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A comprehensive guide to design briefs

The designer must first understand precisely what the design task requires to accomplish the most outstanding work possible.

Alex Dovhyi
Alex Dovhyi
6 min read
A comprehensive guide to design briefs

Once upon a time, there was an architect. He was tasked to build a new library for the city where all the most important books would be stored.

An architect has built the library. All the books were moved there. But in just a few years, the building started sinking into the ground.

Upon reviewing his work, the architect realized the issue: he forgot to account for the weight of the books.

The moral of the story is that you must count for details whenever you're building a library or a website.

The designer must first understand precisely what the design task requires to accomplish the most outstanding work possible.

There are numerous moving pieces in every project you work on. With so much to remember, it's easy to overlook anything important. So, how can you avoid these blunders and create a "library" that will stand the test of time? Always making a design brief is the answer.

What is a design brief?

A design brief is a document that describes the details of a project. There are no explicit rules for what should be included. However, some frequent aspects include the overview and scope, dates, information about the target audience, and budget. We'll go over a few of them below.

There are numerous reasons to utilize a design brief, but the two most crucial are efficiency and direction.

A well-written design brief is essential to accomplishing exceptional work, whether you're a professional freelancer delivering a new design to a client or an organization wanting to hire a design agency.

By presenting an overview plan of the project to your client, you will validate everything before the project starts. This saves both of you time and money.

A design brief acts as the source of truth for your project and determines the general direction of the design. A well-defined brief assists designers in focusing on the right tasks and delivering excellent work.

A comprehensive guide to design briefs

Design briefs are helpful for both freelancers and design teams. It functions in many ways like a blueprint or a roadmap, influencing design decisions and driving the overall process of your project from conception to conclusion.

8 essential items that a good design brief should cover

To be effective, a design brief must be clear and concise and include all vital information to provide a comprehensive overview of the project. A brief might vary depending on the project, but it should generally have:

Overview and scope

A firm project overview answers the what and why questions. What will you work on, and why should this be done? ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣

Goals and objectives

Focus on the problem and desired outcomes: reduce bounce rate; grow monthly revenue; increase customer engagement. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣

Company and market

Study the client's business and market: how big it is? What are the primary products/services? Who are the key competitors? ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣

Target audience

When linked to a specific persona, target users help to design proper UX for a product or service. ⁣⁣

Process and timeline

Help the client understand your process: clarify expectations on what and when should be delivered. It adds transparency to the process.⁣ ⁣

Budget and milestones

To make sure you're getting paid on time – link budget to timeline. For large-scale projects, use bi-weekly or task-based payments: for research, wireframes, high-fidelity, and prototype. ⁣ ⁣

Project deliverables

Naturally, it varies from project to project, but you can have a list of the most common deliverables to put into a brief quickly with few modifications.⁣ ⁣

Stakeholders and reviews

Identifying the stakeholders and decision-makers is critical to prevent constant changes and revisions. It will save you time, and you'll hit deadlines and get paid on time.⁣ ⁣

How to write a design brief

Start with an overview of the business

Begin by outlining basic information about the company while developing your design brief. You can provide essential info in the overview, such as the company's size and stage, the industry they're in, and so on.

Following that, you may describe the brand's identity and culture, significant points of difference, and critical marketing points. Include the contact information for a "point-person" within the company and the contact information for everyone involved in the project in this section. The overview is an essential element for everyone working on the project because it provides all of the necessary information at a glance.

Cover the scope

Now that you've described the company, in brief, you should outline what work is required, commonly known as the project scope. Perhaps the job is producing a new mobile app for the existing product, working on graphic design for a landing page, or designing a website.

The project's scope should be agreed upon by both you and the client, and it should be described in the design brief.

In this part, be as specific as possible. For instance, if the project requires producing graphics or photos for a commercial, describe this in the design brief. If it simply involves web content and not print, make sure to include that information so that everyone is on the same page and there is no confusion or lost time.

Define the audience

"People ignore design that ignores people." – Frank Chimero

It's just as important to consider who you're designing for as it is to consider what you're designing for. Begin with basic facts and consider providing relevant characteristics about the audience.

You may also want to highlight their experience with similar products or services, as well as the locations where they are most likely to interact with your information. Follow these questions to create a complete persona:

  • Who are your product or service's customer(s)?
  • How do they make use of your product?
  • What are they using now (if it's a new product)?
  • What are some of the significant pain areas that your product or service addresses?
  • How would your solution help them?
  • What motivates them to make a purchase?
  • What do they want in a product like yours?

Understanding your audience can help you make better decisions and offer valuable products to the right people.

Understand the competition

You will be competing against another company or product.  It's a fact of life. As a result, having a fundamental awareness of the competitive landscape is beneficial. When you understand what makes you distinctive, you can create new, one-of-a-kind work that will set you apart from the competitors.

Knowing how similar products approach design can assist designers in understanding how customers complete tasks and their mental models while utilizing similarly designed products.

Set specific goals

Determining your design project's goals and expectations assists in direction and focus.

When outlining the project's objectives, try to be as detailed as possible. The project's success will be determined by whether or not the goals were reached. Thus the more precise you can be, the better.

Take inventory of what you already have

Unless you're doing a total rebrand, most brands will have some assets that designers will leverage in the project.

They will undoubtedly have typography, colors, and overall brand rules. They might also have a design system that designers can use to help them with their work.

Existing design materials can help increase productivity by preventing you from redesigning something you don't need to. Be as explicit as possible about how you want to use current assets in your work.

Set the schedule

It's possible that the people you're working with aren't as familiar with the design process as you are. By outlining a detailed plan and assigning deadlines for all deliverables, you will manage expectations from the start and effectively complete your project.

Having particular dates also helps to keep you on track. Before completing the deadlines, consider collecting feedback from all stakeholders included in the project to ensure that everyone is satisfied with your plan.

Determine the budget

A project's budget is a critical part. Because the budget affects the work that will be done, both parties must agree on it from the beginning. It is essential to include a budget breakdown for each service delivered in brief.

It may also be wise to include a backup buffer as extra money for unforeseen situations. You can have it in the budget that way and explain why it's there if needed. You can deduct it from the total if you don't use it by the end of the project.

Sum it all up

Finally, include an executive summary at the end of the design brief. It may appear repetitive, but it's a good idea to have an outline that incorporates all of the critical material discussed throughout the brief. The client may quickly examine and sign off on the project by providing a cliff-notes version at the conclusion.

Use a design brief for your projects

Creating a design brief is no easy work, but it is well worth the effort when done correctly.

It not only helps to avoid blockages and establishes reasonable expectations, but it may also serve as a source of truth for you to keep everything on plan and to move forward—which is what you want.

Those were design briefs.

Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you on Monday!

Alex Dovhyi Twitter

Product designer giving unsolicited advice on design, freelancing, career and personal growth.