A creative brief is a concise outline of a job to be completed and contains project parameters, goals and inspiration. A good creative brief acts as a roadmap that guides creatives as they work, and ensures that clients receive deliverables that match their project expectations.
If you operate a design or marketing agency, the creative brief is particularly important as it is often the single line of communication connecting the producers (creatives or freelancers) to the clients. In order to make sure that everyone understands each other, you need to develop a brief that meets everyone’s needs. No pressure or anything…
Lucky for you we’ve made a step by step guide to set you on the right course.
What do you need to include in a creative brief?
About the client section
In this section you can include information that the client has provided about themselves and their business. Points which are helpful to ask your client about and to include in the brief are:
- The history of your client’s business and how it was started
- The business location and/or information about the neighborhood
- Hints about your client’s personality, values and interests
If the client has a brand style guide, you’ll also want to make sure you include it!
Project description and deliverables
This section should be very straight forward. This isn’t the time to get into mood or feel, but rather clearly state what the tangible outcomes of the project are. Some examples might include:
- 10” x 10” design for a T-shirt
- 11”x17” folding 3-panel brochure for handout at an event
- Custom wordpress blog design & development of 5 pages
- 8”x11” print advertisement for a magazine
Target audience and response
In this section you want to tell your creative team what types of people will be interacting with your finished product, and how your team’s creative work should be informed by those people. Some examples of a target audience include:
- 10-15 year old children who like games
- 20-30 year old women with an interest in fashion
- 40-50 year old men who read history books
Additionally, it’s helpful to provide some goals for how the target audience should react to the final product. Some examples include:
- The target audience should identify with our brand design and buy the associated products
- The target audience should see our packaging design in a grocery store and choose it from a crowded shelf
- The target audience should read our email marketing copy and check out our blog for additional reading
Specifics that need to be included in the final project
In this section make sure to list any elements that are mandatory requirements in the final product. Don’t hesitate to dig into the details. Here are some examples of elements you might need to include in a creative job:
- Specific Pantone colors
- Exact wordings, phrases, tag lines or keywords
- Preselected or prepared photographs
- Preferred design style
This one is simple: tell your creatives when each deliverable or draft is due. Be mindful of including enough time for revisions and client feedback. If the project is larger in scope and includes actual production (e.g. printing and producing product packaging) make sure you also build in enough time for manufacturing.
Optional sections for your creative brief
Comparing pre-existing work
In this section you can explain how your team should either incorporate or avoid elements of pre-existing design work. In the example above we see a shoe design that is inspired by New Balance, Adidas and possibly other pre-existing sneaker brands. Depending on your client, these similarities might be viewed as good or bad. In this section of a brief you can clarify what your team should either incorporate or avoid.
Tools and resources
Your creative team will thank you for providing any tools that make their job easier. Creative tools might include:
- Reference examples of flourishes for an ornate logo design
- Links to relevant search queries on a stock photo site for a web design
- A cereal box dieline template for a packaging design
There are several ways to give your creative team inspiration. One classic form of inspiration is the mood board. Mood boards can contain colors, photos, logos, illustrations and anything that captures the vibe of your project. Mood boards can be especially helpful for managing teams that require a little extra boost. Other forms of inspiration can include examples of high quality work, descriptive imagery about the context that the work will reside in, or even recommending your team nearby locations to visit which may be relevant to the work.
Encouragement can be what takes your creative team’s work from good to amazing. Creative types are often receptive to encouragement, and will ride high off your positive energy that you put into the brief. Encouragement in a brief can exist in many ways. Here are some examples:
- You can reference work your team did which you liked.
- You can encourage them to ask questions about the brief
- You can add in simple phrases to the brief like, “looking forward to see what you come up with”!
Categorize your briefs for convenience!
If you manage multiple creative teams or jobs, it can be helpful to create brief templates based on the type of job it is. Some different types of creative briefs/templates you might write include:
- Logo design: In logo briefs you might have template sections set for color, style or visual inspiration.
- Marketing: In marketing briefs you might include template sections such as phrasing, word limit or tone of voice.
- Web design: In web design briefs you might have template sections set for keywords, stock photo resources or site maps.
Outside the brief
While a brief is a central tool of a creative job, there’s actually a lot that happens outside of that to ensure a successful project (I mean, that’s the whole reason your agency exits, isn’t it?).
Your starting point should be meeting with your client to ask them questions about themselves, their business and what they need created. The information you collect from these questions will usually help to fill in most sections in your brief, and not to mention they will help you and your creative team “get to know” who they are designing for.
Throughout the design process you will also want to be checking in with your client periodically. These check ins should include updating them on progress, showing them examples and generally making sure you are on the right track. Neglecting this responsibility could result in lost time or even derailing the project entirely. And of course, keep your client in the loop as to the project’s progress.
Set the cost
Negotiating price is usually done outside of the creative briefing process. As an agency there are two sides of this process for you: you need to set a price for your client, and also let your creatives (assuming you’re using freelancers and not in-house employees) know how much they’re being paid.
Do your research
Your client will tell you who they think their audience is or want them to be, but it’s worth it to you to do your own research. Think about the following questions:
- Who will interact with the product or marketing collateral in the real world?
- How do those people want to feel when looking at your team’s creative work?
- What do those people want to take away from your team’s creative work?
Take time to research the target demographic and to put yourself in their shoes. Your client might think that their logo needs to be green because they have an eco-friendly product; your job is to tell them if that’s the case or if there’s actually a better color for them.
Take what you learn and put it in the brief!
Finally, you will want to keep a constant eye out for pre-existing creative work that is similar to what your client is looking for. Supplying examples of pre-existing work to your creative team through the brief will help them to avoid “reinventing the wheel” (not to mention you could run into copyright issues). Taking this one step further, you also want to take note of examples which have been successful for other companies. With this information you can add brief sections that explain which aspects of a job are important to hone in on, or alternatively which aspects to avoid.