The design brief: how to communicate with a designer

If you plan to hire a designer, the best way to get the result you want is with a good design brief. Jono Wills of Paper Monkey explains how to write a good design brief in this expert tip.

Do you recall the $125,000,000 NASA Mars orbiter that crashed on Mars in 1999? One engineering team used metric units while the other used English units for key spacecraft operations.

A small error caused a massive problem. Everybody thought they had done the right thing until the moment it crashed on the surface of Mars.

It’s a costly mistake, but makes for a nice analogy when briefing a design studio.

I’ll let you in on an industry secret. It’s something that will save you money; the information you give to a designer in the initial brief is the foundation on which the entire design will be built.

If you tell us you’d like a spacecraft that will get you to the moon, we will build it for you — and it will rock! But when we’re spray painting the fuselage and applying the decals it’s too late to tell us that you actually needed it to take you to another galaxy. The whole design was based around the size of the fuel tanks! Needless to say there will be extra costs to remedy the situation.

A small piece of missing information at the start can make an entire project crash at the end.

But enough of the analogies, let’s put this into practical terms.

You’d like us to design a business card. You’re tired of the sizes you’ve used over the last 10 years and tell us you’d like this version to be fairly large — in fact you insist on it being an awkward size despite our advice.

Everything goes extremely well. You love the design, the colours, the price and the printed product — it’s a dream job.

We are patting ourselves on the back when all of a sudden the phone rings. It’s you and you’re not happy. Apparently these business cards needed to fit in your wallet, but there are no wallets large enough to fit your illustrious size!

There are numerous examples of design orbiters crashing. In the end it all comes down to working with the design team. You and the designer need to provide thorough information and listen carefully to each other.

We promise to come up with the best design for your needs. We will work with you to extract key information. All we ask is that you think about what it is you want and ensure that you give us as much accurate information as possible in your design brief.

It can be the start of a beautiful working relationship.

Jono Willis is a senior designer and writer.

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