A guide to briefing designers – Getting the most out of us

September 2nd, 2010 by Mat Dolphin

We started the Mat Dolphin blog as a simple platform to share information – we’re constantly consuming design and we meet a great number of inspirational people involved in our industry which gives us plenty of design-related ‘stuff’ to share. However, as well as having this dialogue with our peers we always saw the blog as being a great way to converse with clients. From previous experience working in design agencies, there’s all to often a barrier between client and designer that, in our opinion, doesn’t need to be there.

With this in mind, we thought it would be a good idea to write an easy to follow ‘guide to briefing’ to make the process easier for clients and designers alike.

The design process starts and ends with the client. A person or organisation has a design requirement and approach the designer – so far, all simple enough. The next stage, the client relaying exactly what it is they want to achieve, can be a bit more complicated.

Answering the right questions
One thing we hear quite regularly from a new client is ‘I’ve never written a brief before…’ as the majority of people rarely need to commission a new corporate identity or website. Unless you’re regularly purchasing design, how would you know what to ask for? If you’re sitting in front of a blank Word document wondering how to explain what you want from your new logo, you probably need to take a few steps back and ask for a briefing template of some sort.

This may vary from designer to designer but in essence, it’s a series of simple questions to ascertain precisely what the designer needs to know.When designing anything, we need to have a certain amount of information before we start and it’s within our remit to ask the right questions to get this information.

Briefing templates are going to differ between designers but we find thes simple documents are a good starting point.

Mat Dolphin Design Brief

Mat Dolphin Branding & Identity Brief

Mat Dolphin Website Brief

Knowing what you want
If you’re sitting in front of the briefing template and still not getting very far then there may be a problem. Before you can tell your designer what you want and what you want the finished product to achieve, you need to know. Does your new branding need to push the company forward into the future or remind people about the heritage and history or the brand? Does you new website need to sell more products or help people find out more information about your service? Does your business card need to convey your values and personality in a sophisticated and restrained way or stand out from the pack and shout?

If you know exactly what you want your design to do (and why) writing the brief will be a great deal easier.

It’s all in the details
So, you know what you’re asking and why you’re asking for it, now it’s time for you to get your moneys worth. A designer will invariably want to add some creativity and personality into any job, regardless of how small it might be, that’s what we’re paid for and (for the most part) love doing. Without being given a clear steer on what you – the paying client – wants to see, most designers will ‘fill in the blanks’ themselves and add a certain amount of artistic license to any design. And so they should. Designers earn their living by using creativity and good ideas to improve how things look, function and work.

That said,without some kind of guidance and direction, you’re leaving it down to someone else to guess what you actually want. To avoid this scenario, the more detail you can give, the easier you’re making it for the designer to a) do what’s asked and b) exceed expectations and deliver something beyond what was originally requested. The whole process should be seen as a joint venture – we’re in this together for the greater good after all.

In the past, we’ve had briefs from both ends of the spectrum; one word answers telling us as the bear minimum about what’s required one end, and reams of pages telling us everything we needed to know (and much more) about the project at the other end. ‘If my website was a supermodel it would be…’, I’d like my logo to sit somewhere between Daft Punk and Canon Cameras…’, we’ve even been given a play-list to listen to which conveyed the personality and feel the client wanted for their website. Whilst obviously open to interpretation, these responses genuinely do help a huge amount and, if nothing else, let us know that the client has got a clear idea of what they want.

Our job as designers is to make the most out of these requests and surpass what the client is asking for – the less guesswork we have to do, the better the overall result will be and less time will be taken to get there.

Hopefully that should be enough food for thought for the time being. We’re going to conclude the second part of this post shortly so keep em peeled. As ever, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the above so feel free to leave a comment.

Thanks for reading, feel free to download and use the above templates and do get in touch if there’s anything we can help out with.


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