Three Tips for the Perfect Design Brief

Written by Matt Lyons

Matt Lyons is a leader in retail design, having worked for nearly twenty years in the business on senior positions. He is passionate about the wide benefits that design can bring to business and publishes about his views on design, innovation and creativity at and on his LinkedIn page.

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Over the years I have worked up hundreds of design briefs with all kinds of project teams. I’ve developed and refined the process I follow for developing design briefs, and I’ve learned a lot in the process. I don’t think I’ve got to perfection yet, but I do have three suggestions that I think will help you get closer to the ‘perfect’ design brief.

1. The ‘Anchor’ Definition

Project briefs can be long and complex and have too much information for most of us to keep in our heads at one time. A memorable, single statement which sums up the project can keep the project from drifting away from the brief. It’s the fundamental ‘what are we really doing here’ question and something to keep the project anchored. I worked once on a project for Boots Opticians where the anchor was ‘let’s make the opticians consultation as fun as a beauty consultation’. This drove a design solution which was much less clinical, improved customer interaction and generated a whole different take on the look and feel of the final design.

2. Let Me Tell You What I Want!

So often clients find it impossible to articulate what it is they want from a project; they’ll talk about the solution rather than the problem, and that can feel really frustrating. Getting to the ‘problem’ is actually quite difficult, and we should let clients describe the issue in any way they choose. Isn’t it part of our role, as designers, to interpret that for the client? It can mean we have to work hard iterating the brief, but ultimately it should be defined in the ‘Response to Brief’, produced by the designers. I find that allowing the client to express themselves in a variety of ways, such as by defining ‘what’s out there’ in the market and why they like it, or ‘what ideas they currently have’, is a great way of getting the ‘solution’ expressed. It then reveals lots of clues that lead to the real problem.

3. Don’t Forget the ‘Boring’ Stuff

Too often design briefs overlook some of the key information that any design project needs to be delivered successfully. Any brief should include details about costs and fees, a breakdown of expected deliverables and a time-plan for the project. Sometimes, with very complicated companies, information about the decision makers and approval rights of key stakeholders is also valuable information to be shared right at the start. Most of the ‘difficult’ projects that I have been involved with over the years, have all come down to a lack of clarity over the fees, what the expectations were for the project or late delivery; rather than anything to do with the creative output. These things might sometimes seem boring, but are essential for harmony in any design project!

Read other great articles in our latest Life in the Retail Space

IKEA goes Green

Ikea Group and Ikea Foundation have pledged €1 billion on renewable energy and climate change policies, particularly in nations and communities most impacted by climate change.

The pledge builds on previously invested €1.5 billion which has been used by Ikea to improve wind and solar power technologies since 2009. This investment coupled with others of Ikea’s green initiatives has resulted in the company being on track to becoming energy independent/ neutral- producing as much energy as it consumes.

The new funding looks to help less well off communities to increase their resilience to climate change and adopt renewable energy technologies and initiatives across the community as a whole.

Further to this, Ikea have announced the opening of four eco friendly stores in India, which will feature solar panels on the store roofs, and in car parks. Ikea’s carbon footprint will also be the focus of development, with partnerships with suppliers utilised to improve energy efficiencies.

Ikea have identified the potential for huge savings, which, in turn, translate into enormous reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, demonstrating the dyadic benefits related to going green within the retail industry.

Read other great articles in our latest Life in the Retail Space

Apple gets a solar powered makeover

To carry on from our white paper regarding green retail (view), information has been released suggesting that Apple is planning on going green itself- opening a new store in Singapore powered using renewable energy.


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Solar power panels will harvest the energy needed to run the store and will be located on not only the roof of the store itself but also on the roofs of some public buildings. Apple has not revealed the exact location or opening date as of yet but we’ll be sure to keep you updated!!

Sainsbury’s check into the convenience game

Sainsbury’s are trialling new store designs in six locations across the UK in response to changing customer needs and shopping styles. 

Among the changes being tested, Sainsbury’s is responding to increased pressures to meet customer expectations by looking to explicitly cater to specific shopping missions. For example, stores will feature Food to Go sections by the checkouts as well as a larger range of checkout options, and a fresh bakery in close proximity, specifically designed for the speedy, convenience conscious shoppers. Sainsbury’s SmartShop app is an example of their new checkout options, allowing customers to scan shopping lists at home, locate their items on a map on their phone and checkout using just an app and handset.

A different layout is also being trialled adding to the ease and speed at which customers will be able to shop and allowing the store to offer more choice in a range of products. Notably, around 30% more space will be dedicated to Tu clothing, kitchen and homeware.

The new stores are being used as a method of engaging customers and creating a conversation between them and the employees. Feedback at this stage is vital to the success of the long term design, allowing Sainsbury’s to capitalise on the more popular features and modify the less popular. It is clear that not everything will work but from a customer’s perspective, it’s nice to see they’re trying!