The Design Brief

pencil drawn logo

This article is intended only as a guide into how I go about creating my graphic design briefs, not all will be the same mind you this is not set in stone, some clients will need more in depth analysis, others will be a quick 2 minute chat. I’ve recently read that the deign brief is something written by the client and handed to the designer so that they may begin the work. I don’t think for one second it’s as simple as that. I’ll now try to explain what the elements to a good design brief are and why they are important.


So first up, name of the company, what you do and who you do it for.

Now it seems obvious the name bit doesn’t it? Well I can tell you that on more than one occasion I’ve gone into a meeting where there has been no clear name (one wasn’t sure they were going to have a name, merely a description implying a name, they were the worst type of hippy I can tell you, a capitalist hippy. I can still smell the designer incense). Now I am more than able to help narrow it down, offer advice on why certain words may work better than others but really if you are wanting to sort your design out then your own business plan should be complete. Working organically like this is only going to draw out the experience and cost you money.


The what you do and who you do it for, possibly the most important part. This is the part that has to match your brand ideas. It’s no good aiming to be a footballer’s wag but dressing like a Sunday school teacher and talking about the social economic crisis. Works the opposite way, no good wanting to impress the head of multi national corporations and dressing like a school girl, no, wait, maybe, well you get the idea.


Now, this can now go one of a few ways depending on the meeting. I try to get as much of the design side of things out first, this starts my brain thinking as we talk about the articles involved in the project. So the branding.


Now this is not just the logo. A logo is a symbol, the brand is the philosophy behind the symbol. This is where we discuss colours, fonts, images, styles etc. During a meeting I’ll ask for a few keywords, generic to begin with and as we discuss the merits and meaning behind each they’ll become more tailored to the project or be rejected as they don’t fit the brand/direction of marketing. This is the difficult bit. If the client has seen something somewhere that someone has done and been instantly in love with it then well done to that company and their designer, if said client was the target for the something then score them. However, if client is looking to promote to a group that they wouldn’t necessarily belong to themselves then you can see where the problem lies. Now, sometimes this something has such an effect that the bond is that of a mother and new born baby (you know, before the sleepless nights and projectile liquid explosions). severing this bond needs tact and skill. Or sometimes a quick gloss over and show an option of why it wouldn’t work at the concept stage. I feel I’m close to giving away some secrets that I may be expelled from the graphic designers circle if I say more so I shall leave it there. (ask me about the ever expanding logo one time tho and I’ll let you in on that one).


So, keywords down and onto colours. A quick chat about colours usually goes smoothly as I feel most people whether they realise or not have a good grasp on colour theory from all the constant bombardment of it from magazines, the web etc. The only real topic is tone and vibrance, but that all comes out in the wash.


Font requirements are usually pretty straight forward (in style rather than actually picking the fonts), although for web design now the world is indeed your oyster, gone are the days of a choice of 10 or image replacement.


Imagery, photos and graphics all come under style for me. Again this is attached to the keywords, photographic being one of them. When I think about style and the keywords associated with them it’s at this point I usually ask about the client’s competitors. Who they are, what they do, how they do it… We’ll examine their work, discuss likes and dislikes, sometimes this helps with the bond severing i mentioned earlier. Dislikes i find are really the most useful. Knowing what you absolutely cannot put into a project is a lot more streamlining that the cans. Saves time, effort and brain power.


So far we’ve chatted about who, why and how we are going to fulfil this project, the next step is the what. This is a list of all the wants and needs that are to come out of this project. From full design of logo, stock imagery, stationery, the graphic design shebang with added responsive website design and monthly newsletters. Whatever is required either now or in the future gets a mention now. Future proof the design process by covering all eventualities now. Now, I’m not going to ask what budget you have. I think it’s counter productive. I don’t want you to think I’m going to now quote you a figure that is based on your willingness to spend. No, what I do is take all the info and break the estimates into packages based on how long I think everything will take. So top end package will cover everything and last a few months, starter package will be the basics but will be set so that the rest can be completed with minimal fuss at a later date. Now I’m sure not everyone does it this way. I reckon I’m not far off on my own here. But my way serves me well, and might I add my clients. It’s like a try before you buy, but you get the tools to take to someone else if the working situation doesn’t quite pan out for what ever reason. I’d rather part ways knowing that you’ve got a good arsenal of graphic work to take somewhere else and are happy, rather than feel you’re stuck in a project that’s costing you money and patience with a pleb who drinks more coffee than should be legal, not that I am a pleb.


Before I sign off and say I hope that something here that you’ve read has in some way been of help there is one more point to add. It’s an important one. Deadlines. I absolutely love working to deadlines, tight deadlines especially. When it feels like the pressure is one things start happening and projects get moving. So when setting up a project think about whether you’d like weekly meetings/emails, however you’d like to be updated. I think it works well for both parties if we both know where we are at at any given time. Though bearing in mind that the print process takes time (although lithographic print has come a long way since I started back in 2003 in terms of quality, pricing and turnaround time) setting realistic targets for completion is something that requires careful consideration.


Of course you may be just looking for someone to update a flyer based on your current brand guidelines, body copy and images. In which case that would render most of this process useless, but I can do that.


Cheers and thanks for reading.