A design company’s guide to writing a creative brief
Creative projects are by their nature evolutionary, and what you start with may change and develop. To optimise the creative outcome, you may move into areas not entirely anticipated at the beginning.
For non-linear projects, you need to put greater emphasis on the set-up and on establishing the rules of the house, the objectives and the stages of the project, to create the structure for the creative process to follow on behind, and to flourish.
Yes, we are talking about the creative brief
Not only will the right brief increase your chances of getting the right result, but it also ensures that you and your designers have a clear set of reference points for the creative solution. It helps to communicate what you want, to the right people, in the right way, and ultimately it provides a metric in the form of objectives to measure the final results against.
So if you are thinking of commissioning a graphic design project it is vital to prepare a detailed design brief in advance, before a mouse is lifted in anger.
To help get you started, we have put together a few pointers on what you might want to include in your creative brief:
Every business, should be able to summarise on two sides of A4 the following details (it’s a very useful activity to do anyway, but invaluable for agencies, press and other external stakeholders):
- summarise the business including history, structure and personnel
- what do you do – products and services
- where you do it – markets and geographical coverage
- how do you do it – if you have them, provide details of boilerplate, mission/vision statements, values and key messages, etc.
In the broadest and simplest way, summarise what the project is about – what’s the problem we need to fix, the opportunity we need to exploit or the challenge we, our business or brand need to meet?
For added context, are there any particular circumstances that have brought about the need for this project – for instance, increased competition, new entrants, business performance issues, etc?
Who do we want to talk to – whose attention do we need to get?
This can be more than one audience. If it is, list them in order of importance with a small descriptive profile for each one.
If demographics are relevant, then be clear on the things that matter: age, gender, job role, availability, language and lifestyle – and are there any specific factors that could influence the decisions taken by each target audience?
What is the best way to make meaningful contact with each audience?
And are there any specific barriers to accessing these audiences?
This is our elevator pitch for your project – and is quite possibly the most important element for your creative team – quite simply – what do we want to say to the audience(s)?
If content has already been prepared, include it, and if not, then summarise how content will be created and what the headlines and the key messages are.
Communication always has a reason for being; otherwise we are all just shouting into space. So what do you want your audience to think, feel, understand or do because of what you are telling them?
What will success look like? Picture the audience you described in the section above and then tell us what you would most want them to say at the end of the project?
Will there be any formal measurement process at the end of the project – if so, what would it be?
Positioning and competition
Provide a realistic description of your company’s market presence, service or brand, relative to your competition. Are you a new supplier, established, well regarded or relatively unknown? Are you the easyjet or BA – the disrupter or steady hand?
Who are your competitors?
How do your fees compare with the competition – are you a premium, middle ground or value supplier?
Which of your competitors present themselves well and why?
What is your edge? In your sector can you complete this sentence: ‘We are the only (what you do) … that (the benefit you deliver) …’
Describe and provide samples of current marketing/communications to your intended audience.
What do you think works and perhaps doesn’t work so well with your current communications (including any relevant client feedback here)?
In any sector, of any size, what marketing/communications have you seen that have impressed you, and why?
Who is the project’s owner – the person with overall responsibility for co-ordinating the respective teams, the budget and timetable (in overall charge of making the project a success basically)? If this is not the person or team that has to finally sign off the creative solution, who are they?
(Agency note! Designers should always have access to the ultimate decision maker – getting approval from an internal team only for a solution to be rejected by a director or the board just wastes everyone’s time and money.)
If different, who is the project manager – the person responsible for keeping the budget and schedule on track and managing all project communications?
What will be the preferred method of communicating project information, contact reports, schedules, presentations and feedback etc?
Who else forms the internal team and what are their roles and responsibilities?
Are there any specific limitations on access to anyone who has key decision-making responsibilities during the project?
Are there any other suppliers we will need to work with on aspects of the project?
Practicalities – budget, schedule and guidelines
If a budget has been allocated, what is it – showing you trust your creatives with an idea of your budget is never a bad thing. If no budget has been set, are there parameters to work within?
Is there a separate budget or an allowance for additional creative resources, like illustration or commissioned or stock imagery?
What is the timeline – when are key actions or stages required by?
If you have no key stages, how you would like the project to advance? If you want to discuss the process with your designers (the way we prefer to work), then say so.
For us, the key stages are broadly speaking:
- consultation (research, strategy and brief development)
- creative (concepts, field testing and design development)
- production (artwork, printing/coding and other production)
- launch, promotion and measurement.
Is there a house style or a guide to elements of the visual approach your designers will need to know about?
If there isn’t but you know that the person who signs the work off has particular tastes and preferences, consider mentioning them here.
The author Jon Steel described the creative brief as ‘the bridge between smart strategic thinking and great communications.’ Your job, as its author is to make the brief, that ‘bridge’, as effective and as useful as possible.
The best design projects start with the tightest possible brief and end with the widest possible creative solution. So good luck, consider well and let us know how you get on.