Design Brief: Definition

Where art is primarily concerned with aesthetics, graphic design is essentially a problem-solving discipline. Great design, therefore, must begin with a comprehensive understanding of the business problem that needs to be solved and this is the purpose of a design brief.

A design brief is a written document that thoroughly explains the problem that needs to be solved by a designer or designer team. It should primarily focus on results of design, outcomes of design, and the business objectives of the design project. It should not attempt to deal with the aesthetics of design. That is the responsibility of the designer.

A proper design brief is not the same as a request for proposal (RFP), or the resulting proposal. These two documents are incorporated into a proper design brief after the design team has developed a preliminary proposal in answer to the RFP. The person or group with the need for graphic design prepares the RFP, and graphic design groups prepare the proposal as a response to these stated needs.

What’s in a graphic design brief?

  • Why are we doing this project?
  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • Why is this project needed?
  • Why are we doing it now?
  • What specific business outcomes, or results, do we expect from this graphic design project?
  • Who are we designing for (this requires a very precise and complete description of the target audience for the graphic design project)?
  • Who are the key stakeholders (eg sales, marketing, law, distribution, procurement, manufacturing, etc) in this project?
  • What is the current and anticipated business environment for the results of this graphic design project?
  • What, precisely, are the phases of this graphic design project?
  • How much time must be devoted to each phase?
  • How much will each phase cost?
  • What is the competitive environment like?
  • Who will approve the final graphic design solution?
  • What criteria will be used for this approval?
  • How will the graphic design solution be implemented?
  • How will the results be measured?

A good graphic design brief should answer the following questions:

A fully developed graphic design brief for a major project must incorporate the background, needs statements, and tactical information such as time frames, budget, and desired outcomes, contained within both the RFP and the proposal. Once these two documents have been completed, they are melded together into a proper graphic design brief, which will usually include more comprehensive data than had been included in either the RFP or the proposal. It is essential this document is written down rather than being in the form of a verbal agreement to avoid later disputes.

A truly useful graphic design brief should be developed by two people – one representing the group with the business need for graphic design and one person representing the graphic design company that will execute the graphic design work. Both individuals are equally accountable for the results of the graphic design project.

Graphic Design diagnosis

A graphic design brief assists all the key stakeholders in the design project. The designer must have every bit of information possible in order to develop an effective design solution. It is rather like a relationship with a physician. If the physician isn’t told about all of the patient’s symptoms, then the physician cannot offer the best treatment for the problem. Similarly, relevant information must not be withheld from the designer, who needs it in order to design a useful solution.

A roadmap for the graphic design process

For all stakeholders, including the designer, the graphic design brief becomes a written agreement describing business objectives and the design strategy to meet those objectives. It is a roadmap through the process, a project-tracking document, an outline for a presentation for approval of the graphic design project, an implementation plan, a plan for measuring results of the design project, and an archival document that will be useful for similar projects in the future.

The graphic design brief should not dictate how a designer will actually execute the graphic design. Rather, the graphic design brief describes the problem and the desired business outcomes of the design work. It is up to the designer to create the most effective and creative graphic design solution to solve the problem, using the most effective techniques employed by the particular design discipline.

In nearly all cases, the outcomes of the graphic design project will be measurable data, such as an increased percentage share of market, an increase in sales of the product or service, increase in customer satisfaction, or increase in overall profitability. These measurements generally reflect the business needs of the enterprise.

Top tips on writing a good graphic design brief

Prepare a graphic design brief in advance of design concept development. This process will save time and ensure more effective graphic design results.

Ensure your brief includes business objectives, desired outcomes and a clearly articulated graphic design strategy.

Get the most out of your graphic design brief. For designers they become a key way of understanding the business problem to be solved and the audience they are targeting. For business partners, design briefs offer an opportunity to clarify their actual need for a design project, and give a quantifiable means to measure return on investment. Above all, design briefs provide an opportunity to ensure that all stakeholders are in unanimous agreement with the approach and process to be followed in developing an effective design solution.

Assume nothing. Many design projects go wrong because someone ‘assumes’ someone else knows what they know. All parties involved must be able to ask as many questions as necessary when developing the design brief. Design briefs are produced to ensure absolute clarity, understanding, and agreement from all stakeholders.

Write up your design brief to avoid comments such as, ‘Don’t you remember I told you…’, or, ‘I don’t recall saying that’, which often lead to confrontations which may delay the successful completion of design projects.

Remember partnership means working ‘with’ people, not working ‘for’ them. ‘Accountability’ means accepting responsibility for outcomes. The commissioner and the designer must be partners – working with each other – and both accepting accountability.

Don’t have a standard design brief. Design briefs should vary according to the discipline involved. For example, a design brief for a new product design will include many areas that are not necessary for a graphic design project for a piece of literature. Practitioners in each design discipline will develop their own list of essential ingredients for each design brief.

Always include an appendix of some sort to include competitive samples, and other ‘inspirational’ materials useful to a design team.

Archive all your design briefs. Many projects undertaken later will have similar objectives, and you can save time by referencing past briefs for projects.

Send a copy of the design brief to all parties involved. This will help when reviewing the final solution for implementation.

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