How do you write a design brief?

Any graphic design project needs a detailed design brief. A couple of reasons:

  • It ensures the client knows exactly what s/he wants to achieve.
  • It acts as a point of reference for everyone involved.

This means less time (and money) is spent on the result. The more information a client provides from the outset, the more value for money s/he will receive from the graphic designer.

Project preserver

Potential topics for inclusion:

Corporate profile

A summary of the business and a brief history will help.

Market position

A realistic evaluation of the company’s service/product relative to what competitors are doing.

Current situation

An explanation of what’s happening to bring about the need for this project e.g., a new product launch.

Communication background

Previous and present communication activity, such as research, advertising, direct mail, graphic design, public relations, etc.

Communication task — “the message”

What’s the context of the specific message in relation to the business plan? Where possible, include information to be shown in the designed item e.g. taglines, body text, imagery, etc.

Target market

Demographics — age, gender, income, employment, geography, lifestyle of those the client wants to reach.

Objectives

What does the client want to achieve? Where possible, make the objectives specific and the results measurable.

Schedule and deadline

The designer should have a detailed and realistic schedule of how the client wants the project to advance, considering these pointers:

  • Consultation (research, strategy)
  • Creation (concept and design development)
  • Production (artwork and print procurement)
  • Delivery (handover)

If, as a designer, you’re dealing with a client who hasn’t produced a design brief, it’s important to have your own questionnaire to supply at the outset.

I list a number of client questions and explain their importance in the Logo Design Love book.

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75 Comments

  1. A good set of points listed here. I had a client working for a print company that was not used to briefing design. I produced a brief questionnaire sheet (posted in my resources section) for them which enabled them to get answers to things I would need to know to do the design. The more information you can get the more likely a designer is to come up with a suitable design.

  2. Hi David,

    This, and none other, is the most important productivity tip for any designer! I don’t think that any designer should start any work before having a brief accepted by the customer.

    webee
    [is a design blog]

  3. Great article. Dugg and printed. Now I have to get back to work, will carefully read it afterwards.

    David, the edit plugin works without a glitch on your blog. Glad you’ve installed it here.

  4. Good points.

    Need to consider them seriously.

  5. I bet you’d be a very happy man if a client gave you all that information in a brief. Personally I try to give as useful a brief as I can but one item I wont really discuss is the budget. A lot of designers ask for this but I find that a bit cheeky.

    Generally when I commission design work I will ask two or three designers to quote on the job. If I start talking about the budget then I get three very similar prices. What I will say though is that I expect at least three (or however many) conceptual ideas to be presented to me.

  6. As a account servicing person, I asked all those questions you listed above. It never failed to astonish me when a client cannot provide an answer. Some would turn around and challenge me with “Aren’t you marketing agency supposed to help me with all these.” Yes, but we first got to listen to his needs and wants before we can brainstorm a marketing strategy and thereafter work out a creative strategy. We cannot simply take on the stand that “I know this client so well for the past 10 years, and the sure win formula is like this like this”. The client may not changed but his marketplace and audience would have in this fast changing economy. I would not take the risk of not having an agency brief, or discussing with the client on the workability of his marketing strategy before briefing the studio. If I do that, I might waste my client’s money but I would surly waste my creative team’s valuable time. No brief or bad brief will results in lots of reworks and worse, reject.

    Some clients will not disclose a budget. What I would ask is a range. If he said between $3000 – $5000. I would provide him with 2 quotes on what he can get for $3000 and $4500. It may not be ideal but definitely better than having no information.

    And David, I’m going to link this post to my blog (in a post entitled “Is your marketing & advertising agency really so lousy”.

    Nice article!

  7. Great tips here, for sure. A budget would be more than helpful but if the client says their budget is $3000 I will usually pitch him something for $3500.

  8. Vivien, thanks for the Digg, and for the plugin feedback. Glad it works.

    Aaron, I’d be very happy. It hasn’t quite happened, but getting there. Thanks for the process insight. I inform all prospective clients how many concepts they’ll receive before making an agreement.

    Vivienne, a client shouldn’t expect these questions to be answered for them. Thanks for the link.

  9. Aaron, that’s interesting that you think it’s cheeky for a designer to ask a prospective client what their budget is. From my point of view, this helps me to decide if a client is serious about what they want to achieve. You’d be surprised how many people undervalue our profession.

    Sometimes I think that if I didn’t ask, I’d be puttin in a lot more hours. So many people come back to me saying that their budget is somewhere from £50 to £200, which isn’t worth the time an identity project needs.

    I’ll go into more depth in a future post to clarify.

  10. I should be clear that I’m talking about before I’ve commissioned you, and I’m asking you and several other people to quote me. From a buyers point of view it’s plain daft to give you any idea of budget because everyone will come in with the same price. What I want is a really competitive price.

  11. Really informative post.. bookmarked!

  12. Lowell C.

    I thought this article was very informative. I also appreciated the way the article was organized.

  13. I agree with David about the budget. I think it is important to get an idea of how much a client wants to spend. I’m not saying put all your cards on a table, but what budget you have is certainly going to have an effect on the quality of the work. I have some clients who say I have £XXX budget, can you do it? I can then say I can do x, y, z within your budget. If the budget is low you would perhaps say you can only do one concept,rather than 3.

    It does make me laugh sometimes though, obviously the designer wants to get the best price for their time and the client the cheapest and best quality. I have been asked for a price by a client, I ask for their budget which they won’t tell me. I give them my price, they say I’ve only got £XXX so we end up coming to a compromise anyway. Its like a game of Poker.

  14. Just skip all that and carry a gun and rob them….or is that bad?

  15. I think a lot of misunderstanding abound with regards to “budget”. Clients think that “revealing” the budget reduces their ability to bargain, and designers think that the “budget” is their license to the big ticket.

    I feel both are wrong.

    Client: Pay peanuts to get monkeys. Heard that? If you KNOW what you want to achieve, and you are experienced enough, you will know what kind of budget can achieve it.

    Designer: If you see the budget, you will know the scope of WORK that is required and the resources you need to bring to bear. Using “junior” and charging “boss rates” really won’t get you far if you have a experienced and savvy client.

    In the end, give value. Respect value. Both ways.

    Just my 2 cents worth. Ooops! i revealed my budget!

  16. This is a great summary. Re designing with no briefs (no pun intended), I often face this with smaller clients. It’s at times like these that a graphic designer takes on the added role of marketeer. I love the challenge, and I find that when I get back to the client with my concepts, that they begin to form their own opinion/brief – I enjoy this process.
    I like the Poker analogy too – how apropos!
    ps: like the image at the head of your post.

  17. Tara, I’ve had exactly the same thing happen RE: budget discussions. Do you play poker by any chance? I enjoy a bit of no limit.

    Calvin, I think one of the main issues is that a client doesn’t know what budget achieves what results, and if they haven’t worked with a particular designer before they’ll be very wary of being overcharged. On the designer side, anyone worth their corn won’t try to charge ‘boss rates’ if they’re not capable of the work.

    You sum it up nicely about respecting the value of the project. I was thinking about outsourcing some work your direction, but your low rates are kind of off-putting.

  18. Hi David, no I can’t really play poker but I’m a whizz at snap ;)

  19. What if, as a client new to this whole scene, you have no idea what you can have down at what budget level? Are there general guidelines someone can throw out there? When I contact potential designers, I don’t want to sound unprofessional or disrespectful of the value of their work.

  20. Tegan, my advice would be to ask for three quotes from different designers, so you have a range of options. Then, when you compare their prices against their portfolio and experience, you’ll have a better idea what the going rate is. People are going to shop around before making a decision in order to get the best product/service available for their budget.

  21. Thanks David.

  22. Mak Gutierrez

    Well.. i stumbled upon this somehow, and I think its totally wrong. You can’t charge for time frames. Otherwise you would be lying. Thinking you will come with the right solution within a time frame, or that you will spend more or less time depending on budget its again hilarius. How about when you come up with the right solution within 20 minutes of talking to the client and reading the brief? would you drop the rate? adjust it? no way.

    A budget whats it usefull for. A budget its important but not for the designer, but for the identity rollout process. You need to know whats your client budget for production of the graphic pieces you may give him are you gona design with 9 spot colors or with 1? are you gona use metal cards or special paper effects? etc etc. A budget its really usefull after the quote. And thus thats were its suitable to ask for it.

    We designers have a real hard task when asked upon our process and this goes as far up as pentagram (look at Michael Bierut Article in designobserver). Trying to charge design upon the scope of a time frame sounds like a logical solution. But more sketches doesnt mean a better design. How do you plan to charge for the hours you spent browsing webpages or heading to a bar and coming with the right idea for the client? I think this concept needs to be thought more than this easy going solution to budgeting.

    Cheers

    (sorry for my engrish)

  23. Hi Mark, I see your point. I’ve read a lot of what Michael Beirut writes for Design Observer, and it’s almost always enlightening. No problem about your Engrish, I appreciate your thoughts.

  24. most actually encounters a problem in the budget part.

  25. Design Pro

    Time is Money!

    If you can only afford 3 hours worth of graphic design

    your design will look very different than someone who can afford 30 hours of design.

    Money effects Quality.

    They won’t let you stay at the Ritz for the same price as motel 6!

    Enough Said….

    Now let’s be realistic…..

  26. I kind of disagree, a bad concept, will still be a bad concept 30 hrs later, same as a poor rendering etc.

    How do you integrate talent in the equation. making 2000 mockups not necessarily will give a good solution and thats how design is different.

  27. Mak, are you referring to the comment from Design Pro? I agree. “You can’t polish a turd.”

  28. The practical benefits of discussing budget with clients…

    First I ask if there is a budget for the project. If there is no budget in place and I feel a comfort level, I may broach the subject later in the conversation of how the project would be funded. Of course they may resolve my concern or not. But it’s a chance to qualify the client’s intent. Are they sincere… or window shopping?

    For those people reluctant to ask for a figure, ask matter of factly “if” they have a budget for the project. The answer that question is good to know, but it also may naturally lead to helpful information later in the discussion.

    If they have a budget in place, then I know they are sincere. That helps me relax and relaxing is good. They are often willing to let me know a figure later in the conversation. With established, experienced clients, I usually ask for the budget range and dispense with the dancing around. Sometimes I don’t even have to ask, they offer it.

    I prefer an in-person meeting to get as much useful information out of the initial interview as possible. I feel this enhances trust and communication and works well for me. Sending a survey does not give me adequate information or even save time, but I use a survey to drive the discussion. If I got things right, then the brief/contract is an affirmation of the initial interview (including the cost) It simplifies the process. I don’t have to re-negotiate the contract much, if at all, before getting to work.

    Most people, even if they are not experienced creative services buyers, have an idea of what they want to spend when they go shopping. It does go against the grain of some folks to divulge. I suggest building trust. If a client trusts you, they will be likely to give you an idea what their budget is.

  29. Hi Sally, excuse the late response. I get a lot of window shoppers, as you put it, and I wonder if I’m not providing the real prospects with enough attention. There’s a fine line, and you can’t spend too long dealing with those who have no real intent to work with you. Face-to-face meetings can help, but for many, that’s not possible.

  30. Hi David,

    Your website is so important! I feel all junior designer like me should visit atleast 10 times. Thanks a lot for the informations…

  31. Hi David

    I love your blog and find it really inspiring and informative for my own design business. Please keep up the great work.

    On the topic of budgets in design briefs, I’m sitting on the fence about this. I had someone write to me and they filled in my logo design questionnaire diligently, but their budget was $400. In my questionnaire I do not have a fee range (like you do) for the main reason that the fee range may turn prospects off immediately and that cuts off any opportunity to convince/persuade.

    Here in Singapore, quite a large portion of businesses are unwilling to invest in design and the culture doesn’t take design seriously as a valuable marketing asset.

    On the other hand, placing a fee range could save both parties time and that ‘splat’ feeling I get when I get all excited about a prospect only to be disappointed with the unrealistic budget.

    What’s your (and fellow reader’s) experience been?

    Thanks in advance for sharing!

    Vicki

  32. Hi Vicki, great topic, and one I’ll put into a separate post. Thanks for the kind words.

  33. That’ll be super!

    I’ve decided to do a little risk-taking and put in the fee range. Will then be able to have some comments for the post when it’s out :)

    Thanks for the prompt response, and I look forward to the post.

    V

  34. Very nice points made here. Bookmarked for future reference! Also love your blog typeface. I think i’ve used it in the past but can’t put a name to it.

  35. Hi David

    Thanks for this blog topic. I found you via google as I am meeting with a designer tomorrow who suggested I had a brief. I know how to do IT project briefs but NO IDEA what goes into a design brief! Your headings helped focus on what I need to tell them… thanks! Fingers crossed they are able to help me.

    Brigid

  36. Good luck with the meeting, Brigid. I hope it goes well for you.

  37. Hi David,

    Thanks a lot.

    in my office we have to presant that what is logo?
    & I get good information from ur bolg I don’t need to refer other sites.

    Thanks again.
    Now i am in hurry.
    But I will be in touch .

    Have a good Day.

  38. Most of the times we end up with prospective clients who come to us with some inspiration from a source thats totally irrelevant for their business. This has happened to me numerous times. Having a design brief helps them to decide their priorities and goals. This process of rethinking proves vital in a contracts success as the goals and objectives are properly set.

    Also good to read comments from the buyers side too regarding the budgeting. As David said its a very thin line between a prospective client and a window shopper. I charge for the service I offer and not for the time I spend on my work. Also I make it a point to make the client know that he is paying me for my skills and not for the timeline. It helps them in understanding the value of our work.

  39. In the case of not getting a budget out of a client, and often they just do not know what the should be spending (investing), we produce a three tiered cost structure, top end, middle of the road and basic. This means they cannot say ‘No’, and this gives them choice.
    We often push the envelope with them by using the analogy of an architect – you have to reveal the budget in order that the scope is accurately defined, and time (our most precious asset) is not wasted.
    If their first question is ‘How much?” we politely refer them to the competition. We are into the ‘Value’ proposition, and never reveal hourly rates or hours spent.

  40. We spend quite a lot of time creating a tailored quotation and specification for all of our work (including logo design), and we have found that asking for the client’s budget is a great way to weed out those who are looking for a week/month of your time for £50.

    As quite of the comments seem to say, if a client doesn’t realise it’s worth investing that in their company’s image, they’ll generally regret not investing initially in the end!

    Another excellent post, thanks David.

  41. Naresh,

    “I make it a point to make the client know that he is paying me for my skills and not for the timeline. It helps them in understanding the value of our work.”

    Well said.

    John, I can empathise with that first question being ‘how much?’ I wonder how you choose which companies to refer those clients to. For instance, sometimes I’m too busy to take on new design work, and I refer clients to designers I respect, but where the price is the issue, not time, the choice becomes more difficult.

    Richard, you’re very welcome. Thanks for your thoughts.

  42. Absolutely invaluable information here on this blog. As a brand new designer I can’t thank you enough for sharing your wisdom. Your site has been bookmarked and will likely become an oft-referenced place for me.

    Thank you!

  43. All the very best in your new design path, Katie. I hope it works out well for you. Feel free to get in touch if you think I can be of help.

  44. Much of our work is without a succinct brief – especially logo/branding.

    Is your Logo questionnaire something you would mind us adapting at all?

    I realise that’s akin to using your methods to keep work from you, I’m assuming your blog is to spread good practice but would never lift your work without the courtesy of a request.

    Thanks for the insight.

  45. Adapt-away, Marc. Some people just go ahead and copy it without first asking, so I appreciate you getting in touch.

  46. Naresh said,

    ” I make it a point to make the client know that he is paying me for my skills and not for the timeline. It helps them in understanding the value of our work.”

    May I ask how do you make this point clear, when one is starting up or when the client seems to have a blind ear?
    I mean, practically, how do you do that?

  47. Re “cheeky” as a response to “what’s your budget”… this is the first way to spot a “red flag” client IME. If they have no idea what they can spend, let alone what they will, you’re already on the path to trouble.

  48. Hi,
    Great to write about this subject. My own brief goes into a bit more detail and I tailor it to the type of project. I have one for web, one for general design projects and one for logos.

    Anyone who doesn’t use a brief is really nuts. And I have been pushed on occasion to begin a project when the brief is incomplete, contradictory in some way or too general. I have refused on occasion to move forward. But it’s hard to convince some clients until you get in there with concepts that aren’t working.

    Even with one, I have had mystery people appear mid way through with different ideas, or a key piece of information is introduced. At least with a brief you can say “didn’t you say THIS was a key attribute?” for example. It doesn’t fix everything but at least the client knows they’re responsible in some way, not to mention that you actually use the brief for designing.

    As for budgets, I try to say that I don’t base my cost on budgets but that I need to know if it will be a good fit. Not to price up to the budget limit. Some organizations are refreshingly transparent. This is likely because they have actually planned a budget based on known factors.

  49. Thanks for sharing your own thoughts, Jane. I agree. A design brief is an ideal way to keep the client focused on what they need.

  50. Vanessa Tran

    Hi David,

    I’ve had some people approach me without any clear vision of what they want for their upcoming project – yet they want a design and they want it NOW.

    I think it’s important to realise that we shouldn’t be designing things for everyone simply for design’s sake.

    (Unfortunately, those potential clients never ended up following through with their ventures…)

    Anyway, I’m a student still in working progress, and you’re an inspiration to me. Thanks for writing this article!

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