How to write a creative brief?
IntroductionAs a freelance graphic designer, you must have had good, bad, and ugly experiences with clients. I know I have.
And oftentimes when a project has gone awry for me are times when client expectations and my own understanding of the project were different. I didn't know it then, of course.
After many such mishaps, I went online and as any normal person would, started screening all articles listed on Google to figure out how I can bring the client and myself on the same page as far as expectations go. And there, I stumbled upon the godsend - A Creative Brief.
If you are somebody who is just starting out as a freelance designer or
have had some experience in the business but have not yet determined how to get your client and yourself on the same page in terms of deliverable and timeline expectations, then this post is definitely gonna help you.
In this article, you will cover:
- What is a creative brief?
- What does a creative brief consist of?
- Great examples of creative briefs out there.
- A simple 5 step process to make your own.
- Key Takeaways (TL;DR)
- A FREE template brief to get you started.
So What is a Creative Brief?
A creative brief is made at the beginning of every design project. You can use it as the foundation document that defines the strategy of the project and the client’s ideologies verbally so you can later translate it into visual designs.
It is a detailed questionnaire aimed to answer questions ranging from the client’s vision and expectations of the project, the audience they want to target, and what results are expected after the launch of the project.
What does a Creative Brief Consist of?
Learning how to write a creative brief becomes easy when you understand the core principles it is built upon. Any comprehensive creative brief consists of detailed questions from these 5 sections.
- Company profiling: mission, vision, values and brand positioning
- A detailed description of the project. For example, timeline, deliverables, expected result
- What will the company solve by doing this project
- Audience demographics and psychographics
- Key market competitors and their approaches
Let’s discuss each of these sections in a little more detail.
1. Company profiling
When you ask questions in your brief about the client, you get insights into how they want to be perceived by their audience, what their tone of voice is, what they value and how they improve lives. Questions surrounding their vision mission, statement, and their brand positioning would help you answer these questions.
2. About the project
This section will help you determine what your client’s expectations from the project are so that everyone is on the same page.
- You can establish timelines that work for both of you.
- This is also a great place to have a list of deliverables where you and your client can access it quickly.
- Finally, you can ask them here if they would be interested in taking a survey some months from now where you can ask them about the impact of the project on their business in whether monetary or otherwise. This will help you create detailed and result oriented case studies for your portfolio.
3. What will the client solve through this project
Now that you know more about the psyche of the brand through Point 1, in this section, you can better understand the psyche behind the project.
Whether it's rebranding or building a new product, they must have thought why they need it and how it will help their audience. You can then direct your designs to address the problems mentioned here.
4. Audience demographics and psychographics
Understanding your client’s audience is very important. This will help you design solutions that are targeted at them and not your client. You can do this by creating various personas based on the data your client provides you.
This is one of the most crucial steps to get right, as most misconceptions happen at this stage. You need to remember that even though your client is paying you for the project, it is for their audience that you are creating the product.
When you keep that audience in mind, the final product will inevitably be a little different from what you or the client had envisioned, but using your design process, you can make the audience come first.
Key competitors and their approaches
Finally, You should have a good idea about your client’s competitors and aspirational brands and what their approach is regarding the same project you are doing (branding, product design, etc.) This can give you inspiration or even tell you what not to do. It’s a good place to start your research.
Great Examples of Creative Briefs Out There
There are many free downloadable creative briefs out there. Here are some great ones that you can download and use for free.
Milanote is an organisation tool for creative projects. It is an unconventional place to make a creative brief but more and more people have started using it.
It has multiple design templates to choose from and there is one called design brief that covers many of the sections we discussed above. Moreover, you can add more sections depending on the client.
This is Tomango’s guide to a design brief guide. They also have a downloadable sample that you can use as a starting point to create your own.
Hubspot offers a set of 2 creative briefs for different projects which you can download for free and use as a blueprint for your next project brief.
4. 99 Designs
99 Designs is a great platform for freelance designers to find good projects. They also have a free template of a creative brief you can use to develop your own brief.
Formstack is a great platform to increase your business productivity. It is a paid service but it also has hundreds of free form templates for different processes, for example, client information form, client onboarding checklist, etc. There will definitely be something to suit your needs.
5 Steps to Make Your Own Creative Brief
So now that you are armed with the knowledge of pre-existing creative briefs. Here are 5 steps on how you can make your own.
1. Choose the right tool
As a designer, you may be predisposed to using design software like Adobe Illustrator to make a brief, believe me, I was.
This is NOT a good idea, as you will inevitably convert it into an interactive PDF for your client. While making a PDF an interactive is easy, it takes a lot of your time and is not the best solution for a form that may need customisation for each client.
Instead, you can use online tools like Milanote or you can be more conservative and use Google docs. I personally use Google docs as it is cloud-based plus you and your client can edit it together in real-time. This gives the brief more flexibility and ease of use.
2. Ask the right questions
Before you share a creative brief form with the client, it is important to talk to them and ask what want out of this project.
This way you can tailor the questions in the brief so that they are relevant to your client. For example, you would not ask a company just starting out what they want to improve in their existing project but you would definitely want to ask that to a client who wants to revamp their existing product.
3. Ask the uncomfortable question - the budget
If you haven’t already talked about a budget (which if you are anything like me, you avoid it until it can be ignored no longer), this is a great starting point to have that discussion.
In the About the Project section, ask the client what they are willing to pay for the project. Based on that you can decide whether you can provide that service within the budget or not.
A creative brief is made before a contract and is non-binding. So you can start negotiating or even say no based on the budget the client quoted.
4. Make sure there are no typos
Not every freelance designer does it. So when you share a creative brief, you will automatically come off as a professional who knows what they are doing.
But beware. There is nothing worse than a dampened impression due to preventable typos. A client may not know much about design but they are trained to weed out designers based on things they understand. Copywriting is one of them. So make sure to proofread your brief and to ask a trusted friend to proofread it too before sharing it with the client.
5. Make it editable for the client only for some time
So once you have proofread the creative brief and are ready to share it with the client, it is time to draft an email where you explain to them that they should treat it as homework and should spend some time on it.
You should also mention it in the email that you will remove the editable functionality from the document in some (give them the number) days so that when you start creating the contract, you have the deliverables, budget, and timelines listed out and closed.
Key Takeaways (TL;DR)
If you didn’t have time to go through this VERY long essay but still want the essence of it, here it goes.
- Make a company profile. Ask questions about the client, their ideologies, vision, mission, and positioning
- Discuss the project in detail. Ask questions about the expected timelines, deliverables and budget
- Understand the problem in the market and how the product will solve it
- Know more about the client’s audience, their demographics, and psychographics by creating personas
- Discuss key competitors and aspirational brands that solve the same problem and what is missing from their products
After listing out questions from each section, you should:
- Choose the right format for the brief
- Tailor each brief to the client’s need
- Have a dedicated question about the budget for the project
- Proofread the brief before sharing it with the client
- Make the brief editable for the client for only a short period of time
A FREE Template to Get You Started
Here is a free template that I customise and use with all the projects. In this one, the client is in need of a new brand identity so all questions are tailored to get answers regarding the requirement.
In conclusion, it is always good to start with a creative brief. It certainly helps in your research about your client and the project but more importantly, it brings you and your client on the same page with regards to expectations. Not only does it help reduce confusion and miscommunication but it gives your client more confidence in you and shows you in a more professional light.