The Client’s Guide to Design

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The Design Brief

Any cooperative project demands teamwork, and teamwork demands understanding. A strategic outline for getting everyone on the team to pull together toward the same goal is called a game plan. When applied to design, it’s called a design brief.

The first step in the process of creating any sort of design is writing what’s called a design brief. This is simply a document that gives both sides a clear understanding of the project’s goals and how they are to be met.

You may not have been through this process before, but your designer has, so let him take the lead. For the client, the writing of a design brief consists basically of sitting through an interview.

What your designer needs to know

When it comes to the project itself, he’ll want to know what your goals and expectations are, what your budget is, when the project needs to be completed, and whose approval is needed at every stage. He’ll need to know if you have any already-determined brand guidelines, and who else he might be working with to complete the project—copywriters, photographers, programmers, etc.

One reason this is important is that without establishing the nature and scope of the project, the designer can’t estimate its cost. But there’s another critical factor that is often overlooked: it might be that what you think you need isn’t really the case. Every design project needs to be conceived as part of an overall marketing strategy; and it’s possible that the best solution the client can imagine is not actually the right one. An experienced designer can help his client to understand why, for instance, using social media could be more effective than a direct-mail campaign (or, vice versa).

A Sample Design Brief

The actual questions included in a design brief, and their wording, will differ from one design firm to another, but their intent is the same: to provide the designer with the critical information he needs in order to do his job.

Here, for instance, are the questions Asheville Design Works uses in its design briefs. Most other firms use questions which are at least roughly similar.

  1. Who are you, what do you do, and what makes you different from your competition?
  2. What do you want this project to accomplish, and how will you measure it?
  3. What is the scope of the project?
  4. Who’s your audience or target market?
  5. Who’s your competition?
  6. Which of your competitors’ marketing materials do you like, and why?
  7. What tone or image do you need to portray?
  8. What’s your budget?
  9. Who are the decision makers for this project?
  10. Who is responsible for materials (text, photos, etc) for this project?
  11. What previous design and marketing materials have you used?
  12. What is your schedule and deadline?