Creating the Perfect Design Brief: How to Manage Design for Strategic Advantage

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Notes from Creating the Perfect Design Brief: How to Manage Design for Strategic Advantage
by Peter L. Phillips

What is a design brief?

  • written description of a project that requires some form of design.
  • no set length
  • no set format - must find what works for you and your organization

When do you need a design brief?

  • for all major projects
    Difference between art & design: Art is done for self-expression, design is a problem-solving discipline.
    Great design only comes through a thorough understanding of the problem to be solved.
    Uses for Design Briefs
  • a written agreement / contract
  • roadmap - steps that will be followed from inception of a project to completion
  • must include both business strategy and design strategy
  • business plan (**Designers and design managers should make an effort to study this topic.**)
  • Project tracking tool
  • outline for the final presentation of a design solution
  • a tool to help your business partner understand the phases of completing a design project.

Who is responsible for developing a design brief?

  • Identify who will assume "ownership" of the project. This is the person(s) who will be ultimately accountable for the project - receives the praise / responsible for the failure.
    Use the term partner instead of the client as this creates a co-ownership and develop an equal partnership so that the best outcome can be reached.
  • Owners - one designer / one business (possibly 2) member (decision maker - person design is for) but not design by committee.

Getting Started

  1. Co-owners meeting - answer questions...
    • What are the prime objectives of this project?
      • What is keeping someone awake at night that generated the need to initiate this design project?
      • Why are we being asked to do this project?
    • Why is project necessary?
    • Why is it necessary to do this project now?
      • Timing is a major aspect of the design brief - Need a good grip on the urgency associated with the project
    • What business outcomes do we want?
      • How?
      • What exactly is the problem to be solved?
    • What are the most critical aspects of this project?
    • Who are all of the stakeholders in this project?
      • lawyers
      • external vendors
      • suppliers
      • reviewers
      • marketing
      • procurement
      • operations
      • After identifying ...
    • When will they be involved?
    • How much time will they need to do their work?
    • Is part of the overall project budget allocated to these key stakeholders for their activities?
    • How much has been allocated
    • Will they consult with you on an ongoing basis, or just show up at the end to tell you to make changes?
    • Need to ask them to provide detailed information about their issues, concerns, constraints, and needs.
  2. Determine who will be part of the design brief project team.
    • Use stakeholder list to identify 10 - 12 key members who need to be involved from the project beginning
  3. Design project team meeting
    • 2 team meeting should be scheduled, after which technology can be utilized to keep the members abreast of the progress
    • meeting 1:
      • co-owners introduce themselves
      • introduce the project details
      • review what is being done
      • why it's being done
      • what the business objectives and outcomes are
      • who the stakeholders are
      • identify who will be doing the design work
      • team invited to comment/question
      • each member should be asked for his/her specific inputs to the project
      • ** MEETING TO DEVELOPE SCOPE AND TIMING AND SOLICIT BUSINESS INPUT...NOT TO DESIGN ANYTHING**
    • After first meeting the co-owners will draft the design brief
    • meeting 2:
      • draft of design brief presented to the project team
      • review questions that were posed during first meeting - obtain answers from individuals designated
      • GOAL: to have a unanimously agreed upon design brief at the end of the second meeting

Elements of the Design Brief

basic ingredients:

  1. Project Overview and Background
    • must clearly articulate the scope of the project
    • the business needs and objectives
    • the desired outcomes
    • ownership of the project
    • needs to serve as the executive summary
    • includes a deadline for completion
    • includes budgeting
    • lists members of the design brief team
  2. Category Review
    • specific industry in which this product or service is involved
    • can have, and probably should have multiple categories
    • Needs to include:
      1. List of products
        • Describe each of the products or services included in this project
        • Various features and benefits
        • Current market share
        • Sales History
        • How well are they selling now?
        • How long in existence?
        • Marketplace equity of each product
        • Profitability of the project
        • Product/service scheduled for replacement?
      2. The Competition
        • create similar list as above for each of the major competitors
      3. Pricing and Promotion
        • describe pricing and promotion methods for each product or service as well as competitors
        • What is the ultimate Price Point?
        • What is the distribution method?
      4. Brand
        • relate all individual products/services to company's brand strategy and positioning
        • do the same for key competitors
        • perception of your brand vs that of your competitors
        • what are the most significant differences in those perceptions
        • how important are they
      5. Category (or Industry) Trends
        • What are the significant trends are occurring in this category?
        • How might these trends affect this project?
      6. Company Business Strategy
        • What is the business strategy the company is currently pursuing?
        • Is it price?
        • Quality?
        • Value?
        • Environmental correctness?
        • Driving by acquisition, partnerships, or alliances?
  3. Target Audience Review
    • describe all target audiences as completely as possible
    • pay particular attention to national, cultural, regional, and gender differences, especially for global offerings
    • exactly who will be looking at and responding to your design?
    • can have multiple audiences
    • if you do not have access directly to the target audience then you need to get firsthand information from those who do... the sales force
  4. Company Portfolio
    • for in-house groups this section can become boilerplate once initially created
    • describes the company and its activities as completely as possible
    • what are all the elements that make up the organization
    • Does the company... use a monolithic brand strategy? branded strategy? endorsed branding strategy? or a combination of these?
    • In which ways will this particular project be integrated - or not - with the rest of the company portfolio or products/services
  5. Business Objectives and Design Strategy
    • Must solve a problem... needs to be clearly stated
    • business objectives and the solution also have to be clearly articulated
    • all key stakeholders need to be in agreement with this section
    • sample format:
      • Business Objectives • Design Strategy (strategies to achieve business objectives)
      • design strategy - refers to a strategy, a direction, not a specific design concept
      • the design concepts will emerge from the strategy
  6. Project Scope, Timeline, and Budget (phases)
    • For each phase:
      • precise description of the phase (activity)
      • time frame for the phase
      • people who will be involved in the phase (be sure to include key stakeholders such as lawyers, purchasing agents, market researchers, and so forth)
      • approvals of the particular phase (who, when, where, etc.)
      • budget for the phase
    • be sure the description of the phase is complete and understandable to everyone involved.
      • Sample phases:
        • phase 1 - visual audit of existing company portfolio as well as a visual audit of the top three competitors' portfolios
          • Do we have an example or examples of all current artifacts in the company portfolio? If not - who will gather this material? How long will it take?
          • How about the competitors? Do we know who they are?
          • Do we have examples of the competitor’s current materials or products? If not - who will provide these? How long will it take?
          • Who will be involved in conducting the audit? What criteria should be applied?
          • How will the results be presented? Who will they be presented to? How long will this part of the audit take?
          • What costs are involved? What are the start / end dates for this phase?
          • Will this phase require any stakeholder involvement or approvals? If so, who?
        • phase 2 - develop a maximum of six creative design concepts that meet project business objectives
        • phase 3 - test all concepts with target audiences
        • phase 4 - select three concepts and further refine each - retest all three with the target audience
        • phase 5 - select one concept, fully develop it, do final testing, and prepare a presentation for approval.
          • approval presentation should be given by one of the co-owners
        • phase 6 - Implement approved design solution.
          • co-owners and design team will need to be involved in this phase as well
          • what is the distribution process?
          • this phase will involve many of the key stakeholders previously identified
          • Needs to include specific dates, budget figures
        • phase 7 - measurement matrix
          • how will anyone know if this design solution was successful?
          • what criteria will be applied to this measurement process
          • how long will it take?
          • is there a cost involved in the measurement process?
          • the answer to the business objects - can give guidance as to what type of matrix needs to be used
          • Discuss each phase with your business partner & determine what business risks exist for eliminating, or not fully funding the activity
  7. Research Data
    • Optional section
    • Questions that were asked during the initial meeting of the design brief team that were not answered at that time. This section lists those questions, who's responsible, and when the answers are expected by
  8. appendix
    • Optional section
    • Area for items that don't fit into any of the other sections...
      • summarize research data
      • competitive analyses
      • news clippings
      • photographs
      • other visual materials from your audits
      • materials simply gathered for inspiration
    • can be a file box or may be more formal & included with a design brief

Getting the design brief approved

  • meeting with all key stakeholders
  • ensures that the category trends are up to date, that the business objectives and desired outcomes are correct
  • have signed by team members
  • all changes have to be approved by the entire team
  • the approved brief should be submitted to the extended list of stakeholders identified in the initial meeting but not included in the key members that made up the design brief team

Using the design brief

  • design strategy provides a start point for developing the design concepts
  • business objectives provide a benchmark to measure the concepts against
  • good design suggestions do not include "I think...". "I believe...", "I feel...", "I like..." or "I don't like..." these are personal opinions
  • suggestions should be supported and answer the problems presented in the business objectives
  • phases provide the timeline and means for non-design team members to understand how the project is progressing (on time / budget)
  • design brief team should approve the progress at the end of each phase... minimized lower level approvers involvement at later stages because they've already approved their portions early in the design concept stage
  • do initial (comp) testing with the target audience whenever possible... easier and less expensive to discover if you are on the right / wrong track early in the development stage that once the project is completed
  • the design brief will become your outline for creating a design solution approval presentation
    • Don't use "design terms" when explaining the solution to the approval department
    • Start presentation with the first paragraph from your executive summary
    • Review the key business elements (why doing the project, why now, who for, what outcomes are expected, etc.)
    • Move through the brief as it's constructed...identify who is ultimately accountable for the results & who the key stakeholders are
    • Describe the categories & trends
    • Target audience & other key elements
    • Provide the approver with only one solution... & explain Clearly why this solution meets the business objectives (show testing results if possible)
    • Describe implementation of the project and the way in which it will be measured and business results reported

Competitive Analysis

Why do we need to do one?

  • To obtain information about our / competitors standing (visually) in the marketplace
    • what are your competitors doing really well? Why?
    • Pricing? Value? Elegance? Availability? or a combination of these? others?
    • How is design being used for a competitive advantage?
    • What's working well for them? What's not?
  • discover any feedback the stakeholders may have gotten from the target audience regarding the competition
  • obtaining materials...
    • trade shows
    • sales force

Establishing Credibility and Trust for Design

Won't happen overnight...but can be done.

ValueOffered.jpg
  • There are two "you" in the model...one is you personally, the individual who will be an equal partner in a process and two, the design function as a whole.
    • Exercise -list every reason you can think of that either you or the design function, add value to the business
    • Wait - a day or two
    • Look - review the list.... does this really matter to a non-design businessperson? If not - cross it out.
    • Rewrite - rewrite the list that remains keeping it in business terms - not aesthetic terms
  • Develop a two-minute drill - be able to communicate, succinctly and in a compelling way, just what it is you have to offer that is unique.
  • Suggestions: Create a display of design pieces & tag them with business objectives that were met with each piece.
    Create a poster with your design mantra or philosophy (e.g. Good Design Is Good Business. Design Partnership + Business Objectives + Design Strategy = Optimal Business Results)
  • You don't have clients you have partners. You work-with your partners, not "for" clients.
  • Should you bill your corporate partners for work... not if they are partners. When you bill "clients" you are a service department not a partner.
  • Once you understand your value and are able to communicate it effectively... you are able to work with people instead of for them... you will be able to develop the trust that will lead to credibility.

The Final Approver

  • Remember the final approver may have no exposure to this project until the approval meeting.
  • Don't as "Do you like it?"... invariably they won't! ... liking is not an issue, the issue is does it solve the business problem?
  • Multiple solutions provided at the final approval meeting signals the approver that you are not confident in which solution is best and opens the door to having the approve suggest mixing the solutions... thereby creating an end product that no longer meets the business objectives.
  • Emphasis the inclusion of the key stakeholders in the development of the solution... assures the final approver that multiple concepts were considered and rejected for valid business reasons
  • If insistent about seeing the other designs... schedule a meeting in a week to present & explain why each was rejected by the key stakeholders... This is the time that having target audience testing to support decision will benefit you greatly.

Measuring Design Results

  • Design can only be measured by how well it meets and delivers the desired business outcomes of the project.
  • Focus on creating Effective Design = design that is great & delivers the desired business outcomes
  • How to prove this.... by testing with the target audience