Contracting Creatives, in Brief

Your team has reached the stage where you need to hire a professional designer. Maybe you want to finally get a great-looking logo, make a website that doesn't look like it was designed in 1996, or create a really compelling video for your Kickstarter campaign. In any case, you know that it might be tricky to express what you're looking for – especially if you come from a technical background and aren't used to dealing with folks who work in pixels.

If you're hiring a designer, you need to write a creative brief. Briefs can take many forms, but the basic idea is to communicate both what the project is, and give some indication of how the resulting work should feel – but without getting too detailed or prescriptive.

Ask an expert: a conversation with Anne Trausch

Ame sat down this week with Anne Trausch, a veteran content strategist, writer, and designer currently at IDEO San Francisco, to talk about the role a brief plays in a creative process.

Q: What is the essence of a creative brief?

A creative brief clarifies the restrictions and the opportunity of a particular challenge. It's a call to arms and also a map of where to focus efforts. Briefs answer why the project matters, and what the audience will get out of it.

They should be short — ideally a page in length — with a simple statement of the problem, objective, audience, main message, reasons to believe the message, and tone.

Briefs put a box around a problem and say, "Go wild within this box."
– Anne Trausch

Q: What words of wisdom do you have about helping organizations communicate their spirit and vision, and in bridging the divide with creative professionals?

For a creative team to succeed it's vital to clarify a strategic direction and foster agreements around any limits to the approach. Briefs outline what criteria a good solution will have to adhere to. Understanding the restrictions of a project can be liberating. Briefs put a box around a problem and say, "Go wild within this box."

The best solutions are often unfamiliar, bold, and new. In those cases, a team could be anxious trusting something seemingly unproven. A good brief reminds everyone of the strategic intent and can help keep conversations and discussions focused on how well the proposed solution addresses the challenge, and not get bogged down in how the team feels about it.

I have never been forced to accept compromises, but I have willingly accepted constraints.
– Charles Eames

To review: briefs in practice

Building on Anne's wisdom, here are some practical tips for people new to writing creative briefs.

Keep it brief. When in doubt, focus on the basics.

  • What problem are you trying to solve with this creative endeavor?
  • What outcomes do you want to see as a result?
  • Who is your audience for this project?
  • What message do you want to convey?
  • What reasons does someone have to believe your message?
  • How do you want the project to feel – what's the emotion, the spirit, or the values that you want to convey? </ul>

    Remember, successful briefs not only convey your hopes and dreams for a project, but also provide some creative breathing room. After all, you're not hiring a printer to manufacture an artifact you've already fully envisioned, but a creative professional whose talent will, if all goes well, bring something new and beautiful into the world.

    Once you have your brief in hand, you can work to find someone who will use it as a starting place for a conversation on what can be achieved on your budget and timeline. One tip for finding a designer is to look at the work they've already done, and try and find someone whose past projects have a similar scope and spirit to what you're looking to accomplish. Personal referrals can be great, but only if the person's experience is also in line with the work you want to have done.

    If you're an open-source team looking to collaborate on a design project for the first time and need a hand writing a brief or finding a designer, get in touch!

    Learn about creative briefs from the perspective of creative professionals themselves in Briefly from Bassett & Partners.

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