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How to write a design brief or specification document

Writing a Design Brief

Before asking one or more graphic designers to submit designs, time should be taken to write a solid design specification, or brief. The quality of designs received is in reflective of the quality of the brief.

The art of the brief is to give enough information to inspire the designer without inadvertently planting an idea that will limit or bias the his or her creativity.

Introduction

Explain what is being designed, and possibly why. How will it be used, and by whom? Where are we starting, and what does the finish line look like?

Be as specific as possible e.g. “a logo for business cards and envelopes”, or “a home page, a content page, and a report page with charts”.

About the Client

Introduce the client and the nature of the client’s business without revealing the client. This is not for fear that the designer will contact the client but rather that he or she may encounter information that could steer the design in the wrong direction; for example seeing and old logo that the client hates.

Tell the designer about the brand, especially if one has been well established. What colours does the client’s logo contain?

Include any pertinent details about the client’s industry and even its competitors.

Constraints

List all established constraints to avoid wasted time. Stating that a design must be high-contrast for accessibility, or no wider than 960 pixels will allow the designer to focus on only what is practical.

Directions

Brief the designer on the goals and target market for this design.

Are there colours, or colour palettes to adhere to or to avoid? Or other traits, like the client likes/hates rounded corners. Again, mentioning that the client hates rounded corners will help eliminate those designs before we even start, but saying that the client likes them could result in 25 designs, each with round corners.

What values, feelings, or messages should the design convey? Are there themes to consider or avoid.

Consider using metaphors or comparisons to express intangible traits. “Like that Mac guy in the Apple ad, but less of a jerk”, “more like the Beatles than the Rolling Stones”, or “smokes dope, but doesn’t inhale.”

Inspiration

Provide sources of inspiration. This should be as varied as the expectation of diversity.

If “the Victoria’s Secret website” is the only source mentioned, you will probably receive something that resembles the Victoria’s Secret website. If five different clothing websites are specified, each having its own style, the designer will be forced to get a sense of the client’s preference without fixating on one particular style.

If possible, detail about what or why the client likes about each: the typography of one site, the mood of another, the proportions of a third. Make note of any exceptions, “love the colours but its needs way more whitespace”.

Consider

Supply any elements that each design must include. This may include a fake logo that resembles the clients logo in colours and proportions.

Supply any text that will be present such as fake phone numbers or e-mail addresses. Request that any paragraph text be greeked or direct them to http://lipsum.com

If designs will/should contain photographs or drawings, supply a collection of images that the designer is allowed to use and make it clear that other images are not allowed. This keeps the designer focused on layout instead of image selection and likewise enables the client to focus on the designs instead of the photographs.

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