will be part of the project must be made accessible to the designer.

Briefs can be prescriptive or open. Prescriptive briefs specify exactly what it requires. Open briefs present the problem and leave the solution to the designer’s input. Obviously, much better creation can be done with open briefs and, in most cases, the client leaves the creative execution to the designers.

Constrains

Identifying constrains allows the designer to consider them when preparing the proposal and during the creation process.

Clarify what the project is not going over, messages and communications to avoid, outline exclusions and out of scope for the project.

Type of Software Used/Hardware Used

The designer needs to know what system and programs the client is using to establish compatibility. The client might have to stipulate the software the designer needs to use sometimes.

Budget

The client can state the amount of money available for the graphic design project. Figures quoted will be negotiable.

Timeline

Outline the time and sequence of events. Timelines let the designer know the period over which the project will take place. Tight time frames will compromise the quality of the proposal the designer delivers.

Establish when the written proposal will be delivered to the client.

The Consultant’s Proposal

The client might state a list, such as of requirements to be included in the proposal, the number of reviews to the creative concepts, detailed costing, a timetable for each production stage, details of staff who will work in the project and their roles, references and contact numbers and details of reporting and invoicing formats and procedures.

Project Stakeholders

Contacts, with names, emails, phones, from the client’s business people to develop the project.

Important Tips For Designers

  1. Understand the brief the client delivers to you. Ask the client for details, clarifications or doubts. Go over with a fine-tooth, try to read between the lines.
  2. Empathise with the project.
  3. Demonstrate the ability to deliver a quality product on time and within budget.
  4. Quote accurately and effectively.
  5. Avoid conflict of interest with clear communication of requirements.
  6. Don’t make assumptions; get back in touch for further clarifications.

With an effectively written brief, you will outline exactly what the client wants, doesn’t want, likes, doesn’t like, needs and desires, and it will be a flying start to writing the proposal.

Nearly Done…

At this point, examine the brief again. This process is necessary to ensure that any corrections are made, and further clarifications are added. It is a valuable time and it will be rewarded when you present your concept ideas to the client before time is invested later on in the implementation stage. 

Let’s make something amazing!

Sources:
Rand, Paul (1985). A Designer’s Art. Princeton Architectural Press, New York
https://www.unconventionalfreelancer.com/?keyword=freelance%20designer&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI3_ensM6u5gIVWwwrCh1hBw1WEAMYASAAEgJaEvD_BwE
https://www.shopify.com.au/partners/blog/100022086-how-to-write-a-design-brief-to-keep-your-web-design-projects-on-track
http://linkwiztix.com/MMST11010/graphic_design.pdf
https://www.thegraphicdesignschool.com/blog/the-creative-brief-part-1
Photo by Retha Ferguson from Pexels

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Cidinha Moss

2 thoughts

    1. Both posts relate to one of the most important business actions for freelance graphic designers. I have met many small businesses that do not know how to write a brief. It is a wonderful opportunity for us, designers, to get involved and develop a relationship with the client to build trust and confidence. Thank you for your support. Cheers.

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