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A graphic designer's worst enemy: An inadequate design brief

2017-06-05

By: Cyril D'Souza

Imagine you are ordering a tuxedo. You call up the tailor and tell him to "design a tux for a medium-build, six-foot-tall person." Now that doesn't sound very informative, does it? Imagine how the tux will turn out. Then you will probably blame the tailor for poor quality work. In his defense, he did not have a lot to work with in the first place.

That is exactly how a graphic designer feels when you present him with an inadequate design brief. Considering two parties who have not worked together before, a functioning design and appealing business branding cannot be achieved if you simply coordinate over the telephone. Whether it is a tuxedo or graphic design, without detailed instructions, the final output is bound to be below par.

Related: 9 ways marketers & designers can collaborate better

In terms of web design, we call this set of instructions a design brief. Let's discuss the defining factors of a well put-together design brief.

1. Company introduction & description

A well-rounded graphic designer will always look into the company's background before starting any design work. The audience you are pitching to, whether of B2C or B2B nature, will always matter, and it makes a difference in the type of branding and design you create. Hearing the company's background is necessary for the designer to understand the company profile, customer profile, and corporate culture they're designing for.

Here's a template to help you put together an introduction to your company's brand.

2. Objectives/aims for the project

Sometimes the design objectives can be quite clear, such as in the case of designing business cards or a corporate logo. Almost all designers will understand the significance of those. However, sometimes branding or rebranding is done for a specific purpose, such as to increase leads through better visual stimulation, to increase social media following, to reinforce brand identity through a more assertive logo design, and so on. Don't leave your designer in the dark about these aims, because they should work on your project with a clear business goal in mind.

3. Your design budget

One of the most critical elements is the client's budget. If you have a modest budget but want an extravagant logo or extra design items, then you are asking for trouble. Companies that know their limitations usually end up with a decent brand style compared to companies who overstretch and end up with a half-baked brand style. Similarly, if this budget is communicated early, the designer will know exactly how much to allocate to each part and have a clearer idea of how many concepts and revisions to offer. Trust me, this will avoid a lot of hassle later on.

4. Timeline

Time is another one of those aforementioned critical elements. As a designer, you must make sure the client includes the timeline for the required project—with objectives at proper intervals—so both parties are on the same page. A designer is working with his own mindset, and it is the client's responsibility to provide him with the relevant details, especially time. To avoid later headaches, check in with the designer along the way to evaluate whether the project is keeping pace or needs to be extended.

5. Detailed expectations

"Design a website for me, and make sure it looks good."

Was that very helpful? Let's try again.

"Design an informative website to showcase my product catalogue, and add sliders so my website looks beautiful."

The latter brief is slightly better... but still missing loads of details.

For instance, it is your job to let your designer know how many pages are going to be in your website and to have the supporting content to fill them. Let your designer know what framework the website will be used on; a few common examples are Wordpress, Drupal, Magento and Opencart. Finally, explain the function of the website. If you want an e-commerce website, you must provide the requirement of a "shopping cart" in your brief. A website might look aesthetically pleasing but lack basic functions if you aren't explicit about your expectations.

6. Design/style guidelines

Many companies have a design style that is consistent throughout their branding. This style is visible in the color scheme, imagery and other design elements. We know that brand consistency is important and adds value to your bottom line, so it really does matter.

If a client fails to provide this information to the designer, there will be major differences of opinions over the final product. For instance, as a designer, you might implement a trendy creative theme that looks great (let's say, steampunk), but the client wanted a sleek corporate vibe. It falls upon the client to get this information into the design brief.

Here's a template to help you put together an introduction to your company's style guidelines.

Pinpoint the pain points

Sometimes a designer can create something wonderful, but there might be just one thing in it that the client hates. It could be a problem with the layout or anything else. The point is, it's important to pinpoint these items and define boundaries so the designer doesn't have to keep guessing. It's much quicker to isolate what isn't working and refine it than to start all over from the beginning because feedback was vague.

Responsibility is not unilateral

As mentioned above, if the client wants a seamless design process with minimum delay, they should follow these guidelines for a comprehensive design brief. However, the responsibility falls to both parties to ensure that every aspect is accounted for. If the client fails to provide something, the designer can ask for it before heading in the wrong direction.

The bottom line

Graphic designers need an instructional and informative design brief to be able to execute the client's project to its full potential. If any of these elements are missing or incomplete, then your design project could take a massive blow. Similarly, from the business's point of view, a failed execution means you'll need to work harder to repair the damage to your brand identity. A successful design execution means that your corporate logo, business branding or social media channels will prosper.

Bonus: Inspirational quotes for graphic designers

Need a giggle? Did a client just ask you for "one more change"? Set down your stylus, pop in those EarPods, and enjoy a couple minutes of power quotes for graphic designers that will fill your empty Helvetica-loving soul... for today, at least.

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Creative brief templates + bonus client onboarding checklist

Creative briefs align your copywriters, designers, strategists and clients to ensure the project achieves its goals and help your creative team to work more efficiently.

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Cyril D'Souza

Post contributed by Cyril D'Souza.

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