How To
10 min read

What You Need to Know to Write a Design Brief

William Ellis
November 20, 2022

What you'll learn

What you'll need

If you have a big design project coming up and are new to design briefs, this guide can help explain what a design brief is and the key elements of creating one. Whether you’re working with a freelance designer or a design agency, you want to give them a design brief that explains what you want. 

Overseeing a project that has a major visual element can be a daunting task. Working with a graphic designer or graphic design team requires spot-on communication to get optimal results. 

This is why one of the most powerful tools at your disposal is the design brief. 

Let’s dive into everything you need to know to create an effective design brief.

What is a design brief?

A design brief, also sometimes referred to as a creative brief, is a document in which you outline your project's goals as they relate to the design. Design briefs are a reference point for every party involved in the design process. When the client has certain wants and needs to be factored into a design project, the design prompt is where they are laid out.

Design briefs can vary in terms of the scope and nature of a project, but the overall goal of a design brief is project management. 

Whether you are working on a graphic design job with a design agency or freelance designer, it can be for many different design projects. Whether it is for an e-commerce website, an advertising campaign, logo design, film or TV production, or even interior design, a design brief is a document in which all agreed-upon parameters and design requirements are laid out and understood by the designer, the client, creative director, project manager, and any other party that is involved.

Here is an example of a design brief template you could use and work from. We’ll get more into each section when we discuss how to write a design brief and the key elements you should include.

design brief template

Image Source

Benefits of when a design brief is done correctly

  • It is written clearly, with all needs and parameters concisely laid out.
  • Eliminates any assumptions with exact specifications.
  • Gets the designer from the “idea” to the actual design faster.     
  • Speeds up the design process and eliminates costs typically accrued during the initial brainstorming phase.
  • Fully lays out the project's scope in terms of goals and budget.

Why do you need to write a design brief?

Above all, a design brief's purpose is to keep everyone involved in the design process organized and aligned with project goals. A good design brief lets the designer know their goals and limits without being too restrictive that they cannot create.

Writing out a design brief helps to keep everybody on the same team. If you do not write a creative brief, it becomes quite easy for rampant miscommunication. When there is miscommunication, it becomes easier for budgets to inflate, deadlines to be missed, and unsatisfactory work to be done. Writing out a design brief encourages all necessary parties to communicate with one another.

How to write a design brief that drives the best designs 

If you want to create a good design brief, you need to clearly state the project's goals. Here are the primary things every design brief needs to end up with a design that catches the eye and makes an impression.

Consider the client 

It is important that you truly know your client. If you are working for a company, then make sure that you know the company's history and background. What sort of things has the company created or done? What designs have they employed in the past that speaks to its history?

Bring out all of the relevant information about your client. Knowing their past is sometimes the best way to build future designs. If you are working with a new client that is not steeped in history, you can help them carve out their new brand. You will need extensive conversations about their goal and stylistic ideals to put those details into the brief.

Consider the target of the design

Who is going to see this design, and under what context? Before putting your design together, you need to know who your target is, like their age, gender, income, personality, and even their personal beliefs. Your client's target demographic needs to be thoroughly considered. By knowing the demographic, you know how best to create a design brief that caters to their needs and wants.

Consider the goal of the design

Are you trying to sell a product or raise awareness for a service? Does your client need to rebrand their business? Do they need a new logo? You need to completely zero in on what the design is supposed to do for the client.

Key elements of a design brief

Now that you have an idea of what goes into creating a good design brief and what considerations you need to make, it's time to learn the key elements that make up a design brief. These elements tend not to vary much depending on the nature of the project, whether you are designing for clothing, advertising, logos, or any other field.

Project background and goals

The beginning of your design brief should give a brief background description of the project. Answer whether or not this project is a recent undertaking or if it is a project that has been long gestating and only now starting to come together. You must be sure to highlight the goals of the project as well.

Perhaps you are revitalizing an older brand, and the required design is integral,  or you are creating the interior of a business or restaurant and have to help establish its identity. These considerations are at the forefront of your design brief and cannot be overstated.

Brand story and style

Before you can design for a brand or client, you need to understand their history, style, and what they want for the future. This means that you need to write out their brand story details in the creative brief. If the brand or client you are working for has prior visuals that tie in with their history, then you can refer to them. If certain visuals are similar to what your client wants, those can also be included.

Above all, you are trying to convey the client's style or “voice” through your design, so ensure they are properly conveyed in the design prompt. 

Audience information and goals

The next thing you need to know is the audience. Who is the design supposed to reach and how? What sort of person is the target demographic that you are trying to appeal to? You need to get in-depth demographic information, especially if you want the final design to be seen by numerous people. Finding ways to appeal to the target demographic can be tricky, so you need as much information as possible.

You not only want age and gender details, but you also want to know how your target demographic shops. You want to know what kind of areas they live in. You want to know their income levels. Knowing how these details correlate to one another and what they tell you about your demographic will make it easier to make design briefs that meet their needs and want.

When you have found your target audience, you need to ensure that it is marked down in the design brief so that everyone understands exactly to whom the design is meant to appeal. Then you must highlight the goals, specifically how you want the design to affect your chosen demographic. What mood does your design put them in? What are you trying to make your demographic feel?

Details about product or service

The next thing your design brief must cover is information about the product, service, or client t that you are creating the brief for. How does the service or product relate to the client and their history? What specifically is the product or service that is being offered? How does it meet the needs and wants of the target demographic?

Taking these things into consideration helps to create parameters that the designer or design team can work with to craft visuals that are in harmony with what is being offered. The more details they have at their disposal, the more they can find what is unique about being offered.

Project deliverables and budget you require from the designer

The final thing that should be on your design brief is the project deliverables guidelines and the timeline and deadline for each deliverable. These guidelines state what specific assets are to be turned in upon completion of the design work. It is essentially a laundry list of everything needed to consider the job.

It is up to you to determine what format the deliverables are in, as well as other factors such as file sizes, file types, and whether or not any design variants are to be considered. This list needs to be meticulous because it is arguably the most stringent guideline that you can have for the creative team.

You need to be reasonable with your timeline, as well as with your budget. You should provide a fair budget for each design task required in the deliverables. This way, both parties understand how much time and money is to be spent on the overall design project. 

Your creative brief could look as simple as this design brief example when you're done.

design brief example

Image Source

Tips for working with design briefs

Don't write too much

There is a reason it is called a design brief and not a design book. Your creative brief should be short, down to one page in most cases. You want to make sure that you write just enough information to give the designer or design team to work with.

However, you want to ensure that you do not make the mistake of giving them too many rules to stick to. You want them to be able to feel as though they have enough creative freedom to be able to put their full talents to use. Stifling your designer is never a good idea, but letting them run completely free can be problematic as well. It is a tight rope that needs to be walked carefully.

Maintain communication

One of the worst things that can sabotage a design project is not communicating enough with all involved parties after the design brief has been created, particularly in the early stages before the project has had a chance to take off. If there are any questions at all, they need to be answered before the project goes full steam ahead.

One of the most important things that must be communicated is ensuring that every party has the necessary log-in information for any programs or websites where work and resources are stored. This keeps the entire creative process transparent and makes it possible for everybody to stay on the same page.

Conclusion on writing a design brief

A good design brief does not merely address the designer's requirements or the client's needs. It is a document that enables proper teamwork among all who have a stake in the project. Now that you know all of the requirements of a good design brief, you are ready to see your entire project through to its fruition.

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