How to write a good design brief
A good design brief should be clear and straightforward. It should tell a designer exactly what you need, in precisely what size – and also what you want your design to achieve.
Example design brief for a print product
A design brief doesn’t have to be long; just as long as it needs to be. Take a look at this example:
|Client Name / Brand / Website:||Jane Doe at Bean Rumbled // www.website.address|
|The problem:||I need to attract more customers from the high street into my cafe.|
|The design to solve it:||A really appealing photo advert for my cafe, like the big coffee chains use in their ads in the town centre and their shop windows. Something really up-market, using my logo, and designed to appeal to shoppers passing by.|
|Constraints:||- I need this designed and printed within 2 weeks
- The street gets direct sunlight, so the print needs to be fade-proof
- Easy to put up and secure against the wind
|Deliverables & Amounts:||- 1 vinyl banner, printed on thicker, heavier material
- Fitted with hems, eyelets and supplied with the best fixtures recommended by the printing company
If the example above was all you needed to know, then you’re welcome to use this style for your own design brief. But we’d always recommend that you actually write out a brief, rather than supply it over the phone. Read on to find out why…
Put your design brief in writing, not in a phone call.
While it may seem faster and easier to brief a design over the phone, it’s often false economy – especially if you end up making changes later on. It’s far easier in the long run to describe what you need in writing, so that designers can create what you want from the start. (And saving time will save you money, too).
So yeah. A good brief is written down. Maybe that takes longer than just a phone call… but that’s kind of the point. Putting your brief in writing gives you the chance to really think about the details of your print job, and make adjustments beforehand.
But don’t worry: your written brief doesn’t need to be long. Even just a couple of lines in an email could make all the difference. So, the question is…
…What makes a good design brief?
A good written brief should tick all the boxes that a designer needs to take your idea and run with it. But if you really want to get in-depth and get your brief just right, and achieve those perfect results you’re looking for in your finished project…
…Follow this 3-part structure.
Context. Problem. Deliverable. These are the three sections that make up a good project brief.
If you take a look back at Jane Doe’s example above, then you’ll see that it covers all three of these points behind the scenes. Asking for a name, brand and website is really all the context our designers need, while the problem and deliverable are asked for in the form itself.
So, let’s get started on your brief!
First take a blank page, (or email, or text document) and split it into these three sections: Context, Problem, and Deliverable. This way you’ll create a rock-solid foundation for a designer to build on with your project. Write a couple of lines each for the following three sections:
Introduce yourself, and what you do. (And your brand too, if this applies.) Tell the designer what you want to achieve with your project, and mention other design work that you like. Are you a high-end brand, or a value brand? Maybe you’re a sole trader, or an individual just looking to print some wedding invites? Many designers take on dozens of jobs every day, and every job is different – so it’s always helpful if your brief can paint a quick picture about who you are, and exactly what you need to create.
When we design and print something, we’re solving a problem for a customer. (It’s often the problem of needing more attention on their business.) Maybe someone needs new business cards, or a marketing banner, or custom wedding invitations. Everything we print solves a problem for someone – and the more we understand the problem you’re facing, the better we can solve it for you. To solve it we need to know who, what, why and when. We need to know how big, and how much, and how many. The more specific you can get with the details in your brief, the better your results are going to be.
Sounds like jargon, but this just means “what you want to get out of your project”. Tell your print designer exactly what product you want to create, and how many, and by when. Do you need one 2 x 6ft vinyl banner, designed to appeal to customers in a certain target market? Or 500 matt-laminated, standard-size, foil-printed business cards? Or maybe the entire layout for a paperback book, designed with a certain target audience in mind? Putting exactly what you need into a written brief will guarantee that you and your designer are (literally) on the same page.
This is the basic three-part structure for any good design brief. Don’t worry about getting these sections perfect, since we can always help if you need some advice on your project.
You can then send this brief on as an email, or else filter it through a brief template you’ve found online. Use any style of brief you like – but the more details you know and can give us beforehand, the better!
Now that you have the basic sections of your brief set out, read on if you’d really like to impress our designers with your briefing know-how!
Be crystal clear.
This is all about editing what you’ve written for simplicity, and doing so from your designer’s point of view. Is your brief truly crystal clear to a total stranger? (Or will you need a designer who can mind-read too?) ;)
How would you like people to feel about your finished project? Are there designs that inspire you? Any brands you’d like to emulate, or brand guidelines you’ll need to stick to? Any competitors that you want to beat, and anything that makes you unique? If it isn’t in the brief, then your designer won’t factor it in – so make sure you mention it!
If you have a particular timeline, budget and number of prints you need, then get specific with the exact numbers you’re dealing with. This will help to put you, your designer and your print provider on the same footing… and get you the high-quality results you’re looking for.
If there are certain elements that absolutely need to be on your design, then your designer is counting on you to provide them. They will need:
- Any text that you need to include
- Any images you want to have featured
- Any logos or branded elements that must be included
- Any other elements or ideas that you want to use, including colours, fonts or layouts
- Any pictures you want to use, but may not have handy. In this case you can take a look at Shutterstock, and tell your print designer the ID number of any images you’d like to use.
A little insider knowledge can go a long way when you approve your finished proof from a print designer. In case you’re worried about the print proof you receive, and why you might have certain results you weren’t expecting, here are some essentials to be aware of:
Print is designed, set and produced in the CMYK colour space.
CMYK: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key. Generally speaking, prints are designed in CMYK. (Especially when you order prints online). Digital and wide-format print machines work by combining this mix of blue, pink, yellow and black to form every colour on a print job. And while colours are generally reproduced pretty darn accurately in CMYK, there are things that can change – like if you’re printing on coloured paper, or looking for a printed colour to match the exact colour on your own screen. (Screens and monitors use the RGB colour space instead, which will create different colour results than using CMYK in print). But if you need a specific colour to match your brand exactly, then it could be better to colour-match your print job using a specific Pantone colour. (This gets into the realm of litho printing, rather than printing digitally with CMYK toners.)
Printers’ bleed will add wider edges to your design, and printers’ marks will look like errors. (They’re not.)
If you find that your proof has an extra-wide border, don’t worry. This is print bleed, and it’ll be trimmed away once your finished product is printed and cut. (It’s just so that there aren’t any white edges around your finished print once it’s trimmed to size.) Also, you may notice strange lines and target symbols around the edges of your design – but these aren’t there just because the designer felt like adding them in! These are printers’ marks, specifically crop marks, bleed area and registration marks. They’re all just temporary tools that designers and printers will use to get your print job lined up, squared off and cut to size.
(Please) remember that designers are working to limitations.
Print designers are bound by lots of considerations in the finished product. They’ll avoid fonts and imagery that are too small, for the sake of visibility (and depending on how far away the reader will be, which is where DPI comes in). Designers may also avoid using certain rich blacks and large solid areas of colour in the design, depending on the printing hardware they’re working with, as this can lead to banding effects in the finished prints. When a designer makes certain choices it’s usually for specific reasons, for the sake of print quality in the finished product – but if you want to question a design or make changes to it, you should always feel free to do so. (Good design is good collaboration, after all.)