A design brief, or creative brief, helps you get more respect and be seen as an expert as a designer. Find out how to write a creative brief and how it helps not only you but the designer-client relationship and the design process.
What Is a Creative Brief or Design Brief?
To start, let’s get into what a creative brief is. It may be also called a “design brief,” by the way. They are the same.
No matter what you prefer to call it, a creative brief acts like a guide for the project, a blueprint. It’s a compilation of information from the client about the project before you get started.
It helps both parties understand who it is you’re designing for and the direction to take.
What might surprise you, though, is that even though it’s called a “design brief” or “creative brief,” a lot of the information in it has nothing to do with the actual design itself.
It actually has much more to do with what the goals of the project are and the results they are trying to achieve with the design.
Benefits of a Creative Brief
Let’s talk about why, as a designer, you should use a creative brief. There are actually quite a few reasons, and some of them may surprise you. But using a design brief definitely benefits you and your clients.
Guides the design and the project
One reason is that the creative brief guides the project. It states the purpose for the work, who you’re designing for and the expected outcomes.
Helps designers get more respect
Another good reason is that a design brief helps you get taken more seriously. It shows the client that design is much more than decoration and that you are an expert who is leading the process.
It’s especially helpful to use a brief with a new client to help set the tone for the relationship from the beginning.
Positions designers as an expert
Since the design brief is focused on the results the client is looking to achieve rather than the look of the design, then the client perceives you as more of the expert, as opposed to an order taker.
I’ve been in both positions. It took me a while to realize the difference.
An expert is a designer who takes the information about what is needed and decides how the design should look to accommodate that.
An order taker is a designer who asks the client what they “want” and then complies with those requests, without much thought as to whether or not that is the best solution for what they’re trying to achieve.
When a client sees you as the expert, they are more confident about working with you and what you will create. They will trust you more.
Puts the focus on the goals and outcomes
A design brief also helps graphic designers understand the goals of the work.
I used to think, well, but I am going to do my best work no matter what, so why would I need to know about their goals?
But the thing is you could do your best design work and still not achieve their goals.
For instance, you could create a beautiful design that appeals to the client’s personal tastes that they are thrilled with but that doesn’t appeal to their target audience.
For example, maybe the client likes blue and script typefaces. But maybe the audience would really be attracted to warmer colors and a more serious-looking typeface, for example.
The client might end up loving the design, but it doesn’t end up bringing in the customers they were hoping to attract. That’s because the client is not their target market.
Here’s another example. You could create a cool design with bright colors and funky typefaces that appeals to younger people but not to older people, which is who the client was looking to attract.
A design brief is especially helpful when working with a new client whose business you are still learning about, because the design brief will help you learn more about them and the work you will do for them.
Ensures clear communication and sets expectations
A creative brief ensures that the designer and all decision makers are on the same page about the goals and objectives for the work. It also sets expectations for the project.
The client should review the brief and acknowledge their acceptance of it before you start any work.
Again, this is even more important when working with a new client, especially one who may have never worked with a designer.
Having clear communication and setting expectations helps prevent potential problems related to the design, scope, deadline, etc.
But, also, if you work with another designer or other subcontractor on the project, a design brief also prevents you from having to repeat project info. You’ve already put it together in a single document that you can then send off to them to review too.
Keeps things objective
A design brief keeps things objective. It’s not about the client’s personal tastes or yours when it comes to the design direction. It’s about what is going to help them reach their target audience and accomplish their goals.
So it’s helpful to have a design brief in place when you encounter a client who later questions your design choices and wants something just because they like it, for instance.
You can point them to the creative brief to remind them of the objectives for the project rather than having to try to convince them why their personal opinion may not matter.
Helps prevent scope creep
A design brief keeps things on course. It helps prevent scope creep.
Scope creep is when the scope of the project isn’t necessarily well defined, so it’s unclear when something should be included in the work or if it should be charged in addition to the work.
If you don’t specify the number of hours or rounds of revisions a client gets, you could be making revisions for months on end until they decide they’re happy—if that ever even happens.
Maybe the client just keeps adding onto the project. What was a small brochure website, for instance, has now become a website with all kinds of additional functionality.
Preventing scope creep goes a long way in keeping a project on track and profitable.
Helps you price the design work
A design brief will help you create an estimate or proposal for a client.
Gathering enough information up front helps you understand it better but also the client’s needs.
You may even potentially recommend something more to them in order to help them get better results from what they initially propose doing.
Better yet, you can price by the results they expect to get, not on deliverables.
In other words, you can price by the value, not the thing it is that you’re creating.
How many more sales will they get from having more targeted branding? How much are they saving by having a freelance designer than hiring someone in house to handle all their design needs? How much time will they save updating their website because of the custom development work you did for them?
These are some things to think about.
Creating a design brief also instills confidence in the client, because it helps you lead the process and the conversation. This goes back to what I was saying about positioning yourself as an expert.
As a result, you will be more confident too, because you have a process for the initial conversation.
Plus, when you go to present your design work to the client, you can point back to the creative brief. If you’ve paid attention to that throughout the design process, you should be more confident about what you’ve created and how they will receive it.
Everyone already agreed to the design brief by that point, so nothing should be a surprise.
What to Include in a Design Brief
You’ll want to refer to the design brief in the beginning of the project, while you’re designing and also before presenting the work to the client.
So how do you write a creative brief?
A client may provide a creative brief, but it may not include all of the necessary information. So I recommend that you create one and at the start of the process. This also puts you in the driver’s seat—not them.
You can create a design brief by either having the client fill out a form, sending them the questions via email, or—better yet—gathering all of that information from a meeting with them.
That lets you have a conversation, and it has a more personal feel. It also means the client can’t just put it off, like they can with a form or email. If you have a meeting with them, it will just get done.
Let’s go over some of the things to include in a design brief.
Include the client goals. In other words, what is the reason behind this design? What do they want it to do? How do they want to come across?
Include the scope of the project. You don’t necessarily need to get down to the nitty gritty with page count so much, but you should have a good idea for the size and complexity of the project.
Include details about the target audience such as their age, gender, educational level, income, likes and dislikes, and geographic area. This is so you know who you’re designing for.
Include details about the client’s position in the marketplace. What is their brand about? How are they different from their competitors?
Budget and timeframe
What are the budget and timeframe for the project?
Preferences or limitations
The client may have certain preferences for how something should look such as it should be in line with their brand or it should look cohesive with a certain set of marketing materials for a product line.
Maybe they don’t want to use stock illustrations and want to use only photos. Maybe they don’t want any stock imagery at all.
Maybe they require that a certain website platform be used or they have specific apps they have to integrate with.
I hope from all that I’ve said you can see how a creative brief can help ensure a successful, smoother project—a profitable project—for you. Let me know how it works out for you when you use one.
If you want another way to stand out as the trusted expert or just want to be more confident about talking to the client and what to ask and when, and how to write a proposal, check out the Brand Identity Builder.