Skip to content

Organizing Creativity: How to Use a Design Brief

December 14, 2010

Today’s piece has been written by Karen Euler, Marketing Manager at Carol R Johnson Associates Inc. and member of the Board of Directors of SMPS Boston.

I am pleased to write a short piece for the chapter blog this week. Communications Committee Co-chair Anna Luciano and committee members Franceen Shaughnessy and Alex Moore have done a great job kick-starting this blog over the past six months. It is the goal of our chapter to present and distribute meaningful content for our audience of A/E/C marketers and firm leaders in this forum. If you have something to contribute to the blog, please get in touch with us by emailing

As a marketer, I sometimes make use of a tool I learned in design school from teachers trained in England; it is not as well-known in the United States. It is called a design brief (or creative brief) and it can help you get very good results when you are organizing a creative project. I have used a design brief within my own department as well as with outside consultants such as printers and graphic designers. There are many versions in use, as a quick web search will show you. All of them have similar components. Here are some elements I typically use:

  1. Job description. What do you want to produce? A holiday card? This should be stated simply but thoroughly, as in “The end product will be a static, digital holiday card – not a video card or a Flash animation.”
  2. Target audience. Who is this going to? An existing list of key clients? In the case of CRJA, our clients are mainly architects, engineers, developers, or institutional clients. For a given project, we might drill down deeper and describe the target audience in much more detail.
  3. Objectives. What are you trying to achieve? (At this stage, be sure to consult with those who are impacted by the project to make sure the objectives are agreed upon. Esteemed consultants, whether the smart guy down the hall or your direct supervisor, will help you improve the brief, plus they will support your work even more if they feel ownership in the project.) In our field, we usually want to keep our brand “out there,” i.e. , in clients’ minds. Beyond that, you may have specific objectives. The SMPS Marketing Awards reinforce the importance of metrics, so that is one reason to be sure to factor in how you are going to measure the success of the initiative.
  4. Mandatory inclusions. It makes your vendor’s life easier if you include all necessary address data, logo files, and taglines in the design brief. We all have had times when we have had to exchange two or five more e-mails just to get the right logo file, so get out ahead and save your team some time. By covering all types of mandatory inclusions here, you can move on to the interesting part, namely …
  5. Desired look and feel. This is a very creative part of the brief. It is so important to suggest the mood you would like to set! What is the character of your brand? If it were a person, who would it be? For example, when CRJA re-branded ourselves a couple of years ago, we made sure to express that our new logo had to be modern and high-design, using unique and/or custom typefaces and colors. These requirements fit our company’s reputation among our clients. It helped the designer get right down to business, too.
  6. List of stakeholders. If your vendor or designer knows who will review the design at each stage, her life will be a lot easier. Similarly, you’ll need a …
  7. Milestone calendar. You are the project manager, so set up deliverable deadlines as you see fit and monitor them regularly.

There are more elements for exceptional design briefs (budget is a topic in itself), but this covers the basics. Presenting a creative brief is very exciting because it gives everyone involved the quickening sense of a new beginning. It reminds me of something I hear painters and sculptors say: Great clients are one of the keys to the creation of great art. When you write an excellent brief, whether for your buddy in the next cubicle or your expensive design consultant, you will very likely help them produce their best work. Write a great brief, be a key part of the creative process, and get great results!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Chuck Raymond permalink
    December 20, 2010 8:42 am

    Very helpful Karen – thank you. As somebody who did not go through design school, I find these nuggets of knowledge extremely useful.

  2. al moore permalink
    February 16, 2011 12:29 pm

    Already put this to use multiple times. Great help. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: