What is the Design Brief? And Why Do I Need It?

As we embark on a new project for a new client, there are certain steps we must follow, before we even begin to create any designs for the project.   We can’t just simply jump on the computer and begin creating anything that we can think of for the project.   We must first complete those specific steps.   This is when the design brief comes in.

The Design Brief and its Importance

A design brief is the first step of a design project.   The brief is a thorough document that provides an overview of the entire project.   This document informs the client, as well as the designer and everyone else involved, about the steps to be completed before, during and after the development and production of the project.   The design brief is very important and should be revisited before, during and after the project is completed.   The design brief will also serve as a reference document to guarantee that the finished product fulfilled the design’s objectives, it will reach the specific target audience, and it is following the predetermined path.

Parts of a Design Brief

Design briefs can vary when it comes to content.   The design brief template or parts should be tailored to each individual type of project and client.   However, there are a couple of important sections that must always be present.   A design brief should be thorough, clean and organized so that all the parties involved have a clear understanding of the entire project.   Most design briefs usually include a cover/title page; a table of contents page; an executive summary or corporate profile of the client’s company; an overview of the current situation of the company; information about the target audience; the overall objective of the project; description of the components or deliverables; a timeline for the project’s completion; the budget allotted for the project; personnel requirements; and payment schedule.

Importance of Research

Conducting research about the target market and current competitors of a specific project is crucial.   In order to tailor a design and effectively communicate the message to the target audience and to persuade the consumer that the product is better than the competition, we must first understand who is going to read the message (target audience) and what are the competitors saying about their products.   If we launched an advertising campaign for an educational product for elementary school students and we used a scary monster as the image of the product and we had the same message as one of our competitors, we would be ignoring the target audience and the current messages by competitors.   In order for the campaign to be successful, extensive research should be conducted about the target audience and competitors.

Important Steps

I believe that the most important steps in a design brief are the project objectives, target audience and competitors.   The same goes for the creation of a new product.   In order to successfully create a product or a design package for a product, we must first know what is the message we are trying to convey, who is this message aimed at, and what are other companies saying about their similar products.   When we research and understand these three steps then we can tailor the message to the right audience.

Here is a downloadable example of a Design Brief prepared as an assignment for an Advanced Graphic Design I class, as a mock proposal for an existing company that specializes in educational software and gaming systems for elementary school children.

Design Brief Sample

Working with Clients

If you have already worked as a Graphic Designer, either as a freelancer or within a company, you already know the difficulties you may face with certain clients.   Like in any other career field, you have a client, and a product or service you provide.   Sometimes what the client expects or thinks about that product or service, is not actually what the company or freelancer offers.   The most important step is to know everything about a project from the very beginning.   Also, having constant communication with the client will help with the success of the final product, service or design.

Final Say

As graphic designers a client generally approaches us with a design problem, and we are required to find a solution.   The client is the person who ultimately has the final say on what the product should look like and how it should work, based on their own knowledge of the target audience they are trying to convey a message to.   As a graphic designer, you should approach the situation as if you where part of that target audience.   The reason is so that you can advise your client on what is the best way to reach their target audience in terms of a good design.

For example, if a client comes to you and asks for a flyer to advertise their online business like an online only shoe retailer, you may suggest that an e-mail advertisement would be best to reach their target audience (clients already using the internet, and on their client database).   However, your suggestion may be ignored and the client could still decide to go with the printed flyer.   Your job as a designer is to design the flyer and that’s it.   If they did not agree with your suggestion, then you should provide what they are requesting from you.

Freedoms

The freedoms you have, as a designer in the process, will depend on each project.   Some clients may have no idea what they want their design to look like, and they may tell you to come up with something on your own, and that you may choose colors and everything, so you have a lot of creative freedoms with those clients.   Some other clients know exactly what they want and what they want it to look like, and they would even do it themselves if they knew how to use the software, so you may have very limited freedoms with those types of clients.   Some clients know more or less what they want, but they need your design expertise to guide them when choosing design elements, typefaces and colors, so you have some limitations and some freedoms with those types of clients.   You are most definitely allowed to refuse providing services to certain clients, before beginning to work with them, if what they are trying to create is illegal, or against your beliefs, morals or religion.   But you must do so respectfully to their needs, or perhaps suggest a different designer that you know can help with their situation.

Steps to Follow

As a graphic designer, you must plan on taking several steps to assess the situation and the perceived tasks ahead to rectify the situation.   First and foremost, you should analyze each project individually to make sure that the project’s extent is within your technical capabilities.   Second, you should ensure that you have all the information from the client about the project.   Third, you should provide the client with the proper documentation about the project (design brief) and come to a written agreement about the course of action with the client, including the amount of “changes” allowed and charges that go along with those changes.   Finally, you should provide a summary after the work was completed to show the client how the design solution successfully solves the design problem.

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