How to Write a Good
Design Brief

As designers, we recognize that buying design and innovation services can sometimes be a bit tricky. By nature, the result of the work is unknown, and even if the process is clear before a project starts, there are usually unexpected bumps along the way. However, a solid initial agreement about expectations can substantially smooth out the process. A well written design brief is your first step.

At Veryday, we often sit down with our clients to write or redefine a brief together so the right objectives and expectations are clearly set at the beginning. Collaboration usually leads the way forward faster. In an effort to share some of my experience in this area, I’ve outlined a few key points for clients to think about when briefing a design consultancy about a project.

A design brief is a document that, in condensed form, contains background and key information about a potential design project. It includes an overview of your business and the specific needs and desired outcomes the project sets out to deliver. It also incorporates practical details like timelines, budgets and deliverables. The purpose of a design brief is to frame a business challenge or problem as well as the desired business outcome – rather than prescribe how a challenge should be solved. After all, that’s why you’re turning to a design consultancy in the first place.

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5 key components

Purpose and Scope

The first thing you need to define is the Business Problem or Need Statement. Why is this project required, and what are the key business problems to solve or opportunities to capture? What do we want to get out of it as a business and what’s the solution supposed to solve for target users? A clear Scope is also critical: it’s a distinct statement of what you expect will be covered – and what will not – so project work focuses on the right things.

Background and Context

Give a short Background about your company and the Context of the project. What are the key events that have led up to today’s situation? What’s your company’s Vision and what does your Brand represent? Design work always relates very closely to the brand; it’s a part of building your brand and moving it in the direction you want to go.

Aside from the business problem, the most important question to ask is who are your Target Users and what do you know (or not know) about them? If you’re aware of their unmet needs, what are they? Do you work with an established segmentation model, or certain customer personas or profiles?

Other important facts to include in a brief are Markets and Geography: details like what are the specifics of those markets and where will the solution be provided. Describe the Category of your product or service and the Competitive Situation. Are there any Regulatory Issues or technical or production Requirements and Constraints?

Timeline, Budgets and Deliverables

The brief should include a clear Timeline and a description of any Dependencies with other work streams. Describe critical dates or milestones your project needs to deliver against and if there are specific predefined phases. A visual timeline that outlines these details is often helpful. It’s always greatly appreciated when there’s clarity around Budget and ambition levels. It’s much more likely you’ll receive a relevant project proposal in return if you’ve included what economic frame you have in mind. What do you expect as an output of the entire project and from each phase? It’s good to describe any key expected Deliverables and Outcomes for each project milestone that you’re aware of.

Organization and Success Factors

What’s the structure of the Project Organization? Think about who on your side (the client side) will work on the project, and secure the fact that they really have the time and dedication for the work. Identify which Key Stakeholders need to be engaged for the project to be a success. Are there other critical Success Factors to think about? They could be processes to follow, key people to have on board, or certain Measures or KPIs (key performance indicators) that must be met. It may also be useful to reflect about your organization’s readiness and expectations regarding change or having their perspective challenged. Try to be clear about your experience in this area – it helps a lot. Is design and innovation at the heart of your business or is your company new to working with design methods?

It’s a Relationship

In the end, selecting and briefing a design consultancy is a lot about personal relationships as well. You need to feel good about working together with the individuals on the project team and feel confident about your foundation for collaboration. We recommend that a brief be co-written by the client and the design consultancy as an agreement of what they want to achieve and how it should be managed. This is also a good way to get to know each other and align thoughts and expectations. Finally, it’s wise in a new relationship to avoid assuming things about what the other party knows or does not know. In any new relationship, it’s important to ask as many questions as necessary to ensure that expectations are clear on both sides. Free download of full text article.