Design Brief: What Is It and Why Do I Need One?

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Design Brief
Photo via Envato Elements

When starting a new project or deciding to work with a new client or designer, the overwhelm and information overload can be real.

Having a creative document that lays out all the basics of the project, client and designer expectations, design requirements, and performance expectations helps tremendously. This document is called a design brief, and writing a proper one can determine your project’s success. 

What Is a Design Brief?

A design brief is a project management document that’s necessary to set clear client expectations for an upcoming design project. The brief includes the project overview, core details, and other important information that will aid in keeping the project on track. Knowing details such as the client’s target audience, business plan, and goals can help keep the design process smooth and focused.

What Types of Projects Need a Design Brief?

All projects, from a simple industrial design project to an in-depth, comprehensive design can benefit dramatically from having a design brief. A design brief is adaptive to fit specific needs, so no matter what type of project it’s for, a document that gives clear expectations can be beneficial.

Who Should Write the Design Brief?

The client should be the one to write the brief. For a well-written design brief, the marketing manager, business owner, or other individuals over the project should be the ones to communicate clear expectations to the designer or agency.

The designer or agency can be involved in the writing process to specify what information they need to deliver quality work. This can be helpful when the client is unsure of what is needed for the document to be useful.

Why Is the Design Brief Necessary?

A design brief is an often-overlooked yet crucial part of any project. When a freelance designer or professional designer from an agency is hired, they probably won’t know anything about the client’s brand. Unless there’s a consistent or in-house graphic designer, not having a design brief leaves the designer in a guessing game, and that never ends well.

A thorough design brief will aid in delivering a successful design and help build trust between the client and the designer. If there isn’t a solid design brief to prevent scope creep, the project could quickly become messy.

Who Benefits from the Design Brief?

The entire design team, design agency, and client benefit from having a great design brief. It eases the stress of making design decisions and overall helps the entire design process run smoothly and ensure client satisfaction.

How to Create a Design Brief

Writing a design brief is unique for each individual project. No template will work perfectly for all projects, so it’s important to have a clear idea of what material to display.

The design brief can be short and sweet or lengthy and full of information. However, it must offer all the right information for the designer or design agency in a clear and organized fashion.

What to Include in the Design Brief

Writing the design brief is a perfect opportunity to get a clear understanding of what expectations and goals you want to achieve. You still may have questions about what exactly you need to cover. From contact information to time frame, here’s a list of what information you should include when writing your design brief.

1. Overview of Your Business

To create an effective design for your business, the designer needs to know what your business is. In your business overview, describe who you are, what you do, and why. Giving the designer a brand overview helps them understand what type of design to create to match your brand’s overall vibe and mission. 

2. Objectives of the Design Project

Including the objective and project goals is one of the critical parts to include in your brief. List out any design tasks, details about what you like and don’t like about your current design, and precisely what you’re hoping to accomplish with this project.

Writing this part as detailed yet concisely as possible encourages everyone involved to understand the ultimate goal, and it will help them deliver quality work.

3. The Scope of the Design Project

Now is the time to go over exactly what type of work is needed with the project scope. This part of the brief is where you include your expectations and all the project details and clarify the project’s purpose. You can write this section out as a bullet list, checkboxes, in paragraphs, or however it fits best for your project.

Go over all the relevant details about the project and explain exactly what you want and how you want it done. What designs are needed for this project? What problems are you trying to solve? This is the place to lay it all out.

4. Description of the Target Audience

After you get clear on what exactly the project is hoping to accomplish, it’s time to go over the target audience. Understanding a target audience is important for successful marketing. Filling out or creating an audience persona worksheet can help you clarify who your ideal client is.

Include information like:

  •  Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Career

Having a clear target audience and understanding their demographic traits allows you to reach your ideal client by using specific tactics unique to that audience persona.

5. Description of Competitors

Explaining who your top competitors are and building an understanding of what their goals are and how they achieve them can help your brand stand out from the crowd.

By researching your competitors, you can use knowledge to your advantage. Pay attention to how they reach their target audience and what solutions they provide to their clients. Look into their design tactics and how they communicate through them. Pay attention to the similarities between the brands and the differences you can use to your advantage.

6. Specific Requirements of the Design

Dedicating a section in your brief solely for product design specifications and requirements can be very helpful. This part works great as a bulleted list, but format it in whatever way works best for you.

Here you can list any elements that need to be included in the design. A color palette, logo elements, brand patterns, and other assets are good to consider when writing this section.

7. Design Styles and Approaches You Like

Now it’s time to think about the aesthetic qualities and design ideas you have for this creative project. Think about the things you enjoyed and disliked in previous designs you’ve seen. Do you like simple designs, or are you going for something bold and eye-catching?

Explain the vibe you’re trying to have with the designs and any other design ideas that may add a creative and unique touch to the design. Keep in mind this section wouldn’t be about requirements or specifics. This can be formatted in more of a brainstorming fashion. Fill it with fun ideas you would love to see brought to life.

8. Project Timeline or Schedule

To keep projects on track, it’s important to have a clear timeline before the work begins. The client and designer need to work together to determine the average time it would take for the creative project to be completed.

Use this area to get clear on time expectations and maybe create a detailed timeline with multiple deadlines and goals, so everyone is on the same page. Communication and clarity are key in projects and time frames like this. 

9. Project Budget

The next section necessary to include in the brief is the design budget. Will designers be paid hourly or by milestone? What’s your budget for purchasing commercial license creative assets like fonts or photography? Determine the budget for each section of the project, how, when, and where payment will be sent. 

10. Specific Deliverables of the Project

It’s time to talk about deliverables. Make it clear how you want visual assets delivered and the format in which they need to be delivered.

Does the design need to be delivered in a simple .png format, or is it expected to share the entire Photoshop or Illustrator file?

What deliverables are expected to be delivered at the end of the project?

Get clear on this at the beginning to avoid any hiccups that may happen at the end of the project. 

11. Contact Information

The final necessary thing to include in the design brief is all the contact details for those persons working on the project. Make sure it’s clear who the main contact person is on both sides of the contract. In this section, include what times are best for contact, what the preferred method of contact is, and preferably a backup contact in case an emergency pops up. 

Final Thoughts on Design Briefs

Writing a clear creative brief full of product design specifications can help everyone avoid a bad design experience. It’s a sure way to keep creative projects on track and give the designer a clear guide to exceeding client expectations.

All design briefs are unique, and the information required will be specific for each project. Although there isn’t a premade layout that fits all, including this basic information is a great place to start.

Professional designers who have had many successful projects can all agree – having a great design brief is a real game changer. Hopefully, this article made it easier for you to write the design brief for your upcoming project!

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