The importance of a design brief

Having worked a few years as a freelance UX/UI designer I can’t stress enough how important is to start a design project with a proper (or some form of) design brief. I’ve been approached by dozens, even hundreds of people who email me asking about “the price for a website” or something along these lines mentioning just a few details that don’t give me any clarity other than that they want a website/UX project. We then start with endless emails, calls and meetings which take time and could be avoided only if they had one simple document in place.

To overcome this problem, I’ve created a questionnaire to make it easier for my potential clients to communicate what they need. However, nothing can replace a good design brief. Here’s why.

What is a design brief?

A design brief is document describing the design work that needs to be done, usually prepared by the business or person commissioning the work. It could be very formal and detailed, or it could be an informal one-pager describing the main components of the project and the work that will be required.

What should the design brief include?

There’s no specific formula or template for the perfect design brief, because every project is different, but to make it really useful you should include:

1. Project description
What’s the project about – is it a new website, product prototype, UX work, redesign, etc? Is it an ecommerce project, an app, an analytics platform, etc? You don’t need more than a couple straight to the point sentences here.

2. Project scope
Here’s where you need to provide a bit more details, depending on the size of the project. How many pages, what functionalities and features it will have. You’ll obviously need more details about a brand new software than for a simple 5-pages website. The quote from the designer will be based mainly on this section, so don’t skip any details and be as specific as possible. “A few more pages” obviously doesn’t say anything.

3. What services you’d require
Depending on the specialist you approach, you might need to specify what services you’d require. Is it just UX, or you’d also need all the UI artwork implemented? Is it a whole website or only the design part without developing? Would you need front-end development or design only? What about a new logo and other marketing materials?

4. Target audience
Who’s this product for? Who’s going to use it, when and why? This won’t affect the quote, but it will give the designer a quick start when he/she kicks off with the design work.

5. Do you have a logo or other elements that you want to be included?
This is essential, because a new logo would be usually quoted separately and will require some extra time; or if you already have a logo the rest of the design should be done around it.

6. Overall style and look
Give a few examples what sort of look and feel you like, including the relevant links. This will save time and money later on, as you won’t need many iterations and more than one design version.

7. Would you require new branding?
Some clients don’t realise that a brand new product without any previous design and marketing materials will also require a new branding. This includes logo, colours, fonts, styling, etc, which are usually included in a separate Design Brand Guidelines or at least in a UI toolkit.

8. Budget
You don’t need to include this if you don’t want to, but an approximate budget will help you rule out the designers and agencies that are out of your league. Skip this only if money is not an issue; or specify that you’re after a budget solution if that’s the case.

Why is the design brief important?

First and foremost, a good design brief will save you lots of time in pointless emails, calls and meetings. It will also help you get more quotes to compare from different designers and agencies, as they’re much more likely to provide you with a specific proposal if they see a specific brief.

From a designer’s point of view, a comprehensive design brief shows that the client has a clear vision what they need and are motivated about the project. Many people won’t even reply if they see that you don’t have a clear idea what you want, because they know that the project won’t happen in the near future and might see you as a potential “time waster”. The time that designers and agencies spend in acquiring new clients is not billable, so they always prioritise clients that are very clear with what they need. And the reality is that if you’re really serious about your project, you surely wouldn’t mind spending an hour or two to describe it.

What’s the best design brief like?

It’s concise, clear and comprehensive. You rarely need more than 1-3 pages for an approximate estimate and timeframe.

If the above motivates at least one person to write their design brief before contacting some freelance designers or design agencies, then I consider this post a success. Let me know if you’re the one 😉