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Use design briefs to shape your projects

collaboration_buttersweetMany projects begin life in a brief. A brief defines project needs and sets the path towards a solution. A design brief helps in the document-intensive job of project definition and execution.

The American design industry veteran, Peter L. Phillips, writes in a recent book that people use various terms as synonyms for "design brief". They include "creative brief", "marketing brief", "project brief" or "job ticket". In Europe, he says a common term is "innovation brief".

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The level of detail Phillips expects to be in a design brief (see below) makes it clear his book is only really focused on corporate product development design briefs.

From over 20 years of experience in Australia it is clear that the design brief templates required by local small and medium-sized enterprises require content that is generally much shorter, simpler and focused on specific needs.

Far less product development takes place in Australia than in the United States. Also, Australia has only a small group of large corporates involved in product development at a level that may warrant detailed design briefs. Locally, very common are use of design briefs for product packaging, logos, Website development, premises refurbishment, entertainment industry product development and other niche needs.

What is the typical format and content of a design brief?

There is no magic formula for the content, layout and length of a design brief. They should be determined by the purpose of the brief. This is also the case for many of the other types of template documents used in project management, for example:

If you need to prepare a "big end of town" design brief, the most useful part of the book by Phillips is one of its final chapters. It sets out a template design brief with sections as follows (simplified here for brevity).

1.  PROJECT OVERVIEW AND BACKGROUND

  • Scope
  • Team

2.  PROJECT TIMELINE

  • Phillips sets out eight phases

3.  CATEGORY REVIEW

  • This may include review of list of products, competition, pricing and promotion, brand, category or industry trends, and company business strategy.

4.  TARGET AUDIENCE REVIEW

5.  COMPANY PORTFOLIO

6.  BUSINESS OBJECTIVE AND DESIGN STRATEGY

This is a very useful process matching:

  • a business objective (eg "Restore visual cohesiveness and clarity to company portfolio of products to strengthen brand recognition among consumers")
  • with a suitable design strategy (eg "Develop concepts which have a cohesive visual appearance, including a standardised typographic system, colour palette and graphics").

7.  ATTACHMENTS

  • Reports of visual audit
  • Results of concept testing
  • Results of external testing agency
  • Approval presentation
  • Project implementation plans, written and approved by various corporate functions
  • Project cost-benefit analysis from corporate finance group
  • Market research analysis and audience demographics
  • Measurement metrics questionnaires
  • Materials and data on competitors

The above list of contents should be used merely to inspire thought. Slavish use of template documents is a bad idea. Customise the list by applying due process.

A design brief comes early in a process which may lead to deal making, and then onwards towards contracting, and in time to records management, document management, contract management, and asset management.

Proper content in design briefs and all such other process documents improves your products and services and the results that you can achieve. Even if a legally binding contract is to be a roof over the top of a project, it may be best to build solid foundations with an appropriate design brief. Engage with experienced lawyers for project-specific advice on the best way to proceed.

Contact the author if you want samples of any of the templates mentioned in this post or want to have a conversation on how you might whip your next project into shape.


Reference: Peter L. Phillips, Creating the Perfect Design Brief: How to Manage Design for Strategic Advantage, Allworth Press and Design Management Institute, New York, 2004.

Photos: The exquisite photos for this post are in Flickr. The first is by photographers Amiko and Buttersweet, and the rest are by Buttersweet on her own.


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