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13 tips for writing a great design brief

Updated: Nov 16, 2021


Project managers creating a design brief

Compass. Blueprint. Roadmap. There are lots of words that describe the function of a design brief, just as there are lots of approaches to writing the brief itself. The key, of course, is making your brief as effective as possible. The stakes are too high, and the potential rewards too great, to do anything less. When getting ready to take on any client project, make sure you create a strong backbone with a design brief that gets everyone on the same page.


But first, what is a design brief and why is it so important?


On any project, the design brief is your touchstone for project management. In one compact document, you have a thorough guide to all the key elements of your project—its vision and its function, its scope and its shape.


Here are a few reasons why creating a good design brief will improve your next project:


  • Your client gets a clear idea on what to expect through every step of the process.

  • Your team has an outlook for moving toward a common goal, with workflow and prototype needs carefully laid-out.

  • Your leadership can make early, informed decisions on how to spend time and money, ideally finding ways to make the process smoother and faster.

  • Your various departments can identify challenges and tripwires before they develop into bigger problems.

  • The entire involved unit—agency and client—can use the clearly defined vision as a springboard into other concepts, either related or brand-new.


How to write a great design brief


Every good design brief needs a few standard elements. In this article, we’ll cover 13 tips for writing a great design brief, so you and your clients will be on the same page from start to finish:


  1. Get your client’s business info

  2. Understand your client’s history

  3. Understand your client’s goals and KPIs (key performance indicators)

  4. Define the target audience

  5. List competitors

  6. Determine the project deliverables

  7. Include the media files needed for the project

  8. Understand your client’s look and feel

  9. Understand your client’s voice

  10. State the budget

  11. Include the cost of maintenance and upgrades

  12. Add a project timeline

  13. Include project milestones


1. Get your client’s business info

This is square one. Here you want to get all of your clients’ core attributes: history, product use, demographics, brand guidelines, and unique selling points (USPs). You also want to include your client-contact right at the top, so you always have a direct line of communication. Usually this person is a company director or marketing manager.


2. Understand your client’s history

As you’re developing the brief, probe deeper. How was the company founded? Where did its name originate? What are its long-term plans and business model? Learning and possibly incorporating such details can guide and/or strengthen your overall approach and build stronger client relationships.


3. Understand the goals and KPIs (key performance indicators)

Along with knowing your client’s target audience, you need to know the precise result you’re seeking from them. This means narrowing the mission into measurable components. “Drive more site traffic,” for example, is probably too general a goal. Instead, use a project quantitative goal to compare current site-visitor numbers to desired site-visitor numbers.


4. Define the target audience

Establish a clear idea about your clients’ target consumer. A broad outline usually isn’t enough; you want to create a distinct persona—or multiple personas—that your design will “speak to.” Maybe it’s all-new users, or maybe it’s former users who have recently turned elsewhere. Know those answers cold.


5. List competitors

It’s crucial to know who and what you’re up against. Track all your corollaries, not only from competitors offering the same product, but companies in other industries that have aesthetics worth emulating.


6. Determine the project deliverables

Be direct about outlining the finished product. Your client might want a full site design from scratch, or just a redesign. Within the build, you might be expected to deliver a new logo, a bookings page, a discussion forum—or all three. This is a good time to introduce new capabilities and services your client may not have considered previously. Confirm all projects deliverables before you complete a site handover.


7. Include the media files needed for the project

This detail can get overlooked, but including file formats in the brief can save you trouble down the road. Dig into those details—what are the expected platforms for social media files, sizes for print files, and image assets for visuals?


8. Understand your client’s look and feel

If you’ve successfully addressed the first seven, you’re probably already clear on your client’s brand aesthetic, and your responses here should fall into place. An upmarket product might opt for a more dignified, “classy,” look; a product aimed at teens might skew bolder and brighter. These considerations must be translated into clearly delineated choices—color palettes, graphic designs, typography. This section is your moodboard.



9. Understand your client’s brand voice

Language is just as important as look. You have to know how your content will read—not just stylistically, but also with regard to general length-preferences and segments that require custom content. Plus you have to clarify who’s generating that content—you or your client.


10. State the budget

Avoid generalizing or guesstimating. And be inclusive, accounting for all factors from initial research to final review, plus every point in between—design and development, coordinating and testing.