Our guest columnist Nat Carroll is back today with a follow-up to her popular article Why Write a Design Brief. Having been convinced that this is essential for the creative process to flourish between client and designer, she outlines what should be included and how best to get your point across (or draw it out from a client). Thanks, Nat!
You've been pondering over your business idea for weeks, months — perhaps even years. You know it inside out and back to front. It's your baby, and it WILL be brilliant! But, here lies an obstacle: how do you best communicate to a graphic designer the details, tiny nuances and objectives you have, that require their creative input?
Achieving design that truly represents – and hopefully accentuates – your project, begins with a healthy amount of dialogue between you and your designer. It's time to gather up all of your thinking – the what, why, how and what if's – and arrange them into some sort of sensible explanation. We designers make use of a helpful series of questions – commonly known as the design brief – to assist you in identifying the information most relevant. It should be said that some design briefs though, are more superior to others. Being asked the right set of questions by a designer and understanding why they've been asked in the first place, lays the foundations for a better project outcome.
Why write one in the first place, you may ask? Why not just have a brief phone discussion and get the ball rolling? Writing a design brief, whether you write it yourself, or have your designer write it for you, has numerous benefits. I've explained some of those benefits in my previous blog post.
So, what constitutes the contents of a well-written brief?
When working with clients in my own practice, there are the things that I really like to know about before moving towards the research and concepts phase, and I'd like to share them with you here.
01. Who are you, really?
Tell your designer all about yourself. And I do mean ALL. Your designer is now your new best friend. It's crucial to work with a designer that you know in your heart of hearts you can trust. The more openly you can speak with them, the more they will understand your expectations and motivations. This leads to design that addresses your bigger goals, rather than narrowly focusing in on the smaller, mandatory details only. A well-written design brief should cover expansive knowledge of your brand. Often I find the simple mistake here can be to resist revealing all – this really shouldn't be a time for a modest elevator pitch.
Give a background on the history and where you're at, present day. What do you create, provide, represent? What do you see it growing into? What are the big goals, issues to achieving these, and where does it's strengths and weaknesses lie? What are it's values, tone of voice, attributes? If it were a person, who would it be? Who are it's competitors? What makes your brand unique? What problems does it solve?
Answers to these questions add up to giving your designer a good overall sense of the big picture – often forgotten in the determination for the project's details. Your designer is now better equipped to be able to advise you and steer you in a direction that is more tailored to fit you!
02. Who is your audience?
It's unfortunate that you cannot be everything to everyone in this world. There's no point in trying. But, there is an upside to this! You can be meaningful to a select group, one that will stay loyal to you, if you are loyal to them. Narrowing your focus and understanding as much as you can about your selective audience and catering to them specifically, will pay off in dividends. Tuning into your audience and understanding what motivates them, pleases them, frustrates them, helps immensely in formulating an informed visual direction for your designer. Speaking succinctly to your audience, in THEIR language – be that visual and verbal – is the goal here.
What do you know about your audience, or the audience you would like to attract? Describe a typical member of your tribe: Are they predominately male? Female? Does your brand have more than one audience? Where do they live, work and play? How much do they earn? What do they spend their money on? What are the motivations behind their purchases or use of a service? Do you have any data you can share with your designer? Do you have past surveys, focus groups, Google Analytics or data from your Facebook Fan Page? And what about feedback?
Understanding your audience will allow a designer an insightful view into communicating with them in a language that is appropriate. Creating a story that speaks to your audience in their visual language will create a sense of belonging, which in turn builds brand loyalty.
03. How and why did your project arise?
It may be that your brand has lost it's way a little, a whole lot, or that you are simply in the start-up stage. It may be that you've discovered a gap in the market for a new product. Maybe you've just about finished your artistic endeavors, but you need to visually package everything together. Giving your designer an insight into the way your project came to fruition, helps them to understand the motivations and objectives behind your project. This section of a design brief really helps to define the design 'problem' – big, small or somewhere in between – highlighting the issues your designer needs to fully address and resolve.
Tell your designer about your 'problem'. Give them a summary of your project and the main reasons you are commissioning them for their creative input. How did this all arise? What are the goals you plan to achieve by undertaking the project? Is it to create further recognition? Develop your audience? An investment or financial gain? What specific design deliverables do you believe addresses your 'problem'? And how will you measure your success?
These factors will drive a designer to find and create an effective aesthetic and strategy that is in tune with addressing your goals.
04. What is the key message you are giving to your audience?
Often in communication, we tend to muddy the waters by saying too much. It is important now more than ever to simplify and pinpoint. You are competing in a sea of information, a decreasing of attention spans and the increased perceptions in lack of one's time. You have about five seconds, more or less, to make an impression – so – make it count. What is the single, key message you wish to impress on your audience? How would you like them to respond, feel, react and/or act?
Your designer will now be sure to focus in on illustrating this message succinctly and simply.
05. OK! Now, for the details.
This may come across as rather obvious! However, ensure you tell your designer what you require from them. Provide as much detail as you can. The outcome of a project is affected by it's constraints, so it's important to be upfront about these before a project moves to the concept stage. A thoughtful designer will be able to forewarn you of issues that may arise because of said constraints and steer you towards a direction that bests reaches a compromise.
Give them an idea of your deadline, and any outside factors that may affect the date. How many people will be involved in the signing off process? Are there mandatory, non-negotiable factors that must be adhered to? What is your printing and/or development arrangement? Is there any text in the works that needs to be finalised and supplied? Will the scope of the project likely remain as it is?
Keep your designer abreast of these details, and any amendments as soon as they arise, and you'll find you've created a more mutually collaborative relationship.
Gathering and sharing all the information – research, data, plans, goals, thoughts, samples, inspiration – you have at your disposal, enlightens your designer with much more knowledge to operate from. If you let them into your inner circle, by placing emphasis on partnership, rather than just relying on their technical know-how, you'll find it will allow a designer to respond by creating a meaningful, engaging outcome. One that is much more in tune with your goals and your audience's desires. This is the unequivocal benefit of mastering an excellently written design brief!
If you're wondering about the specific questions of a design brief, try searching for samples online – there are plenty out there to pick and choose from. In my own design practice, I've formulated a series of questions from over ten years of reading and putting them together – feel free to utilise this one if you see fit!
Nat Carroll is NSW-based creative director, designer & illustrator with an artisan style and strategic approach, working under the moniker, the Seamstress. She carefully crafts visual communication — brands, design & illustration — for the creative, cultural, business & non profit fields.
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