How to Write an Awesome Design Brief

Learning how to write a design brief can be a tricky task, even for the most seasoned of buyers.

However, a design brief is a vital communication tool between yourself and your chosen agency.

Whether you’re looking to rebrand your company, launch your new website, or look to improve your online presence, your design brief will help keep the project running smoothly.

Trying to run a project without a design brief is difficult because you’re then relying on telephone calls, email threads, and frantically handwritten notes which is no way to run a project.

What is a Design Brief?

A design brief is a document that business use to communicate wants and needs with selected design agencies.

For example:

If you’re a marketer at a corporate firm looking to rebrand, you would send your design brief to agencies you contact about the rebrand.

If you contact several agencies about your design project, and don’t attach your brief, you’ll find that more often than not, you’ll get asked for it.

Your design brief doesn’t need to be a huge document, you’re not writing “War and Peace.”

It’s a top level overview of the project, that can be used to help external agencies understand more about your business and it’s plans.

Why is a Design Brief Used?

A design brief gets the ideas out of your head, and gets it all down on paper. This helps drive a better understanding of a project from all parties involved.

Essentially, when contacting agencies, you’re hoping for several things:

  1. They know about your industry
  2. They know about your company
  3. They’re excited about your project

But none of these things are a given.

Your design brief serves to make these things a reality.

There’s nothing worse as a designer, than receiving an email that says:

“Hey, we’re looking to rebrand our company and like your work.”

For all emails like this do pique our interest, it’s always a lot more exciting to receive an email with a brief attached, or even just a tiny bit more information.

Let us know why you’re reaching out, and what problem we can solve!

Who Should Write a Design Brief?

If you or your company are looking to partner with a design agency on a project, then you need a design brief.

We find with larger companies, it’s usually the marketing manager that would be in charge of creating the design brief, with marketing executives then reaching out to potential partners.

In smaller companies, it’ll usually be the owner/operator of the business. In this situation, they’re usually quite time poor, and the brief will be less comprehensive.

And that’s not a problem either!

Like we said earlier, we’re not writing “War and Peace” here. We’re giving a taste of what we think the project might be, and what we might need.

A good design agency will help you formalise or build on your brief, by dissecting the brief and asking questions.

Your design brief isn’t a finished article. It’s an overview, that can be flexed and finalised with your chosen agency.

Good design work comes from good partnerships. Learning to trust your agency early on will help deliver better results in the long run.

Design agencies have a poor reputation, because unfortunately, there are a lot of unscrupulous people out there.

However:

If you follow these steps, you should be able to find a great design agency to work with.

What Should Be Included In Your Design Brief?

You need to make your design brief easy to understand, and compact enough to retain interest.

So, what should be included?

What Does Your Business Do?

The first thing you should explain in your design brief, is a bit about your business and the sector that you work in.

Try to answer the following three questions:

  • What do you sell / how do you make your money?
  • How do customers currently buy from your business?
  • What makes your business unique within the marketplace?

Any form of design project relies on all parties having a clear understanding of the business they’re working with, and the sector they’re working in.

The more you can offer in the first instance, the better.

What Are Your Goals and Why?

Your company didn’t just decide it needed to rebrand or build a new website out of the blue.

There’s always a driving factor.

Perhaps your website isn’t mobile friendly, or the brand has moved in a new direction, and your identity needs updated to reflect that.

It’s great that a decision has been made, but let your agency know why.

Then, get clear on your goals.

Your goal for a branding project, could simply be something like:

“We need a new brand identity to help us stand out from the noise. The market place we operate in, is crowded. Therefore, differentiate matters. Our space is saturated with boring brands, we want to make a difference with the way we look.”

The goal here is differentiation. Simple enough.

A website project goal could be even more basic:

“Our website doesn’t sell enough project. We want to know why, and then make the necessary adjustments to make it convert more of our visitors into buyers.”

Easy.

Having a goal gives your agency something to work towards. It also gives you something to measure against!

What Does Your Target Audience Look Like?

One of the most important things to include when you write your design brief, is a section about your target audience.

Here’s the deal:

Design is often use to solve problems for your customers, as well as your business.

Think about this:

Your website isn’t converting visitors into customers. Sure, that’s a problem for you, but realistically, it’s because your website isn’t working for your customers.

So more often than not, a design agency is responsible for designing for customers, to help solve problems for your company.

Therefore, it’s important that they know what your target audience looks like.

We’ve got a great post here about creating customer personas.

Essentially, you want to outline their demographic traits and psychographic characteristics.

You can do this by asking insightful questions about your existing customers.

Take your ideal customer, and build your persona around them.

On top of thinking about demographics and psychographics, I love asking the following questions:

  • What does their family structure look like?
  • What type of car they drive?
  • Are they a pet owner?
  • What newspaper/magazines do they read?
  • Which websites do they visit? And for what purpose?

I often find simple questions like this help a lot more when creating design work, than the demographic information and psychographic traits.

Knowing what websites customers visit, can help inform you about the design styles that appeal to them, what type of content they like.

Customer personas should take up quite a chunk of your design brief. Make sure you include 2 or 3 examples!

What Are The Project Specifications?

Project specifications are tricky to outline in a design brief, because more often that not, it’s beneficial to have your design agency make recommendations, rather than adding restrictions from the outset.

However, there are always some things to consider.

Let’s look at website redesign project as an example:

  • What is your current website built with? Are you happy with it?
  • Do you use tools to measure statistics and conversions? Can you share these?
  • Are there any key pages that drive traffic and conversions?
  • Is there a brand guideline that would help with redesigning the site?
  • Where is the website hosted? Will it stay there?

Your project specification doesn’t need to super technical.

But if you have specific requirements, it’s best to get them listed out now.

Remember though, you’re going to your agency for their talent and recommendations. So don’t be completely closed off to changing things!

What Will Make The Project a Success?

This ties really nicely into your project goals.

What are the things that will deem this project successful?

If you’re going to judge the success or failure of a project, it’s only fair to let the agency you work with know what the criteria are.

For example:

If you’re hoping to 10x your sales, you need to include this in the design brief.

Why?

Because it’ll change how the agency approaches your project from the outset.

Rather than spending time on creating pixel perfect website designs, they’ll be running quick tests for conversions, and designing around the results.

Having a set of “success factors” can really help all parties.

It ensures everyone knows what their responsibilities are, and will help to create the project plan.

What Your Budget For This Project?

Ah, project budgets. Everyone loves to talk about money, but nobody ever wants to show their hand first.

Thankfully, we have an article about project budgets, and why it’s important to share your budget with your design agency.

Think about this:

Design agencies get approached a lot for work.

Amongst the requests for work, there’s often a lot of rubbish, some half-decent leads, and sometimes, a real diamond in the rough.

You want to be that diamond!

Now, telling us your project budget isn’t the only way to do this. But yet again, it’s another thing that goes towards building trust and transparency from the outset.

Nobody wants their time wasted.

Picture this:

You have a 30 minute to 1 hour call with a design agency. And then you send the brief. With no budget information.

Your agency reads through it, and comes back with a proposal.

It’s 5 times over what you thought you’d be paying. You’ve lost an hour of your time, the agency has also lost a significant chunk of time by writing out the proposal.

By being clear with your budget early on, you can make sure everyone is on the same page right from the get go.

Now, you don’t need to list the budget to the penny. But just giving some indication of what you’re working with goes a long way!

If you’re really unsure on how much certain things cost, we have some great posts about pricing that are listed out below.

I hope that helps!

What Sort of Timescale Are You Working With?

This question often helps agencies decide whether they can be involved with your project or not.

If you’re looking for a rapid turnaround time, and the agencies you reach out to have a lot of work on, they might decline the offer to work together.

“ASAP” is not an acceptable answer when talking about timescales either. There needs to be a reasonable level of understanding here, things don’t just happen overnight.

As a rough guide, here’s what we tell people at Canny:

Branding Project Timescales

Branding projects can take anywhere between 4 and 12 weeks. It really depends on their complexity.

If you’re looking at a brand identity project, with limited visual assets to be created, you’ll be down near the 4 week mark.

However, if you’re looking to overhaul your brand strategy, create new visual assets, brand guidelines, and roll it out to a large organisation, you’ll be looking towards the top end of that timescale.

Website Project Timescales

With website design projects, things do tend to take a little longer. 6 weeks as a minimum, up to 16 weeks for large eCommerce projects.

Timescales should really be put in place by you design agency when you decide to move forward.

One thing I always ask our new clients is:

“Is there an event/product launch/something else we can work towards with the project?” And that always immediately helps get some initial plans in place.

Try to avoid reaching out to design agencies at the last minute. The earlier you can pitch them in on your plans the better!

Who Is The Lead Contact For The Project?

There’s nothing more frustrating than “design by committee.” However, it does happen, and it can be managed.

But there always need to be a lead point of contact in a design project.

One voice of reason that can be used to add balance to the discussions, and go between both the agency and the company.

Clearly listing out the contact details of the project contact, as well as the best time and way to get hold of them will make things run a lot smoother.

The design agency should also do their part here and once the project kicks off, they’ll assign a member of staff (usually an Account Manager) to handle their side of the communication.

It’s Time to Reach Out

Now that you’ve learned how to write a design brief, it’s time to start the reaching out process.

We’ve already linked you to a great article about choosing the best design agency for your project.

So, it’s time to get the process started!

Conclusion: How to Write a Design Brief

The design brief is a tool to be used when building your design project.

Quite often, it’ll be added to, or modified. And that’s exactly how it should be used!

You’ll get ideas as you go, things will change, goals will become easily reachable or be put of reach. Or your focus might change altogether.

Your design brief should be used to reach out to agencies, and referred back to at key milestones within the project. But it isn’t written in stone. More, wet sand.

It’s a great initial document to have, but it should grow with your project.

What do you think? How did you find writing your design brief? Let us know in the comments below.

Tony Hardy is the Founder and CEO of Canny Creative. He is a graphic designer, web designer, brand consultant, blogger, Newcastle based entrepreneur, drummer, and wrestling fan.

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