A common complaint from designers when things don’t go as planned is
‘I had a terrible brief’ or
‘you never said that when you described the job’.
The amount of initial detail you can gather from your client is essential to understanding their business and helping you create something they will love. So, as a designer, how do you get yourself a good design brief from someone who has no experience in our field?
These are the questions you should be asking (or getting asked by your designer, if you’re the client). The following example is based on a new branding and website project:
Business Name and Background
Do you know the exact spelling of your client’s business? Very important to get that nailed down early. You can also check for available domain names with this info. What size is the business? How did they get to where they are now? What are their products and services? Answers to these questions are useful for understanding why they enjoy what they do and what their strengths are. Do they have any existing materials you can view? If yes, how can you improve it?
Address details and phone number(s) are essential. What is their USP? (Unique Selling Proposition) What makes them more desirable than their competitors? Where do they see their product/service in the future? Often, this question will get clients really enthused about their product, which should succeed in getting you, the designer, really enthused about the creative process.
You can make a website look easy on the eye but, ultimately, it’s the content that will keep visitors engaged. Does the client have any existing quality images or will new photography be required? Who is writing the text? The only person who really knows their business is the owner, but if they don’t feel comfortable writing copy for their website, then a professional copywriter may be required.
Many businesses know that they need an updated website, but don’t understand that there are certain things that a designer just can’t provide. A lot of web projects end up on hold for weeks or months due to a lack of content, so it’s best to be honest about this as early as possible.
Target Audience and Competitors
Some clients will have a broad audience and others will have a niche clientele. You have to understand the people you are selling to. What age and gender are you trying to appeal to? Are there peak times during the year that this product/service will sell better?
Researching competitors should be one of the first things that a designer does. How can you make your client stand out in this market place? Look at what they are doing right and, more importantly, what they are not doing. What will give your design the edge?
Requirements and Budget
What exactly do they want? This could be a new company name (always a tough one, that), a logo, business card, letterhead, email footer, signage, website, etc. If a new client is looking for a complete branding suite, I tend to do a few items first with a couple of options, to make sure they’re happy with the direction I’m going in. When they are ready to move forward with one of the options, I will start work on all required branding materials.
Budget is also key – you want to win business and work with interesting clients, but you should never sell yourself cheaply. If you do, you’ll resent working on these jobs if they take longer than expected. Don’t be afraid to ask a potential client about their budget and tell them your rate as soon as possible. If you are working on a time-consuming project, ask for a portion of it up front. This gives you a comfort-blanket for when jobs drag on too long, which can happen, especially with digital projects.
Are there some examples of design that they like? This could be photography, web links, examples of typography and colours. You’re not trying to get them to do your job for you, but any sort of pointer in the right direction is always useful. Finding out what they don’t like is equally important. ‘Didn’t I tell you I didn’t like red?’ Is a horrible thing to hear when you are presenting your carefully-crafted branding suite.
When do they need all of this lovely stuff for? Don’t overpromise too much, or you risk not seeing friends and family for a couple of weeks. Suggest a date that works for you. If your client needs it sooner, then try and meet in the middle.
Getting a good design brief is key to doing the best you can for your client. When presented with the above requests, some clients will really put their heart and soul into giving you the most detailed responses they can, which is great, of course. However, many will not have the time to do this. One solution is to go through all of the above at a meeting, or during a call. Then you can type up your notes, email them and ask them to approve your design brief.
At least that way, if you ever feel like saying ‘you never said that when you described the job’, you can back it up.