Design Brief 101: How to Brief with Success

“A deadline and a dream”, two essential components of the ideal brief —Maira Kalman, Illustrator

April 27th, 2020

Here’s a confession for you: I’ve been working in the field of graphic design since the early 2000s, and for many of those years, I didn’t ask clients for a design brief. (Scandalous, right?) I simply asked my clients a bunch of questions and then did my best to produce what I assumed was being asked of me. The end result was decent enough; but the process, well, it left much to be desired on both ends. It’s all too easy to skip the design brief, but it’s kind of like not doing a warm-up before that big workout—you’re gonna regret it later!

WHAT IS A DESIGN BRIEF?

Simply put, a design brief is a document developed by the client and designer (or agency) that explains what the client wants and needs.

More specifically, this includes the general scope of the project, timeframe, deliverables (what the designer is producing for the client), and the budget.

When an agency receives a solid design brief they get a much better sense of the project-at-hand. It enables them to not only evaluate the workload, but also to get excited about that client’s particular design challenge.

WHY DO YOU NEED A DESIGN BRIEF?

If you are like many entrepreneurs in the wellness sector or just starting your own venture, you will most likely be the one to develop the brief.

Mastering the design brief doesn’t only improve your ability to select the best talent for your design needs, it’s also important for your bottomline. Without a design brief, it’s challenging for any agency to send you an accurate proposal. The better you are at writing those briefs, the more time and money you will save! Win-win, right?

Flash forward a decade later…I now consider myself to be a seasoned creative professional who values her time and that of her clients. This is why I cannot emphasize enough how critical a well-drafted design brief is when it comes to successfully executing a project on-time, within budget, and with expectations met on both sides.

The Design Brief Breakdown

Let’s take a look at an example business in the wellness sector to better understand the process.

Amanda is an entrepreneur with aspirations to launch an e-commerce website to sell her essential oils imported from India. She has no visual identity but has some idea of what she wants the brand to be.

In the below example, we will use the Branding Vision Questionnaire from Good Karma Works as a guide. Even though it’s in a website form, it’s an excellent tool we use to extract our clients wants and needs, and ultimately a design brief.

Company name & tagline:

Every good brief starts with the essentials. Your company needs a name that makes it stand out from the crowd.
Don’t have a name yet? Consider hiring a professional for Brand Naming.

A tagline is optional. Taglines are catchphrases you want associated with your brand. Some businesses opt to display the tagline with the logo.

Amanda has chosen ‘Shakti Oils’ for her company name. Shakti is her favorite Sanskrit word, a language from India.

She has chosen ‘100% Crafted from Nature’ as her tagline to communicate that her product is natural and organic. She wants a version of her logo with and without the tagline.

Description of your business:

The description of your business should be as detailed as you can stand to make it. If you already wrote a business plan this part can be primarily copy-paste.

Amanda’s description starts like this: Shakti Oils is a Fair Trade company that provides its customers with pure, organic essential oils from India. We only work with transparent and ethical providers, assuring our products represent our company values…

Adjectives to describe your future brand.

What descriptive words come to mind that resonate with you and your potential customers?

These words are key. Your hired designer will use these words as a foundation to build the visual representation of your vision.

Amanda chooses the words: natural, exotic, premium and holistic.

What key message will your brand convey?

When you think about your future brand, what is it saying? (This might even be your tagline).

Your designer will use this message to inform all her design decisions. Think about it as the guiding principle behind the work. It’s crucial that everything has the same tone and feeling.

Amanda decides that Shakti Oils is saying: Heal yourself with all-natural essential oils that not only enhance your own wellbeing, but that support fair trade and local businesses.

What imagery/visual elements come to mind when you think of your brand?

Not all of us are visual thinkers, or good at expressing what we imagine with words. Include a visual reference for your Designer and eliminate potential miscommunication.

Amanda wants to include a variation of the Hindu symbol for Shakti in either her logo or some other brand element.

What color(s) would you like to see in your future brand?

Colors have meanings all on their own. Give your designer a few colors you think represent your brand, but also give them room to find the most appropriate palette for your business.

List any colors that you don’t want to use.

Amanda says she wants to work with a neutral color palette—beige or tan tones—to represent the earth and ‘all-natural’ element of her company. She also wants to add a punch of color. She asks to see a few color palettes.

List at least three websites/social media as inspiration.

If you had to answer just one of these questions (besides your company name), this would be it!

Sharing the brands that inspire you will assist your designer in finding the style that truly captures your company’s essence.

It’s important to state what you LIKE and DISLIKE for each reference.

Amanda sends the following references:

1. wuhaus.com/shop/ Love the color palette but don’t like the typography—It’s hard to read.

2. bethkirby.com/shop Great colors, especially the bright yellow! Cool typography (and underline effect).

3. earthen-shop.com This kind of understated color palette is something I’d like to try. Photography is great; however, the typography is too modern/bold.

And VOILA! Here’s your first design brief.

My advice to any wellness entrepreneur or small business owner is to really dig deep into what you want and need before you hire anyone. On more than one occasion I’ve gone into round four of a logo design revision when the client calls me and says, “So I have this new idea for the logo…”.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do.

I’m simply saying: ponder your project over coffee, do some major brainstorming, research the market you want to enter; workshop it amongst business-savvy friends, or hire a business coach, and then write it all down! Sure, designers are more familiar with the design process, but they are not the experts on your vision—you are.

It’s a big step to brand your wellness business and launch a website to represent that brand. Your design brief may be the difference between getting exactly what you want or falling short.

Our favorite design brief resources:

Milanote is an online tool that will help you make your design brief into a more visual roadmap.

Pinterest is one of the best places to do your visual brainstorming.

Mindmup is a free online tool for mapping out your business’s vision, goals, strategy, and more.

Medium is a popular publishing platform. The 5-minute design brief piece is short, sweet, and to the point.

Shopify has some good information about what goes into a design brief and provides a free downloadable template.

Hongkiat offers some great advice to Freelance Designers on how to help your clients write a comprehensive Design Brief.

About the Author

RACHEL PAPERNICK
A Freelance Graphic and Web Designer with over a decade of design know-how working to help fellow wellness entrepreneurs build their brands and websites. She serves as the Creative Director at Good Karma Works. Before the glasses come on, Rachel is teaching yoga to the early-risers of Barcelona. Other passions include: nut butters, haikus & being outdoors on her bike.

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