Design goes through many phases. It’s a matter of trial and error in many cases. The finished look often isn’t what the designer set out to make in the beginning. There’s lots of brainstorming involved in any kind of design, as we all think in different ways. This means designers and clients can have very different ideas on what the design and the design brief should look like.
That’s why it’s a good idea to try out as many ideas as you can. You never know what could work best. Sometimes these surprises end up being the most impactful designs.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, let’s take a look at what a design brief is.
We’ve talked about the phases of design. Well, a design brief is the first phase. It’s the initial point of contact between the ideas of the client and the designer.
The evolution of a design brief
In most cases, a design brief is a short document. It’s no more than a couple of pages long. In it, you should outline the project and what message it wants to convey. The client can also give a broad idea of what they would want the design to incorporate.
A design brief states the goals of the project. It also describes how to achieve those goals. It outlines the strategy for a creative project. Be it a website or an old fashioned magazine ad, the design brief is what the client wants to say.
Good design briefs are something that’s present throughout the whole designing process. They guide the process. One might think a design brief is a checklist for the designer. And during the creative process, the designer needs to tick off each box.
But it’s so much more than that. And you shouldn’t really look at it like that. Having a rigid checklist doesn’t work out in most designs. After all, design is a creative field. And creation needs a smidge of disorder from time to time.
That’s not to say a design brief isn’t important. Clients can and should have some elements they’d like to see in a design. A design brief is a touchstone. It’s what designers consult when they’re having trouble deciding on the best course of action.
Design briefs give a clear idea of the project. Having a good design brief can help you remove potential misunderstandings. It makes the communication between the designer and the client clear from the start.
But what makes a good design brief? That’s what we’ll attempt to analyse in the following paragraphs. There can be no strict set of rules for making a design brief. But, there are some pointers which are useful in a large number of cases.
Know your client audience
If you’re a designer and you’re making a design brief, this is the first step. Gather info on your client’s company. What kind of company is it? What is their brand? The project should reflect the same kind of aesthetic as the company.
You should inform yourself on their previous projects. Pay attention to the most important things about them. You should always try and create a design cohesive with the general tone of the company.
You should look into similar projects to the one you’re making a brief for. But you shouldn’t always follow design trends. Chances are your client wants something unique that will stand out.
If you’re making a design brief as a client be sure to convey the aesthetic you want your project to achieve. This can help designers not to go in blind. You should also explain what your product is. This will help the designer convey the message you want through their design.
Who’s the target audience for the project?
Target audience dictates the project in many ways. A website can be created for very specific types of audiences.
Designers must make the project appealing to the target audience. The success of the endeavour rests on it.
So, you must prepare yourself. Research trends appealing to your target demographic. You should inform yourself on the age range, gender, nationality, ethnicity etc. It’s what you’ll need to have in mind. After all, that is to whom you’ll be marketing your design.
It’s hard to strike a balance between popular appeal and uniqueness. A design that’s too eccentric might deter potential customers. Functionality should be one of the main focuses. Your target audience expects it.
Information gathering is paramount for this element of the design brief. You need reliable and extensive data. The easiest way to get it is consulting your client. They probably have it ready.
Consider the scope/length of the project
Projects can be different in enormous ways. They can be as small as making a brochure or a menu. They can also be as big as entire marketing campaigns.
It’s obvious that different projects need different amounts of time to complete. You have to think about this in your design brief. Think about how much time you need for it.
Some projects can be time-sensitive. You should also consider the possible deadline for the project. Be realistic about the timeframe you need to complete it.
But, even small projects can pile up. Be sure to manage your time with them.
Outline all the elements of the design. There are often many different parts of a design. Some might need more attention than others.
If you’re doing an entire marketing campaign, you’ll have your hands full. There are so many various components to it. And they all need to be cohesive. They all need to fit with one another.
You must consider the various platforms and media. Some design elements don’t translate well to different platforms.
Have an unambiguous budget
As in all business transactions, budget matters. It matters a lot. When you make a design brief, you should always have it mind.
Making an appropriate budget plan is essential. It’s what dictates the rest of the project in many respects.
But, budget can be a sensitive topic to tackle. Many clients don’t understand all the ins and outs of design cost. This is most apparent in digital design. After all, it seems that there’s no cost of materials necessary. It’s all ones and zeroes.
It’s a common misconception. And it’s one that’s not easy to overcome. Talking about a budget often turns into haggling. That’s when things can get ugly. Clients tend to think designers overcharge them for a simple job.
So, as a designer you should explain what that cost covers. Describe what you need to do and what does it cost. That way you ease the clients mind and show them the price is fair.
Be clear about your ideas
Whether you’re creating a design brief as a client or a designer, communication is key. A good design brief is often a joint effort.
As we’ve seen in the beginning, we all think differently. There can be lots of solutions to one design problem. And there can be lots of ideas that seem good on paper but don’t work in practice.
Clients and designers often make design briefs together. They can all have ideas that don’t always align with one another. It’s crucial to get your point across, even if the other party doesn’t share your view.
Sometimes, conflicting ideas somehow work together in the finished project. That’s the alchemical aspect of design. There’s always something that shouldn’t work, but still does.
This kind of surprising pairings can often make the project sing. This leads us neatly into the next tip.
Be open to suggestions
Having a vision is the start of any project. It’s the seed of every design. Without it, designers are pretty much lost.
But, clients also have their vision. After all, they know the product better than anyone.
We’ve all heard it at some point: conflicting ideas and passive aggressive emails between the designer and the client. Both sides think they have the best idea for the design. But, it’s never so cut and dry.
It’s true the client knows the product best. But, the designer is more attuned to what might and might not work. In such situations the right thing to do is to listen and explain.
Listen to what the other side are saying. There has to be some merit to it. Looking at a project from a different angle can jog your own ideas.
But, don’t be too quick to sacrifice your vision. Explain what you have in mind. If you describe your ideas, the client or designer will understand.
Together, you’ll be able to create something special.
Mind the overall tone
Cohesion is important. We said it before. But designers often lose focus of it. The general tone of the project mustn’t clash with the idea of the product in question.
What does this mean? Well, it might be a lot to unpack. In simplest terms, the product and its digital presence must be a unit. A good example of this would be colour schemes.
Let’s say the product or website has a blue-grey colour scheme. And then for the additional design, the designer opts for a red-yellow colour scheme. It’s quite obvious they’ll clash in a terrible way.
Clashing colour schemes are confusing and unpleasant to look at. It’s no secret why. Humans like harmony. Design is no exception.
So, it’s always a good idea to research. Take the time to analyse the aesthetics of the project. Think about what would go best with the existing design elements. You can interpret them in your own way. But, be careful to stay within the same feel and look.
What is your message?
This question ties into the previous tip. Ask yourself what you want to say with your project. The impact of your project depends on this. You have to be clear on the idea.
Your design brief should outline the message of the project. Brainstorming and research are your friends. Moodboards are a great way to do this. They can hold so many different design elements. They can be traditional, cork-and-cutouts or digital. That’s the best thing about them. Follow your inspiration.
You can only convey the message if you’re clear on it. Describe your inspiration. This can help your client understand what you’re going for.
Take your clients tastes into account. This is a good way to gain their trust. After all, it’s their product. They want to make sure the designer gets understands its value.
A clear message equals a strong design. So, make sure your design makes that statement.
Have a list of strict don’ts
This is another instance where communication is vital. You should ask your clients about anything they can’t stand in a design. If you’re a client, be sure to make your veto list known.
What a do-not list is pretty clear. It lists all the elements that you should by no means include in your design.
They largely depend on individual tastes. There are design elements that peeve people. They might not have particular reasons, but they still do.
As a designer, you should be sensitive to this. Even if you think something works well in the design.
You can ask the client to give you a bit more information. Maybe it’s just certain aspects that the client can’t stand. But, you shouldn’t press the idea too much. They’ve put it on the do-not list for a reason.
Scope out the competition
There are competing parties in everything nowadays. Your project will have competition, too. It’s something you can always count on.
With so many designs, it can be challenging to stand out. And that’s what we all want as designers.
Researching your competition helps you find your voice. You should think about what makes your design different. Maybe the majority of the competition opted for sleek, business vibe in their design. You should try and go down another path. Make a design that’s warm and inviting. Incorporate some vintage or rustic elements in your design brief if you can.
Don’t try to copy what others have done. Existing popular designs will drown it out.
Ask your client what makes their business or product different. Lean into that distinction. That way you’ll be sure you’ve created something unique and different.
Design briefs make or break the project. That’s why they need to be succinct and clear. They have to convey the message of the project in a shortened form.
They also need to specify all the technical details. Budget, scheduling and resources should be clear from day one.
A designer must envision the project and describe that vision to the client. But, they must work together. With their joint efforts they can create something that speaks to the audience. And that’s what successful design does.
A design brief is like the ID card of the project. It describes everything that goes into it. So, make sure it has all the necessary information.