Do you really need a brief?

Of course you do. But you need more of a brief than you likely think.

A designer who’s been around the block a few times knows that working without design constraints is a recipe for disaster. Projects creep beyond scope as revisions pile up, clients and designers misread each other’s intentions. Projects starts to feel like wading through a swamp. You put on a cheery face, but it’s not that great.

Likewise, a business person who has asked a designer to “make a website,” trusting that the designer will know what to do, has experienced the same let down.

Because of this trust, most briefs are heavy on objectives but light on limitations. Paradoxically, this creative freedom is paralysing rather than freeing.

Imagine two projects, one is a rebrand of existing company and the other is branding a startup. The existing company has a history to consider, and an existing brand that limits options. The startup has infinite choice about what kind of brand they want to be.

The startup sounds better, right? Actually though it’s a much larger job. The rebrand is simpler. The company’s history gives a lot of information, and the limitations posed by the existing brand actually narrow the focus. That’s the paradox of choice. 

Having infinite choice costs time because you waste time doing the wrong things, or ‘seeing what sticks.’ Three iterations aren’t that many if the first one is based on a guess, and the rest just reactions to the client’s reactions to that guess. Fifty iterations probably wouldn’t really do it in that case.

A good designer will spend time creating the necessary constraints. But the chances are they haven’t budgeted for this. The market for deliverables simply doesn’t allow it. So the constraints will be fairly random.

But if those limitations can come from an actual strategy, the return is manifold. It just needs to be accounted for.

Strategy-based constraints

This is not a slight on designers who are charging fairly for what they assume the work will be. Their only mistake is that assumption: that they will be given enough limitation to work within.

Likewise, the client is assuming the designer will be able to construct those limitations out of the limited information provided and their own research, and that thee designer’s research is built into their quote. Both are usually wrong.

Ideally, they’d also prepare for the worst, and itemise and charge for whatever process they need to work out the business-driven creative constrains. So if someone’s trying to charge for a little strategy before making a logo, or even a website, my advice to a business would be “go with it.” In our experience is isn’t just worth the little extra, it’s transformative and the value of the end product is disproportionally larger than the investment.

Designers should help create the brief with their client, and charge for it.

You might be wondering why a client shouldn’t just hand over internal strategy findings to their designer.

In-house strategy may be a good start, but there are a few important reasons for an organisation to have third-party help with strategy. It’s advisable for businesses to find designers who know to ask their own questions, and to do the strategy as a part of planning for the new project.

When I say the designer should help create the brief, I guess I’m talking about a new breed of business-strategist designers. The designer should know how to devise the limitations needed and which are also the most relevant to the business goals.

The good news is that design education is headed in this direction, but it’s still hard to find. We know many such designers and would be happy to put you in touch with one from your area, just ask.

Find strategic designers who can help write the brief.

Good strategy means change, and change is hard for even just one person. For people who work together and need to maintain relationships despite all the crazy going on around them, it’s much harder still.

I’m talking about that in this post, check it!

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