Be a Better Designer 7: Write your own brief

What are the advantages of writing product briefs or product descriptions? Plenty if you are a designer looking to get your design right!

Recently I was glad to see that Guy Kawasaki had written in his blog that there was no statistical difference in successful companies that started out with or without a business plan in place. He goes on to indicate that:

A great plan won’t make a lousy idea successful, and a lousy plan won’t necessarily stop a great idea. ~Guy Kawasaki

However he continues and I agree with him, that some sort of a plan is still necessary but don’t let it grow into an animal of its own. Or even if I may add let it become your source of “analysis paralysis”.
We can draw many parallels to his insights on business plans in the design world. In particular when design managers sit down and write product briefs and product description or even specification documents.
However I also like to argue, writing product briefs should not only be limited to the design manager and his client. It should also be created when a design manager or lead designer briefs his design team.
I constantly remind my design team that it’s always good practice to sit down after a job briefing, to discuss a design brief with-in the team, and then rewrite the brief for themselves. This re-brief, if you would like, can be a list of key points, list of requirements a design solution has to fulfill or as simple as a “cloud” of keywords all written in your note book or a sheet of paper put in a place that you would not miss it.
From my experience, cultivating this habit of creating mini-briefs has many plus points and they are:

1) Re-enforcing your understanding of your instructions.

Many times your understanding on the requirements of a design problem or project may not be the same as your manager’s. Listing out your requirements, gives you an opportunity to see if there are any holes in your thinking that needs filling, or if your manger had missed a point. I know I often miss out things especially when I am running 4 projects at one time.

2) Creates mental boundaries

I’m a firm believer that design creativity cannot exist in vacuum. Creating a re-brief allows you to put your creative markers on the boundary lines and makes getting the right solution easier and often a lot quicker than if you are just sketching aimlessly.

3) Structures your approach

Creating a re-brief allows you to also formulate your attack plan on how to solve that design problem. This strategy is often vital in creating the right solution or a clever product.

4) Ensures you consider all relevant requirements in your solution

Sometimes I forget to include a vital key point in my design solution, this could be a problem a user has, a manufacturing constraint or even a management like or dislike. Creating a re-brief ensures you cover all your bases.

5) Helps you decided on the best concept solution

Many times we would dig out the re-brief or brief to help pick out the best concept for the client’s approval. Having a re-brief in your pocket makes you a more efficient designer as you would be only showing concepts that makes sense.

In fact these 5 points has a lot of wide ranging applications to non-designers as well. When you are tasked to do something or given a verbal set of instructions, it’s always a good idea to send back an email of your understanding of the job at hand!
Wishing you the best of luck in your design career!

  • Design Translator

    January 31, 2007 at 8:40 pm Reply

    Hi David,
    Actually this is quite true. A brief sets up boundaries, however if it is not liberal enough or wide enough, it could end up limiting rather than facillating the correct design solution.
    Thanks for the great feedback.

  • David Carlson

    January 31, 2007 at 7:54 pm Reply

    At least in Sweden, the lack of knowledge concerning creating good design briefs is, in some concerns, holding back successful and attractive products. I good design brief must have (except for the technological details) a good sense of visionary thinking and knowledge about what is happening in the surrounding world. Unfortunately not all design directors have this kind of mind set…

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