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How to commission a designer: Step 4 - Brief your designer

How to commission a designer: Step 4 - Brief your designer

1 May 2015

A six-part guide featuring practical tips, advice and checklists for businesses investing in design.

Design could be one of the best investments you ever make. But how do you get that investment right? How do you choose the right designer at the right price? How will the designer get to grips with the complexities of your business? How can you communicate what you want when you’re not quite sure yourself? How will you manage a designer and how will you assess whether what you get is ‘good’ design or not?

These are questions businesses ask all the time about using design. This guide aims to help you answer them.

Step 4: Brief your designer

Designers are only as good as the brief you give them, so it’s vital to get it right. At all stages of the design process the brief is the point of reference both of you can go back to for clarity.

The more thought you give the brief, the more likely you are to have a smooth-running project with the right result. But, while you need to spell out what you want to achieve, don’t be tempted to say what you think the design should be. The right solution will emerge from team work between you and the designer.

Start with the obvious. What do you do and who do you do it for? The designer needs to know and the simple process of getting fundamentals about markets and priorities down on paper could expose and resolve internal differences of opinion you never knew existed. Then move on to the project’s objectives, timescales, deliverables and budget. If you can, state how the work will be divided into stages and assessed, and be specific about roles and responsibilities on your side.

While a brief should be relatively concise, don’t assume knowledge. It’s better to provide too much detail in the form of appended documents or signposts to more information than to leave possible question marks.

And don’t be afraid to use emotive language in a brief if you think it will generate a shared passion about the project. Better to ask for ‘an exhibition that stops people in their tracks’ than ‘an installation which communicates effectively and engagingly’.

You should always expect the designers you choose to review the brief with you, so they can confirm that it appears to be right. Indeed, in the most successful projects, designers often work with clients to develop and refine the brief. And if they need an extra hand to get the brief right, designers can pair with researchers. In fact, the more revolutionary the project you're envisioning, the more you should work with strategic designers to come up with a strong, effective brief. 

Brief your designer checklist:

Company background

  • What do you do?
  • How long have you been doing it?
  • How successful are you?
  • What is the competition like?

Project aims

  • What do you want to achieve? Examples include: sales growth, bigger market share, cost reduction, higher profit margin, better brand awareness...

Target audience

  • Who is your customer?
  • What does your customer think about your offering?
  • What do you know about your market?
  • What new trends might influence what your customer buys?

Project specifics

  • Who will be responsible for the project?
  • Are there any technical or legislative standards or safety requirements?
  • What delivery channels will you use?
  • Who else will support the project and how?
  • What is the time frame for delivering the project?
  • What is the budget?
  • What should it cover?

The Design Council offers support programmes to help organisations get the most value out of design. Learn more about our work here.

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Download a PDF of this guide that includes case studies and more tips and information.

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