Pair of design briefs.

What is a design brief?

Many years ago, my boss "loaned" my design skills to a manager in another department. The surrogate boss wanted someone to do a large image for his department's web page. It seemed fairly simple: he wanted a map of the state that looked dimensional and a few labels on the image representing the services the group provided across the state.

Well, as I said, it seemed simple. Actually what was described was simple. The problem came after delivery. When my rendering was presented to a larger committee, in their words "[their] creative juices really started to flow!" There weren't just minor changes, there were major additions. They wanted photos in a collage representing their services, a 3D overlay showing networks connected across the state, with different types of networks rendered descriptively. It was a nightmare. Each time I presented a new version, it seemed to open up new realms of possibility. I plodded through it like a zombie. And through it all, they thought what I was doing wasn't real work; I did it for pleasure. Yippee ki-yay.

A design brief is exactly what was missing. And it was all my fault.

Simply, a design brief is a written document that gives the specifics on the deliverables clearly enough that all the stakeholders understand. A search will turn up lots of sites listing questions that should be answered in a design brief, but for me, there's no master list. Every job is different, and involves different stakeholders, different needs. The important thing is to talk together. Then write things down. Then read it out loud to make sure everyone agrees. Find out who will make the final decisions and make sure their needs and expectations are clear.

Paul Rand's NeXT logo.There's a telling video on youtube that shows Steve Jobs discussing Paul Rand, whom Jobs hired to do the NeXT logo. Apparently, Steve asked Paul if he'd come up with a few options. Paul said,
"No. I will solve your problem for you and you will pay me. You don't have to use the solution."

Design is problem solving. If there is a clear statement of the problem and adequate background research, the work of design is much cleaner- much easier. If we have this information stated and clarified in a design brief, a skilled designer should be able to solve most problems. And it's much easier to see when viewpoints help the project or are just another opinion.

"Whenever a client says, 'Do anything', it means there's an infinite number of ways to do it wrong..." Chris Georgenes, FlashForward 07

The design brief; first things first.

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