Why Designing Without A Design Brief Is Like Playing Charades

By . Filed in Web Design

Editor’s note: This is a contributed post by Devora Homnick, the Art Director at Kars for Kids, a national car donation charity that funds educational and youth programs, where she leads a team of talented designers and creative marketers. Find Devora on Twitter.  

We had a wonderful moment in the Kars4Kids design department recently when our manager said, and I quote, "So we all agree the design brief works, now how do we…" And the soundtrack played its crescendo in the background and I shed some happy tears and thought, "my work here is done."

The story leading up to this epic piece of drama is a delightful journey that goes something like this. But first, my background story. As the art director of an in-house design team, part of my job is to streamline the process for the graphic design projects that come our way from the many and varied departments of our organization.

The quest for the perfect design brief

It was a couple of years ago, and we as a company, especially the marketing team, were growing fast. I was set on the very specific project of creating an official process for the design projects we tackle. Until then, we operated in a very casual, informal way but it quickly became clear that some order was in order, if we were to be an efficient design team.

After much research and mad professor-ish note taking, I revealed my magnum opus: The Design Brief. For some well-oiled-machine designers, that might have been a duh moment, but for me, it was putting a name to a face, the answer to my "there must be a better way" quest.

Behold, Le Design Brief

The design brief is a who, what, when and why form for design projects that has to be filled out with all the project details and goals before we do any actual design. By customizing the information gathered on the brief, I was able to provide a valuable tool in avoiding some of the most frustrating problems our team encounters.

Never again would we get halfway through a project without knowing what exactly it is that we’re asking the target market to do. The information would be right there, on the line next to "call to action."

Instead of adding a mailing block and indicia to a brochure right at deadline as it was on the way to the printer, we would simply fill in the "method of distribution" space on the brief with "self-mail, bulk indicia" right at the beginning of the project.

And most importantly for an in-house team, my design brief has a slot for "internal goal for this project." This not only helps focus the entire project, it allows us to measure the project’s success for future action.

Getting the design brief accepted

There was only one problem with my dream solution: getting the other departments, ultimately our clients, to accept what they saw as, at best, red tape and at worst, cruel and unusual punishment.

Part of the challenge of working in-house is the familiarity. You and your "clients" are like an old married couple. They can drive you nuts and do everything you asked them not to do in the safety of knowing that you’re not going anywhere and will still work like crazy to get them a good product.

So if I wanted to change the way we worked with the other departments, I was going to really have to sell it. How did I explain why we can’t just take notes on a legal pad as the project is described in a minute or two and then work out the details as we go along?

Designing a Project Without A Design Brief Is Like…

Being a fan of metaphorical speaking, I became a veritable storyteller of a tale with many twists. The title: Designing a project without a design brief is like…

Here are the best of Designing a project without a design brief is like…

#1. Filling an order for a steak in a restaurant kitchen which reads, "I’ll have a cow piece, thanks."

#2. Playing charades. Designer: "Okay, you’re pointing to a paper, so this must be a print project… no? Wait – Web! You’re holding up three fingers, so you need it in three weeks? WHAT?! THREE HOURS?"

#3. Being a fortune teller with a crystal ball. Designer: "Ooooh, I see you have a big event coming up. You will need an advertising campaign. It will be all wrong until 4 a.m. the night before we go to print. Yes, the Great Designer never guesses, she knows."

#4. A forensic artist drawing a suspect. Designer: "From what you described, this is what you want for your brochure." Client: "No, that’s basically my competitor’s brochure. I wanted that but BETTER."

#5. Buying your wife surprise jewelry. Designer: "Last time we met, my client mentioned tri-folds. She probably wants a tri-fold. And she always signs her email in comic sans. She must like comic sans. And the design will match her signature!"

Closing argument

If your design department is not using a formal design brief, be the hero and introduce it. Just remember, a little humor goes a long way in making something new and unfamiliar acceptable. Here are a few more posts that can help you sort this out while still staying on your client’s good side:

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This post is published by a Hongkiat.com staff (editors, interns, sometimes Hongkiat Lim himself) or a guest contributor.

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