Do you speak design?

Are you ready to hand over your carefully crafted words to a graphic designer to add some creative zing? Want to make sure you get the best results and both enjoy the process?

In this guest article, friend and graphic designer Alex Godfrey from Fusebox Design explains how to prepare a design brief that will speak volumes.

design brief illo

Why you need a design brief

Creative freedom is all very well but trying to design a product for someone who has given you no instructions is not as much fun as it sounds. It’s like trying to walk in the dark with a deadline and very little to orientate you.

A design brief (or a creative brief) is a strategic planning document that spells out the project’s background, requirements and expectations for the design job. It gets the conversational ball rolling between you and your designer.

The brief gives you a chance to be totally clear on key communication objectives for the job—for example, your audience and primary message—before you engage a designer.

What to put in your design brief

The brief should outline the ‘who, what, where and why’ of the job: the logistics. Useful information includes:

  • Title—Let’s all refer to it as the same thing.
  • Background of the project—Why is it being done? Are there multiple stakeholders?
  • Target audience—Who are we communicating with? Any market insights or research available?
  • Objectives—What are we trying to do? How will success be measured?
  • Primary message—What is the single thing your audience should remember?
  • Format—Are we producing a printed or online product (or both)?
  • Required elements—What must be included (e.g. logos, corporate colours, address, phone number)?
  • Text and images—What text has to be included and are there any photos, diagrams or other visual elements that can be used?
  • Related work—Are there any other related products or communications activities that need to be taken into account?
  • Deliverables—What will the designer hand over to you at the end of the project?
  • Timeline—When is the job to be finished? Any crucial milestones?
  • Budget—How much can be spent to get this job completed?
  • Approvals—What’s the process?
  • Examples—What do you like or dislike?
How your designer uses the brief

Your designer is looking to build a picture of the job in their mind. The brief goes a long way to develop their understanding of what you expect at the outset. It can also give your designer insights into areas you may not have considered, and they may be able to add value to fill those gaps.

Make sure you leave room for your designer to bring their creative skills and expertise to the table—that’s what you’re engaging them for after all. This means being mindful not to be so prescriptive in your instructions and specifications that your designer has no room to move. Don’t feel pressured to take on the designer’s role for them. For example, the brief does not necessarily have to spell out details like colours, fonts and photo cropping.

A good brief helps us all avoid is a situation where the designer or client is surprised by a significant change of scope or direction mid-stream. Having to add an unexpected function to a website, or being surprised that multiple changes have added to the cost, can create problems. The role of the brief is to reduce the likelihood of such surprises occurring. It’s essentially about good management and clear communication between both parties, right from the start.

The brief is particularly useful to establish if the budget is realistic. If not, it’s time for a re-think on how to get the best value for the money that is available, and where this might mean adjusting expectations.

It’s also helpful to clarify your ideas on style by illustrating what you mean with examples. This can be helpful because, for example, your idea of ‘contemporary’ style may be very different to your designer’s idea, based on the latest in contemporary art and design.

Little misinterpretations and lack of clarity can come back to bite you. The aim of the brief (and in fact all regular conversations and meetings) is to build a culture of communication between the parties which is as clear and unambiguous as it can possibly be. Time spent at the outset to formalise your expectations and requirements is never wasted, nor is having your colleagues and superiors involved in the preparation of the brief.

Your brief doesn’t have to be lengthy or overly complex. A series of dot points in an email may be all your designer needs if the job is a simple one.

Some clients send a brief in the first instance to obtain a quote. On much larger projects a client and designer might work together to create a mutually agreed brief, which becomes a strategic plan for the job and is circulated to all stakeholders. It ensures everyone is on the same page and helps manage expectations.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice if you don’t know what to do, or aren’t sure of some technical aspect. Your designer is a professional; they are there to help. Ask for their ideas and draw on their expertise.

Take away: clear brief, better results

Your brief is the logistics: the ‘who, what, where and why’ of the job. A well-informed designer is a good designer. My favourite feedback is that a job is exactly what a client was after, but better than they ever imagined. The brief helps with the first part of that equation; your designer’s creative skills can take it to the next.


 Alex is the Communications Director at Fusebox Design


Do you have a project that needs seamless writing and graphic design? Contact us if you would like to talk about how we can help.


Cinden Lester has more than 25 years’ experience as a professional writer, editor and communications specialist—having worked as a broadcast journalist, in private sector marketing and public relations, and in government communications before establishing her own Canberra-based communications consultancy.


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