A creative brief is a document that helps clarify the expectations between you, the designer, and your “clients.” Your clients could be anyone from an editor at a magazine, to a small-business owner. Whoever you are delivering the final product to is your “client.”
A creative brief lists all of the information that you should need to get started designing. It serves as the documentation for the project’s objectives and how you’re going to achieve success — the “what” and “how”, essentially. A well-crafted and well-executed brief will also discuss why the work is necessary. Is the client rebranding? Are they launching a new product, campaign, or fundraising drive? The brief should have a summary of why this project was started.
Some clients you do work for may not provide you with a creative brief. Sometimes, it can be like pulling teeth just to get all of the information you should need to create your designs for the project. But even if your clients don’t provide you with a creative brief, you should ask as many questions as possible to get all of the information you need and put a brief together yourself. It will be a valuable reference tool in your projects.
In the fast-moving, deadline-driven world of journalism, you may not have too much time to spend on a brief. But you can still operate within visual style guidelines, which is similar to working within the parameters of a creative brief.
Ask A Lot of Questions
Before you start working on any design project, you have to do your research. At the very beginning of a project in a professional environment, there will often be an initial meeting between some or all of the stakeholders. Sometimes, this is called the Kickoff and it could be a conference phone call, a video chat, an in-person gathering, or even a chat over lunch or coffee. Most importantly, this meeting could be the only chance you have to directly ask questions and, more or less, “interview” your client about what they envision for the project. They are busy people and may not have time to dedicate to just you besides this one meeting. It is crucial that you get enough descriptive information about the project during this meeting.
When it comes to developing visuals from just a concept or an idea, you shouldn’t just get the hard facts (the budget, the deadline, the file formats, etc.). Try and dig deep. Ask open-ended questions like, “Who is this really for?” “Can you describe your overall message?” “What emotions are you trying to spark in your audience?” or “What do you want people to do after they read/watch this piece of media?”
You should ask as many probing questions as you feel like you need to get to the heart of what the project is about. Get the client to come up with 5-6 words to describe a project’s tone. These will be your Tone Words. These are the words and phrases that should come to mind when someone looks at the final product. They will give you more insight into what the project deliverables should “feel” like and what is visually appropriate for the project. Ask if they can share any design assets—logos, stock images, marketing copy, video clips—or background information that may be useful.
You gather all of this information not only so you can do the best work, but by doing all of this preparation the client knows that you do your homework and actually care about creating something that works for them. Their confidence and trust in you will increase. Remember: Reliable and trustworthy designers get hired.
When it comes to putting together the final brief you don’t want to put so much detail into it that it becomes a massive, multi-page document. Make it informative and useful, but digestible and easy to find the information you need. Take a lot of notes when you are in your initial meetings about the project and edit them down to 2 pages. That should be enough to hold all of the information you need to reference for the project.
It’s also important to note that a project shouldn’t start until both you and your client have discussed and agreed on everything outlined in the brief. So if you have to put one together yourself, send it to the client and get them to sign off on it before you begin working on the project.
What Information Goes in a Creative Brief?
1. Description of the client or company
Provides context and background information on the company to help the designer get a better understanding of the business. Who are you and what services and/or products do you offer? May include links to company websites and any other background material that might be helpful.
2. Summarize the project
What is the project? And why is it needed? Do they need a corporate identity kit for their new company? Are you refreshing your company’s Facebook and Twitter pages for a new season? Describe what the project is, what it entails, and why you’re doing it.
3. Explain your objectives
This is probably the most important part of the brief, and it’s essential that you learn as much as you can about the strategy and objectives behind the project before you get the project underway. Why do they need this project? What are they hoping to achieve with it? What are their goals? Is there a problem they’re trying to solve? How will they measure success? These details will help you understand the project goals and come up with solutions that address them.
4. Define your target audience
Who’s the audience? Who are you trying to reach with this project or campaign? Demographic information about the intended audience can be helpful here.
5. Outline the deliverables you need
Do you need a one-page brochure? A batch of 10 banner ads? A logo for print, just for the web, or for both? Be sure to include the file formats you need (i.e., JPG, PNG, PSD), size information (i.e., 300×250 pixels), and any other important details needed to deliver the right assets.
6. Include details on the tone, message, and style
The style and tone should be consistent with the brand and will also hinge on what the project is, what you’re trying to achieve, and what action the client wants their audience to take.
8. Provide the timing
If there is a timeline for your project, include it in the brief. During your kickoff meeting or initial conversations, make sure to discuss the timeline and agree upon a completion date. It’s also a good idea to talk about the overall creative process and discuss rounds of feedback/edits and how many rounds of them may be necessary.
9. Specify your budget
If there is a set budget for the project (which is often the case), it will be included in the brief. Talk it over and agree upon realistic expectations, deliverables, and project costs before getting started.
10. List the key stakeholders
If other people on your team or within your organization need to be included in the review process, provide their contact information. You can also include how you’d like to receive deliverables and provide feedback.