Making the Most of Your Creative Brief

by Catriona Crombie and Roger Hart/Blue Marlin Brand Design

Creativity is what makes designers tick. The development of creative work from concept through to finished product is wherein lies the fun, the challenge, in fact, the whole point of being a designer.

That’s a given. Some designers believe they work better unfettered by the strictures of a client brief. In fact, the opposite is true: The best way to free designers to be at their most creative is to make sure they understand the parameters in which they are working. Counterintuitively, the best way to liberate creative people is to give them a robust brief.

And it doesn’t matter how large or small the project, whether it’s a tweak or a wholesale brand reinvention. The most influential aspect is the client’s brief because the preparation that goes into drawing up a good brief is fundamental to commissioning great creative work.

Getting the best out of a client/agency relationship isn’t rocket science; it’s largely a matter of preparation and organization: helping clients to issue clear briefs and making sure that they keep you informed.

The better the brief, the better the result; a well thought through, a clearly expressed brief with a clearly defined goal will enable you to produce focused creative work. A woolly brief—or worse, one that keeps changing during the process of creating and researching design work—will aggravate and ultimately demotivate your staff. If your client doesn’t know exactly what they’re looking for, how will they be able to judge what you produce? And how will you be able to judge how you’ve done?

Allowing your agency to go through the process of developing a design solution without concrete direction is wearing and costly for both sides of the relationship. You need to understand your client’s business, commercial objectives, brands, consumers and motivations. A good brief can tell you all that. And more: it will inspire you to produce your very best work.

A combination of verbal and written briefing is ideal. Clients and agencies frequently blame time pressures as the main reason for inadequate briefs, but working without a formal written brief to save time is a false economy that leads to too much reworking and readjusting of work. Ultimately, it takes longer and its costs clients more, which no one wants in this economy.

A good brief is not the longest or most detailed; it’s the one with clarity and focus. Good briefs leave the recipients with a clear understanding of what they are trying to achieve. Bad briefs contain contradictory information and objectives. The more misleading the brief, the longer it will take to work out what really needs to be done.

Sometimes thoughtful and well-researched briefs are issued, but on further investigation it transpires that they are attempting to address the wrong thing. We’ve had instances of brands being included in a range redesign that just don’t sit comfortably in the portfolio, where the issue is really one of portfolio architecture and not the redesign we were originally briefed to do.

Good briefs leave the recipients with a clear understanding of what they are trying to achieve.

Illustration by Jason Bacher

Quick Tips
1. Once you’ve finished writing the creative brief, send it to your client for approval, it’s important that the client agrees with your interpretation.

2. Constantly refer back to your brief during and after each stage of your design process to ensure that you are staying within it’s parameters.

3. Avoid subjectivity, ask the client to relate their feedback back to the initial creative brief.
Deliver all of the clients feedback to your creative team at once, slow feedback could result in an even slower outcome.

4. When clients push back asking for new concepts or execution, refer to your creative brief to keep everyone in alignment and focused on the initial project.

5. A good brief allows the project to change hands during any stage of the process and still maintain a continuous vision of the end goal.

Dig Deeper!
1. Get a leg up and kill time during your morning commute, get Emily Cohen’s audio perspective on Linking Business Objectives to Creative Strategies.

2. To get more tips on design management and how to write a better brief, pick up a copy of Creating the Perfect Design Brief: How to Manage Design for Strategic Advantage by Peter L. Phillips