Using the Creative Brief

Design firms use creative briefs to define a project’s direction, formally agree upon the terms and guide creatives toward a finished product that hits the mark. A creative brief is typically a list of questionsoften big-picture inquiries that map out the goals of a given project.

Even if designers don’t use a formal, written creative brief, they’ll often need to ask these types of questions in order for a project to be successful. The written brief ensures that the client and firm are on the same page, so to speak, and acts as backup in case clients lose sight of what they wanted in the first place or express personal objections to resulting work—designers can show them the brief and remind them of the agreed-upon direction.

The key to a creative brief that works, experts say, is allowing for flexibility, because the questions you ask when designing an ad might not be the same as when you’re creating a newsletter, for example. Building an electronic version of the brief that all staff members at your company can keep on their computers will allow you to customize the brief for individual clients.

Some critical questions every creative brief should include:
• What’s the purpose of the project? What are you hoping to achieve?
• Who is the audience for this piece? Describe their demographic and psychographic profiles.
• What’s your core message or unique selling proposition? What’s the single point you want your audience to walk away with?
• How will your audience benefit from what you’re selling?
• Who are your competitors, and how are they representing themselves in the market?
• What are your limitations (budgets, timelines, branding guidelines)?
• When do you need it? How many do you need?

Include specific details in your answers, and have your client sign off on the document before going forward with a project. Revisit the creative brief at various points throughout a project to ensure you’re following your client’s original intentions.

From HOW, December 2002.