Designers are amazing, clever, creative people, but one thing they’re not are mind readers.
One thing I’m unapologetically passionate about is that all brand owners really need to KNOW and OWN their own $h!t. That means, you have got to understand the foundational elements of your brand *before* you even think about engaging a designer. Why? Because this stuff helps them do their job better and create something more closely aligned with your business objectives. And that’s the key: they might be awesome at making your brand look pretty, but if that doesn’t align with your values, personality and audience for example, then it’s just a pretty design, not an impactful brand identity.
*gets off high horse*
So how do you get your designer aligned to your vision for your brand? Well, once you’ve got a clear idea about your brand foundations (like by using this handy workbook which will guide you through developing them), then the next step is a really excellent brief. Here’s a format I’ve used for hundreds of design projects through my career. If your designer doesn’t have a brief template of their own for you to complete, then they’re gonna fall off their ergonomic chair when they see this come through from you.
Ok, so what are the must-have components of a good design brief?
This is where you tell the designer what the brief is for and for what reason (e.g. are you starting from scratch and need a full brand identity? Are you looking to rebrand and need to evolve your brand design?). Be straight up and set expectations upfront. This doesn’t have to be your life story – keep it short and simple. Talk about your overarching brand purpose here and what this design work will do to help you work towards that purpose.
What are your objectives for the design project? Do you want to attract a new audience? Are you seeking to increase relevance? Do you want to make a splash and stand out? Providing this context is important so the designer understands what you’re aiming for and how they can help you get there. If you can’t link this to your actual business objectives, then you may need to rethink why you’re embarking on this project (cos no, Shiny Object Syndrome isn’t a real reason, and it’s an expensive exercise to go through for vanity alone 😉).
Here’s where you give them some business background. Tell your story in a paragraph or two so they know where you’re coming from (and so they don’t repeat the same mistakes as the past). If you’ve had experiences with designers before, here’s a good place to lay that out and what you learned about those experiences that brought you here. Again, this doesn’t have to be War And Peace long. This isn’t the complete history of how you got here – keep it relevant to the project at hand.
Don’t forget to explain who your target audience is for this design work. Who are they, what motivates them, and what is your key challenge in reaching and connecting with them? This provides your designer with further context about why you’re embarking on this project and what it needs to help you achieve.
State very specifically what you need from the designer. Is it just a logo? Is it a logo, typography, icons, social media post and cover templates all presented in a style guide? What file types will you require when they complete the work? Consider what you’ll need for different places, for example, printed materials versus online will need different file types. Large format items will need files created large enough so the design integrity is maintained when it’s blown up huge. Being as specific as you can will help the designer understand exactly what is needed from the start and save you time and money by avoiding unnecessary back and forthing to change formats. If you’re not sure of the specifics – ask them. They will be able to help you work out the best approach.
Here is where you specify any important considerations around colour palette (to align with your brand) and considerations about whether to fit within or stand out from the category you’re playing in. You may consider putting in examples of competitors here to help illustrate your point to your designer. Include your mood board here and any examples of fonts you do and don’t love. They’re visual people, remember! The more you can do to bring your brand to life and provide examples of what you’re looking for (or hoping to avoid), the better. And, they’ll totally love you for it.
Also consider the future of your brand. If you’re launching a brand now and will be looking to launch additional products in the near future – how will this all come together? Providing your designer with some context about how design will be used across multiple formats is important. That way they can think about how to adapt and evolve with each new product or adaptation in the future.
Tell your designer when you want your design work back. When do you need to update your website? When do you need to send designs to your printer? When do you want to see first drafts and approve final art by? Again, setting clear expectations upfront will just make the whole process easier for everyone.
At a minimum, include:
- Date of the brief
- When you expect an initial response and quote for the project
- When you expect to see first round creative concepts
- When you need your final design through
- When the design will be launched
Make yourself available to provide timely feedback. Remember that these are your timelines they’ll be working to, it’s only fair that you help them stick to your deadlines by being respectful of their time when the decisions fall in your lap.
Be specific about your budget. Because you’re a savvy brand builder, you will have done your research and will know that if you pay peanuts (ahem, $5) you will get monkeys. Respect that your designer has years of experience and you’ve chosen to engage them for your project because you like what they do. If you’ve researched ballpark costs for what you are expecting, and know what you’d ideally like to spend, put that in your brief. Talk to your designer about achieving what you need within existing packages they may have. Be clear about what is included and excluded in the budget (and you know, your designer will be doing the same). That means you can both be on the same page, and you know what you’re getting for your investment.
The more information you can provide your designer about your brand, the better. You are your brand custodian after all, so knowing what you need to align with your brand and key insights about your audience will get you a better result. Respect your designers and they will do amazing work for you and your brand.
Any designers want to add their two cents? What else would you consider CRITICAL in a brief? Let me know in the comments.
NFI Where To Start With Your Brand?
There are a bunch of resources I’ve made to guide you through exactly this challenge.