How to write a Design Brief
Design strategy overlaps business strategy. Design is where art, business, science and technology merge. Everything around you has been designed, but the best creations have a clear idea of what, who and why they are.
Whether you’re a start-up needing branding, a SME (small or medium business) needing a website, a designer searching for a guide, or a large scale enterprise seeking specialised skills, hopefully, you’ll find something here that helps you with your project.
It’s important for designers to understand the business goals, so everyone can avoid drifting off down the wrong path. For example, someone might ask a designer for a new website because they want to attract new customers. Actually, a website alone won’t attract new customers; it’s advertising and social networking that will attract new customers. Therefore I’d suggest we designed campaigns and landing pages or first impressions of the website. It’s often still necessary to design a new website but most designers want you to succeed and reach your desired outcome, which in this case is “to attract new customers”.
I often get people providing a few colours, images and a few scraps of notes, this rarely helps produce the desired outcome, and often leads to hovering art directors, wasted time and money and usually a mess. When the objective is clear it’s so much easier to achieve a client’s goals.
What, why and how
We’re looking at covering: Discovery, Definition, Specification, Strategy, Solutions & Delivery.
The best way to design is first to define, then we can build. Use this guide to outline vision, requirements, expectations, so we can make data-driven decisions and achieve the best results.
You don’t need to answer all questions here, but it helps to get a bigger picture if you can. Keep it as simple or as detailed as you like, or if it’s a tricky question you can just answer “I don’t know”. There are no right and wrong answers, it’s a “nice to know” fact sheet. This is part of the design processes and your designer can work with you to build a good brief.
As well as briefing designers, companies sometimes use this information within a business plan, for HR material, to gain funding or support, or to use as a reference when communicating to media.
“Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works” — Steve Jobs.
Ready? Let’s begin the journey…
Who are you?
- Company Name:
Who is involved in this project?
Who is the point of contact? Who are the stakeholders? Are there any collaborators / team members? Who will be responsible for updates to the site? Who will sign-off concepts or deliverables?
What is the background of the company? New start-up? Established business? Evolving / transforming business? Where did this company come from and why?
What are your values?
Purpose gives a competitive advantage.
E.g. Coke values fun and playfulness, Nike values determination and action, Dove values authenticity, the Body shop is against animal cruelty.
What do you want to create?
Branding & brand identity / Printed Material / Product (tangible)/ Exhibition stand and supporting / Promotional or Marketing material (adverts, campaigns etc) / Artwork / Illustration / Book / Magazine / Website / App (web or downloaded application) / Interactive experience / Immersive experience.
What are the current problems or changes you’re facing as a business?
E.g. “We don’t have enough customers”, “We’re getting negative feedback”, “our image isn’t creating the right impression”, etc.
How will we solve this problem?
E.g. “We think a new website will help us get more customers”, “if we fix the bugs on our website we’ll get less negative feedback”, etc.
What are your objectives / goals?
Have you any expected project outcomes & deliverables?
E.g. “Website must be editable and easy to update, we need to integrate with 3rd party systems to update products and events”
What do you expect users to do / see?
It’s a good idea to distinguish priority and clarity around what you want customers to do. This could be quite simply “I want them to buy a product”, “I want them to contact me”, “I want them to sign up to news,”, or “I want them to come to an event”. This might seem obvious but many people get a little lost on this. I’ve seen a bunch of sites that prioritise newsletters, events or campaigns over the actual product they are selling.
E.g. do I want them to read a newsletter, or buy a product?
What’s your budget?
Many people want to keep cost as low as possible, and designers can work within a budget and any restrictions you may have. However, the more time and dedication taken to crafting a brand / product the results are often better quality, unique in style, and have better success with targets and ROI.
When do you want it completed by?
Obviously the sooner the better, but professional services take time. What is your ideal “go live” date or deadline? If there any particular key time frames you need to hit? Flexibility helps a great deal, but it’s a good to have a guide.
Who are your customers?
What is your target market? Who are you marketing too? Who do you expect to use / view this product? Do you have any user personas? If you market to everyone, you market to no one, so segment your target.
E.g. Think about Geographic location, Demographic (gender, age, education, wages), Psychographic (lifestyle, identity, status), Health market? Wealth market? Lifestyle market? Age? Sex? the number of customers 10–10,000?
What do your customers value?
Value is not just about price for a customer, they value many other qualities, such as ease of use, quality, uniqueness, etc. It’s best to acquire this information directly from your customers, which is usually done with surveys, focus groups, or interviews. Ultimately everyone wants to make their lives better in some way, but how?
E.g. Max factor customers want to look fabulous, Andrex customers want comfort.
Who are your competitors? Have you seen anyone doing something similar? Do you partner with any other companies? Can you give us examples in industry that are closely related to your product or service? Any R&D (research & development).
Any tests / surveys / analytics / current customer comments or feedback you can share with us? This is really important, in fact design research is the cornerstone of UX (user experience design). A UX designer or a designer with an understanding of the user, system, or analytic research can help you look at this. If you have an existing product/website/service and you’re not sure why it’s not performing as well as you’d like, this is the area to look at.
Have you any unique selling points? (USP)
Will you be offering anything different from your competitors? Some people want to be cheaper, some people want to be better quality. Is there someway you’d like to do to stand-out from the crowd?
Personality and Brand Essence
What brand image do you want to communicate? How does your business look and feel? Any existing images? Mood-boards, Pinterest boards, any particular message you want to get across? Are you a sharp pencil, a soft cushion, etc? Try to choose 5 words that describe your brand personality.
Your mission statement / message / description / introduction / mantras? Do you want to take down global corporations that destroy the earth? Or are you looking to make nice tasting jam that tantalises the taste buds? What is your vision? Your mission? Your purpose?
- For __
- Mission __
Who are dissatisfied with (the current alternative)
- Vision __
Our product is a __
- Solution __
That provides __ (key problem-solving capability).
Brand Voice / Taglines / Straplines / keywords?
Whether you already have a strapline, or you need to work on one, it’s a good idea to incorporate it into your design. People sometimes find it helpful to acquire a good copywriter for help with straplines and brand voice.
E.g. Mcdonald’s has “I’m loving it”, Nike has “just do it”.
What is the minimum viable product? Where’s your focus? Many people have multiple ideas they’d like to develop, but what are the absolute essentials that you need to perfect first? If you’re starting up, it’s handy to start from the base up and build using a lean business model.
Are you going to expand? Any predicted changes? Are there any future industry changes that you’re aware of? Or maybe you’ll just deal with future disruptions as and when they occur. This is just to bring awareness to any changes that might be occurring so the design can allow for expansion and incorporate any anticipated changes.
How do you intend to market your business? What channels do you use? Any plans for Social Media, and engaging with an audience? Are you going to email people? Post samples or direct mail to customers? Newspaper / media ads?
If you have a preference, what CMS (content management system) /platform do you want to use? There are many available, some are free and some with a monthly charge. For example you could choose Wordpress, Pagekit, October, SquareSpace, WebFlow, etc. Have you got hosting and a domain name? If not, do you need help with this? A designer or developer can set this up for you, or you could organise this directly with a hosting / domain provider such as Godaddy or 123.reg. Make sure you provide server access to your designer.
Have you got existing material or designs?
This includes Photography, Copy (text), Typography, Logos, Marketing material, or a brand identity manual. Make sure you supply this to your designer.
People often think of content as an after thought. Some people use placeholders right until the last minute and then realise the content doesn’t fit the design. A good design always starts with good content.
Are you open-minded to the possibilities of professional design solutions? Have you got any ideas or expectations in mind? Or have you got an exact design in mind that you want to achieve? The more open minded you are the better as designers have an innate design sense, and are trained to look at the facts and data to ultimately provide the best solution.
Keep in mind that if you just want to copy someone else’s design this is plagiarism and should be avoided as it could lead to legal action. If you’ve already created your design and just need someone to make it then seek out a developer, printer, or manufacturer (dependent on your requirements) rather than a designer.
Any specific technical requirements?
Any immediate action to be taken?
Anything urgent that needs to be addressed first?
KPI’s (key performance indicators)?
How will you measure success? What will we be tracking? Analytics tracks site traffic which is good for blogs to track repeat visitors. Sales track actual sales. Social media stats are ‘vanity stats’ and don’t always provide an indication of success unless you’re a community / groups organisation.
These questions are intended as a broad introduction and by no means comprehensive. Therefore are there any extra notes you’d like to add?
Eg. This could include links to regulatory bodies or authorities.
There is a science behind Design that is fascinating. At every turn, we can discover something new, and that is the wonder and beauty of the Design. It’s a great adventure into the discovery of the unknown, it’s continuous learning and development, and most excitingly of all is, it’s a solution to a problem.