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!

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