Often when I'm talking with new clients about their goals for the branding or website design project, they half-apologetically say something along the lines of "I'm not sure what I want in terms of design".
To which my answer is, "Perfect — that's what I'm here for".
What they really wonder is, how do I convey my ideas to a designer if I'm not a visual type? I'm telling you that you don't need to worry about that.
Before I get into details of writing a design brief, I want to explain a bit on why we need a brief in the first place, and why some information is appropriate for a brief, and other isn't. It begins with a dance called "relationship dynamic between the client and designer".
A match made in heaven: complementary skills and compatible values
The best way to insure a successful collaboration between two professionals is to find people that have compatible values and a different skillset.
If the designer and the client don't share at least some of their core values, the designer won't feel like they can truly get behind the project, and they won't be able to give their best. (This was a problem at my former jobs, which was the main reason why I started my own design studio.)
Also, if the designer's and client's skills overlap too much, there may be some stepping on each other's toes during the course of the project (which can cause resentment in both parties), and not a whole lot of new value can be created from that space.
It took me a while to get it, but now I understand how it works — at least for me and my ideal clients.
A good designer doesn't need you to tell them your design ideas and color preferences. We need you to give us two things: information about your business and content.
What we actually need is to see your vision for your business, and understand what you want to create for your clients.
I know that you probably weren't aware of that, because it's not exactly common knowledge — and it's ours (designers) fault that we don't take the time to explain it. It gets even more confusing because some designers might actually love getting clear instructions on colors, symbols and typography from their clients, instead of deducing it by themselves from the information the client provided.
I find that that's most common with inexperienced designers lacking confidence. They prefer if someone just told them what to do, and don't want too much responsibility on their hands. A newbie who is comfortable pushing pixels is a good match for micro-managing clients who want to make all the decisions (even those on matters they don't know much about).
Not the experienced designer.
An experienced professional has the knowledge and skills to lead their client through the process with confidence. [Tweet this!]
She takes on full responsibility, and makes design decisions based on her expertise, not subjective "likes" and "dislikes". Experienced designer takes the information that clients provide in written form and uses her skills and knowledge to turn it into beautiful and effective visuals.
Depending on what kind of business owner you are, you might be annoyed (because you like micro-managing), or you might feel relieved that you have one less thing to worry about now.
If you're in the latter group, please keep reading. (If you're not, I've heard 99designs has a lot of newbies you can push around for as low as $100 per project. Good luck!)
I'm sure you don't want to be one of those clients who ends up on the Clients From Hell blog. You want to be the client whose name showing up in our inbox brightens up our day. The client whose business we recommend to our friends saying "I've worked with her, she's such a great person and a pro". I'll show you how to be that client.
There's a very easy way you can get ahead of more than 90% of the clients we deal with.
Plan ahead: Start looking for a designer as soon as possible
The worst thing you can do is contact a designer a week before deadline, and assume they'll be ready to start working on your project right away and get it done by tomorrow.
A lot of us are booked at least a 1-2 months ahead, and I've seen sought-after designers being booked up to 9 months in advance. Also, the time that actually goes into a design project is often much longer than the clients anticipate.
So, how early do you need to contact a designer? I'd recommend you start looking around as soon as you decide you want to pursue this project. This way you'll have the time to research potential designers and select one that is the perfect fit (instead of rushing into a relationship because you're in a hurry), as well as give them ample time to fit you into their schedule.
(See how I just gave you an excuse to avoid work and go "researching" for a potential designer on Instagram? You're welcome.)
Also, make sure that you find a designer who specializes in the type of work you need. There are many different types of design services, and not all designers are capable or willing to do all of them. Verify that they have a similar project in their portfolio, or they mention it on their services page.
Now let's go back to those two things you need to provide to your designer: business information and content. How do you go about doing that? That depends a lot on the designer's process, and often you can't know what it is until you ask.
Ask about their process
A professional designer has a process for getting the information they need from you and storing it for their use. They will take the lead and ask you relevant questions from which they will piece together their own brief.
This process may look different for everyone: an online form, PDF questionnaire, live meeting, Skype session, or a combination of above.
Your designer may ask you for information you don't like to give out, such as your online traffic stats, your revenue, number of newsletter subscribers, financial goals etc. but all of these help us get a clear picture of where your business is heading and how we can help your business grow. Rest assured that we keep this confidential.
If your designer hasn't asked you any questions and expects you to provide them a brief, your job is a bit more difficult, but I'll show you how to do it.
How to write a good brief
A design brief is a document that outlines information about your business and the project requirements.
All the design work will be based on this document and your subsequent feedback. It's your responsibility to provide information that is useful and accurate.
A brief can be in the form of a simple Word document — just use plenty of paragraphs and headlines to keep the information organized.
When it comes to the content of the brief, the one thing you as a business owner must provide is information about your business.
What I mean by that is:
- Business type (sole trader, non-profit organization, LLC...), year founded and number of employees
- Your business's vision, mission and values
- Your products & services and how you sell them
- Your unique value proposition (ie. how you differ from others in your field)
- Your ideal client profile or target audience (more on that here)
- Your main competitors
- Your business goals in the next 1-2 years and 5-10 years
Specifically for branding projects, I recommend including the following information as well:
- Current state of your branding: symbol, colors, typography, graphics and other elements you are currently using that you may want to keep or base the new brand on
- Mediums where you plan to apply your branding (stationery, flyers & posters, Internet, TV, vehicles, merchandise...) — it's important to know this in advance, because the limitations of some mediums will guide design decisions
- The values and qualities you want your branding to communicate to your clients
- If there are any absolute no-nos, like cliche symbols, colors used by competitors, qualities you don't want to be associated with etc. make sure the designer knows about them
- If you have examples of text your clients wrote like reviews, testimonials and thank you notes, copy them as well — this will give insight into what your best clients think and feel about you
- If you already use Pinterest, create a board with imagery that you feel represents the qualities and values your brand stands for
I can't go into detail for every type of project here, but I hope you got a good idea of what a design brief might look like.
It that looks like a lot of work, it is — because design projects are not just about the designer "doing their thing". It's a collaborative process where you put all your expertise on the table, and the designer picks it apart, rearranges, organizes and packages it so it becomes more appealing to the right people.
The output of the project depends a lot on the input, that's why the client's work is most intense in the beginning. This is a phase where we're building the foundation for the project.
As you may remember, we also had that other bit you need to take care of: your content.
How to prepare your content
While the brief is something you may or may not need to have prior to starting working with a designer, content is something you must have.
There are many problems with creating a website (or print design project) without content and I wrote a very detailed post on that. These are some of the things I've experienced with my own clients:
- Once we put actual content into the placeholders, it fits poorly or looks nothing like our mockup — often the case when the client says every blog post will have a featured image, and then 80% of posts don't
- It takes months to launch the website after all the design & development is already done
- The client remembers they need "just one more thing" that hasn't occurred to them before they started writing their content, which means more design & development work, which means more money
- The website is pushed live with only the bare minimum content, and stays like that for years
If you did as I recommended and booked your designer well in advance, you can use the time while you're waiting for them to become available to create your content.
See how all that fits in perfectly?
Creating content is your responsibility.
If you don't want it to be your responsibility, you have other options — you could hire a marketing consultant and/or a copywriter to help you brainstorm blog topics that are relevant to your customers and write a stellar offers. You could hire a virtual assistant to find the right stock photos to accompany your posts and edit them. But if you decide to go the DIY route, then you'll need to get your content in order first.
(When I started this website, I had 2 months worth of blog posts lined up before the launch. I wrote them before I even opened Photoshop, and trust me — there's nothing I like better than drawing in Photoshop.)
Your mission, should you choose to accept it
- Clarify who you serve and how you're different from your competitors (my book The Human Centered Brand can help you with that)
- Create the content your clients will want to read, listen and look at
It may take you a while, and it doesn't have to be perfect. Just a few days of concentrated effort can result in a business and content direction that will keep you busy for months or years to come.
And the best thing about this? Once you're done, you're done. You can just send it over to your designer and relax, knowing your business is in good hands.
Are you currently looking for a brand & web designer? Check out my services!.