How to Write a Design Brief Your Agency Will Love

There is a moment in the life of every company when it’s time to acquire (or change) colours. Maybe you want to refresh your website, create interesting videos for your social media or refresh the logo that looks like something plucked straight from the 80s.

A solid design brief will make it easier to crystallise your goals and communicate with a design agency that will help you achieve them. It will also help the other party better understand your business and see if the project you have in mind is something they can deal with.

What’s a Design Brief Anyway?

From a technical point of view, a design brief is a short document (one page is usually enough) divided into several sections, each containing essential information about your company and the project at hand.

It helps people “from the outside” understand who you are (company, products, clients, competition), what you expect of them (logo, website, more leads) how you want to achieve that (tools, measures, platforms) and what the rules of engagement are (budget, deadlines, technical requirements).

In other words, it’s a compressed project journey as narrated by yourself.

Essential Elements of a Design Brief

There is no one right way to tackle a design brief, but most briefs generally focus on 5-10 sections that cover essential information a design agency needs to get to know your company and understand the nature of your project.

A neatly organised brief will also serve as a solid foundation for any project work that will follow. Here’s a sample breakdown of the questions/sections you could use in your document:

Tell Your Story (Briefly)

In the first part of a design brief, you should focus on describing your company, brand, the project itself and the measures you would like to see used to achieve the project goals. The more information you provide, the better.

1. Introduce the Company

Now, before you jump to copy and paste the usual sales pitch you give your clients (even if it’s a good one), hold on for a moment. What you need is your personal view of the business. Strip the sales talk and simply tell who you are (company name) what you do (products and services), why you do it (mission) and how you do it (strategy and channels).

2. Specify What Needs to Be Done

The second section is a rough layout of the design project that specifies the exact deliverables you’re going to need. For instance, you can be interested in minor refreshments of your business website or… you may need a complete overhaul of your brand’s identity. Do you want to create a new brand from scratch or just rebrand and package your goods anew? Each of these requires a completely different approach, resources and timing so make sure to clearly define the nature and scope of the project.

3. Describe the Expected Outcome

Now that you’ve specified the scope of the project, you should say a word or two about the outcome you expect. After all, pretty colours and fancy design gimmicks are not our ultimate goal here, are they? If you’ve got some data to work with, you can be as specific as “drive 50% more website traffic”, “crank up the number of downloads of a mobile app” or “bolster app retention by 20%”.

Give Some Context

The second part of your design brief should focus on providing an agency with some background knowledge that will come in handy in executing the project. What this means is that an agency should get your take on the market you’re in and the business environment of your company.

4. Introduce Your Clients

Ahh…the elusive buyer persona. Although an agency will eventually conduct their own research about your clients, you should provide some basic details at the very beginning. If your company has a brand strategy in place, this should be a piece of cake as you can use the existing materials. If not, be sure to tell who your clients are (demographics), where they hang out (sales channels, social media), why they buy from you (competitive advantage) and what they say about your company (online reviews should do). It’s also important to mention the target market (UK, Europe, Global) on type of clients (B2B, B2C).

5. Position Your Business Stands Relative to Competition

Take a closer look at the market and your direct competitors. How are you faring compared to others in the niche? How does your brand stack up against what competition has to offer? Are there any elements of their strategy you like? Maybe there’s something they’re doing that’s in contrast with your philosophy?

6. Describe Your Design Preferences

It’s always a good idea to provide the agency with a reference point for the project. Does your company have marketing materials that could be used in the new project? Would you like to see specific colours dominate in the design? Is there a brand guidelines document or a style guide that will be used? Are there websites you find compelling (not necessarily in your industry)? You could also provide links to the websites of your competitors and hint at what you like or dislike about them.

Clarify The Specs

The third part of your design brief should cover technical requirements of your project. Anything that has to do with timing, materials and budget goes in here:

7. Define The Budget

By clearly stating the project budget in your design brief, you’ll make it easier for an agency to assess the feasibility of your idea. It will also help allocate funds to specific elements of the strategy and prevent exceeding them in the long-run. That means no scope creep and better resource management.

8. Be Clear about Timeline and Deadlines

The final element you should include in your brief is a timeline. An agency should know the project start date, deadline and minor milestones along the way. Make sure to allow for any critical deadlines that are vital for executing the project. For example, if your business is yet to go live and you want a business website in place before it happens, leave some headspace for beta testing and adjustments.


Extra Piece of Advice

Not all design briefs are created equal. Some are good and some are plain awful (ask us how we know). If you want yours to belong to the former category, there are a few additional things to keep in mind before you start writing.  

No matter what, avoid ambiguous statements and sales talk in your design brief. As creative professionals, we do have a couple of tricks in our sleeves, but clairvoyance is not one of them.

For instance, Instead of writing, “we sell awesome, innovative headphones that are changing the music industry”, try “we sell bone conduction headphones”. Although it may not sound as exciting as you’d want it to, the design brief is not a sales brochure and should be focused around precise and useful information.

Like any other business document, your brief should also have a proper form. Since it’s really difficult to carve some sense out of mahoosive blocks of text, keep your thoughts and ideas organised in bullets. Better still, use numbered sections as we outlined above. This will give the reader a clear overview of your project and ensure a quicker response to your query.

Do You Really Need a Design Brief?

While it’s technically possible to get a project from point A to point B without a formal plan, a solid design brief will help you fare much better in a number of ways.

Better Communication

At the onset, a design brief is meant to act like a sieve that’ll prescreen the agencies you’ve reached out to. For example, if you set down a very specific timeline for the project, people at the agency will instantly know if they can match it with their schedule.

A design brief can also help overcome that “I don’t know you, you don’t know me” awkwardness when searching for an agency to handle your project.

It provides your prospective partner with a point of reference when you finally meet to discuss the details. They’ll roughly know who you are and what to expect.


No Ambiguity

Once you’ve finally found an agency that matches your expectations, it’s important to make sure everybody knows what to do.

Ambiguity in business is a big no-no, especially when it comes to running design projects. When there are no clear boundaries, the creative impetus can take the project into strange parts, far from its initial premises.

A brief will keep the agency team on track and make sure they always have the original idea in mind. The document will act as an anchor and prevent the dreaded scope creep, project growing uncontrollably in every possible direction.

Once a design brief has served its function, you can use it to mould the project and adapt as events unfold. Maybe you want to tweak the final design? Perhaps the colour palette needs slight adjustments? A design brief will allow you to do that and not lose the original values behind the project.

Ready to write your design brief or still need a helping hand? Either way, we’re happy to chat!

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