Building Co-operative Design Briefs

In design teams, the “Brief” is often a shared understanding of the challenge the team is facing. It should include the client or corporate understanding of the need, major stakeholders, deadlines, tangible outcomes to be delivered, and personal needs or constraints for the team. This is the basic checklist for the task at hand, and sets the groundwork for the next weeks or months of work.

But most briefs fail to provide design teams with an adequate structure for moving forward. They might articulate the need, but fail to identify the full breadth of stakeholders needed for a program’s success. Alternatively, they might see a glut of stakeholders whose articulation of the problem muddies the stated objectives: making quality work within the constraints of timeline and deliverables impossible. The design team is responsible for working with the client and between team members to develop an articulation of the problem that can:

  • Deliver on the promise of great work
  • Maintain a predictable but flexible course
  • Maintain team wellbeing and mental health
  • Help the client better articulate their goals
Image for post
Image for post

Structure

0: Create the environment to create the brief

1: Look for the Hard Constraints (Budget, stakeholders, team, deadlines, regulation, etc)

2: Create lists of beliefs or needs (Our hypothesis is; We’ve found that; etc.)

3: Articulate the project goal in big letters

4: Identify Stakeholders and re-address any of the hard constraints or beliefs

5: Iterate on the project articulation as appropriate.

0: Setting the stage

The room should have whiteboards and ideally walls that can hold up postit notes or butcher paper for pinning. Pre-seed some buckets for people to fill with post-its and notes. Some examples might include:

Image for post
Image for post

Budget at least 90min to work through everything, and try to have a loose timeline in place to get through everything that needs getting through. If you get everything but key stakeholders, for example, the brief will be incomplete.

1: Hard Constraints

Surfacing these kinds of constraints early on helps limit the field of play, and helps give form to the project. Design activity is like a liquid that fills up whatever space it is provided, so knowing the size and shape of the vessel in question is vital, and a bigger vessel isn’t always better.

2: Beliefs and Needs

There’s a number of facilitation tools you can apply in this section. A solid go-to is the Ad-Lib approach:

Image for post
Image for post

Alternatively, a “spectrum” of Obvious to Far Out hypotheses can be a fun activity for users

Image for post
Image for post

3: The Project Goal

Once again, an ad-lib approach when facilitating this section can be effective for focusing participants. Taking the example of designing experiments, I might put four buckets on the wall:

Image for post
Image for post

After filling these buckets with content from the team and voting on them, you should be able to form a sentence:

As Airline customer experience designers, we want to explore DECREASING service costs by providing a better customer experience to users. This will enable us to INCREASE revenue and extend our network. We believe we can accomplish this by ethnographic research within the air travel experience and co-designing with flight attendants.”

4: Stakeholders and Constraints again

Image for post
Image for post

Make sure to revisit the constraints. Maybe one of them is no longer a hard constraint, but is instead has become flexible or a guideline. Perhaps the previous deadlines weren’t as important now that the Project Goal has been more effectively articulated.

5: Repeat/Reframe

What’s Next?

Also, thanks to Ayla Newhouse for collaborating on this post!

knowsi

Managing the consent relationship between researchers and…

Andrew Lovett-Barron

Written by

Software Maker, building Knowsi + FitFaj. Former @USDS(44)/@deptofdefense, @IDEO. 2017 @NewAmericaPIT fellow. Canadian/American in Denmark.

knowsi

knowsi

Managing the consent relationship between researchers and participants

Andrew Lovett-Barron

Written by

Software Maker, building Knowsi + FitFaj. Former @USDS(44)/@deptofdefense, @IDEO. 2017 @NewAmericaPIT fellow. Canadian/American in Denmark.

knowsi

knowsi

Managing the consent relationship between researchers and participants

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store