5 Steps to a Better Design Brief

Crowded Elevator with Crystal by Daniel Greene
If you look around you I’m sure you can find plenty of great advice on how to write a good design brief. Therefore I will assume that most of you would know what they are and how to do so. However I have found that such advice are often “cookie cutter” at best, and may not necessary help you get your design job done right. However if you want a better and tighter brief, these 5 steps might just help you turn your design into a great one!
1) Create an “elevator pitch”
Top on the list of things to have is an “elevator pitch” in your design brief. Essentially it is a short blurb that describes what your brief or design effort is all about. Adapted from my experiences with entrepreneurs, I found that entrepreneurs often use an “elevator pitch” to communicate or sell their business idea to someone else in a quick and concise way. Therefore, I see a lot of value for design managers to use an “elevator pitch” as a means to communicate the essence or gist of the brief to everyone, including members of the design team or even back to the client.
2) Build a hierarchy of needs
The next thing to do after diligently taking down all your business partner’s requirements is to prioritized them within a “hierarchy of needs”. A good design is one that fulfills the requirements of a brief, however it is impossible for a design to fulfill all the requirements of the brief equally. Thus a hierarchy of needs is important to ensure you will create a design that has focus.
It might sound like compromise, but it is not. It is about laying out the facts and managing expectations, so that your client is fully aware what he/she will be getting at the end of the day. For example, if cost pressures are a factor, you should not be creating a design with expensive materials, or embossing on letterheads.
3) Key benefits to be communicated in the design
These days, designs should not only be about making an object look good but also part of a meaningful brand language or a holistic business strategy. Therefore Designs have to communicate its intent, its benefits, and also resonate with the consumer. Lots to do! Therefore you should identify, with your colleague, client or business partner, the key benefits that need to be communicated in a design so that it can be a success in a competitive marketplace. Try to minimize the number of benefits as much as possible. Even better, keep it to just the most important benefit.
4) What is the big picture and how is the design part of it?
Any Design (product, graphic, interaction etc.) will be always part of a bigger story. It could be part of a family of products, or a range of similar products differentiated by specifications, or even just a simple accessory. At the end of the day, a successful product solution has to not only beat the competition but also play well with its friends. Therefore it is always a good idea to not create designs that will cannibalize the sales of existing products.
5) How are you going to make this thing?
Most of us designers, in any discipline, usually know how to get things made. It’s part of our training. However, the choice of our manufacturing or creation process often comes after we decide what we want the product to be. While this is great for genre breaking design work, the people who pay the bills may not be similarly inclined. So it is good to find out upfront what sort of manufacturing constraints, product part cost targets, or manufacturing strategies that should be considered during the design process. Once you identify the constraints, you should do what any decent designer would, ignore it! But seriously, it is good to bring realism into the discussion early in the game.
Well I hope you enjoyed this post, and perhaps if you might have more suggestions to add. If so, I do look forward to reading your comments below.

  • Mundir

    November 21, 2009 at 2:06 pm Reply

    Good list, made a note of them. I always end up thinking I should have done better after each brief. Keep the good stuff coming. You’ve given me a good reason to bookmark you!

  • mandar

    November 20, 2009 at 1:22 am Reply

    i love this article & i am going to follow this rules in my architect visualize filed ! so thangs

  • Michael

    October 13, 2009 at 8:40 pm Reply

    Good points, I think this is a good list of what goes in a design brief. My perspective is from the consultant side, where we sometimes receive brief and sometimes need to write them ourselves. That said, an important detail for *how to write the brief is about the amount of information provided. The best way I can describe it is “not too much, not too little.” This empowers designers to think broadly but gives them boundaries so that they know when they’re breaking rules. It is more of an art than a science, unfortunately, and I think practice is the best method for getting good at this detail.

  • Mahmudur Rahman

    October 3, 2009 at 10:04 pm Reply

    All five steps rally help designer to improve , thanks for shearing this article.

  • web page designer

    September 5, 2009 at 3:46 am Reply

    The elevator pitch is a great idea. Designers sometimes tend to over think things, and have all sorts of ways of describing exactly what they were trying to portray, so bringing it down to a shot “elevator pitch”, would probably help when trying to actually sell the idea. Thanks for the thought!

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