Why a creative brief is one of the most important parts in a designer’s process (incl. free template)

Article from Journal of Design by Daniel See

One of the most underrated and often overlooked parts of a creative process is creating a good creative brief.

For those who are unfamiliar with what a creative brief is, it is a concise document that aggregates and synthesises information relevant to setting the vision and direction for whatever is being designed.

Interestingly, there still seems to be many designers questioning the value of a creative brief, and many have a misconception that it needs to be a lengthy or complex exercise.

I have also observed a misunderstanding in large scale projects that a creative brief becomes redundant or repetitive if there has already been an initial discussion with the client about the project intent and objectives.

The essence of a creative brief is simply to help a designer distill down the problem they are trying to tackle, and provide a clear and agreed framework (between the designer, client and project team) on the boundaries in which to design within.

I often see a designer executing an idea without truly distilling what the problem they are trying to tackle is.

A creative brief will often be created at the outset of the project between a client and the designer (or design team) to agree on the project intent, objectives and areas of consideration. In many creative agencies this process is led by the Account lead or Producer who can help interpret the client requirements for the designer.

In contrast, in larger digital transformational type projects (like we have at Deloitte Digital), a designer may join a project team after an initial strategy and research phase where an overarching project brief has already been set. Even in these circumstances, a creative brief is important as it is an opportunity for a designer and project team to reflect on the information that has already been provided, and synthesis it into relevant information that can inform their design. It also allows the opportunity for the designer to identify any information that might have been missed. This is particularly relevant if the client’s brand and brand aspirations have not been fully explored.

It is critical to the success of any design project that the creative brief process is given enough time and attention to set the foundation and roadmap for a designer. It holds the same value and logic as needing to do upfront strategy and planning before embarking on and building out a project.

Summary of what it is

  • A creative brief is a concise explanation of strategy, goals & intent of project.
  • It provides a designer a blueprint and guide on how to approach the creation of the solution they are about to undertake.
  • It should be a document that is regularly referred during the design process to ensure the solution is aligned with objectives and expectations.
  • A creative brief is an agreed and aligned vision for all parties (Client, Designer & Project team) and should highlight their aspirations for the project.
  • It should summarise what success looks like for the project and how the impact of the solution will be measured.

And what it is not

A creative brief is not a fixed approach. The detail and questions should adapt to what is appropriate for the project. It should be sympathetic to the scale of the project and what will give the designer the best insight into the context and boundaries to work within.

A creative brief is not a set and forget. It should be continually referred to and even adapted through the process. If things change or new elements unearthed that is worth sharing and agreeing on with the designer, project team and client.

What it contains

There are many different perspectives of how a creative brief should be constructed. Generally I have found the most useful areas to document in a creative brief can be summarised in seven areas:

01 Project background

What is the business you are designing for? What is the background, strategic messages? Why is the project being undertaken and why is it necessary? What are the objectives, deliverables, stakeholders and timelines?

02 The brand

What is the brand, personality, tone of voice and characteristics? Are there any existing content, key messages and any existing collateral to leverage? What are the brand guidelines & assets?

03 Target audience

Who are they? Demographic? Where & how will the solution you are designing for be used? What does the target currently think and feel about the brand?

04 Context boundaries

What is the communication channels, accessibility compliance requirements and technology platform considerations?

05 The benchmark

If a current solution exists, what are the likes, dislikes, must haves, and must change? Also review competitors & review other ideas that could inspire the design.

06 Success criteria

How will the solution be measured by the client? What are the success KPIs that you will use to know if you have been successful?

07 Summary design principles

Following the development of the previous six sections, what are the key insights that can be summarised into core design principles? These principles should be continually referred to throughout the production of the design.

Summary

Going through the process of identifying the information required to inform the design, brings to light the areas that need more clarity. The creative brief process helps build a holistic picture of the problem that needs to be solved and provides better context.

The process also aligns the team and client. Involving the client in the creative brief process allows all parties to align with what needs to be achieved and helps avoid any misunderstandings later in the process. It also provides a good reference for anyone who joins the design process. This includes Creative Directors or creative specialists who maybe not consistently across the project.

There are multiple benefits of a creative brief in helping a designer create the right solution. To help you in your next project, sign up for the free template .

I hope you have found this article useful. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions for feedback!

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Article from Journal of Design by Daniel See

Creative Director at Deloitte Digital. Digital notepad on: Design, Innovation, UX, Usability, Brand, Typography, Marketing, Creativity, Art