How to write an effective design brief for your project

by | SLIMDESIGN | Last updated : Oct 6, 2020

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The author: Robert Blaauboer would be happy to help!

INSIGHTS / Templates

A design brief is the foundation of any project. A good design brief saves development time, mitigates risk, and reduces costs. It clarifies the requirements, roadmap, and goals of your project and is beneficial for communication between your design agency and manufacturers/suppliers.

The brief defines the starting point and expectations for all parties, ensuring there is a full agreement on the deliverables for the project. A good design brief can limit scope creep, safeguard your own schedule, and protect you from unrealistic plans and expectations.

As a design agency, SLIMDESIGN has supported many clients with writing project briefs. We’ve created a free design brief template to save time, speed-up your project and guide you through this process. The main topics of the brief are: 

  1. Company profile overview
  2. Project overview and scope
  3. The problem you’re facing
  4. Goals and objectives
  5. Target audience and market
  6. Design requirements
  7. Project budget and schedule
  8. Deliverables

Almost always there are open/unknown items that need to be defined. Choices must be made, with the outcome of each option having it’s own pro’s and cons. These choices have an impact on project complexity. To minimize the risks and unexpected events we often advise starting with a feasibility study to kick-start the project and to consider all the important aspects of the project ahead of time (specification, cost-price, volume, development budget, planning, etc.). 

A good design brief saves development time, mitigates risk, and reduces costs.


Wouter Konings | Product Design Director

What should be included in your design brief?

Writing an effective design brief is not an easy task, especially if you are working in an unfamiliar market. In general, it should be detailed, concise, and easy to understand. To give you an idea of what you could include in your brief, we’ve made a list of essential topics. Please copy and modify them to suit your project. 

Company profile overview

The company overview highlights key information about your company such as its purpose, values, and structure. This allows you to accurately create a project goal.  Here are some examples of questions that you can ask yourself to get a clearer overview of your company: 

  1. What is the mission of your brand, what are your values, and what is the message you want to deliver your target audience?
  2. What are the keywords that describe your company?
  3. What makes your company unique?
  4. In which market are you active?
  5. What is the size of your company?
  6. What is the market you are focusing on and what are your growth ambitions? (only if they are relevant to the project)

Project overview and scope

The project overview outlines what needs to be done and why. Not only is this important for you to know but it also helps the design agency develop a detailed understanding of your needs. It defines the depth of your project and describes your expectations: ‘Is the intention to make a project from start to finish, or do you only want tips and adjustments for an existing design?’ A thorough project overview and scope helps clarify what the design company’s deliverables will be, although this should be stated, in detail, in a separate paragraph later in the brief.

The problem you’re facing

You can only create an effective solution if you have accurately assessed the problem. Without clearly identifying your problem, the design agency won’t know what to design for and their results may not address everything you had in mind. If your problem is, for example: ‘Our current products are overtaken on our market with similar products and we need to innovate to stay ahead of the market and stay relevant,’ then you could ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. What is the target audience we are focusing on?
  2. What is the purpose of our product?
  3. What are the specifications of any imitation products?
  4. How can we improve on the existing products?
  5. What would be the perfect product-market combination?

Regardless of the type of problem you’re facing, it is important to state it clearly, so the designers can address it properly.

Goals and Objectives

What would success look like for your project? This section of the design brief describes your desired outcome. Your goal defines the overall purpose of the project and should be concrete and measurable. For example, a measurable goal could be something like: ‘Launch the first generation of this product within a year’. By making sure your goals and objectives are stated, you can easily monitor the progress of your project. This ensures the project stays on track but has the ability to change course at the right moments.

Target audience and market

Understanding your audience: why should you do this? It is important to get as much information about the target audience as possible to help you make the right decisions when developing your design. ‘Which gender will use the product?’ and ‘What age group is the audience?’ are some example questions that this section could address. It’s important to design for your target audience because they will be the ones buying and using the product. The audience’s opinion is the key to a successful product.

Design requirements

This paragraph of your brief lists all the demands you have for the project. By including specific design requirements in your brief, you and the design agency can reflect on the progress and results. Setting up a clear list of requirements gives your design agency boundaries so that they can focus on the given goals and objectives. Design requirements differ for each project but some examples include the design aesthetic, mechanical requirements (the product should be able to withstand a certain force/water/pressure), hardware (the product needs to contain wifi) or software (make sure the product can connect to your current software ecosystem). 

Project budget and schedule

Planning your budget and schedule is often viewed as an afterthought and sometimes disregarded until the end of the project. However, by planning your project’s budget and the time you’re able to dedicate to the project upfront, you can prevent running into difficult obstacles. Managing budget and time is unavoidable so it should be considered from the start.

  1. Budget
    Discussing the budget for a project can be awkward, but it is essential to know, both for you and your design agency. Financial limitations greatly affect design decisions and ensure designers focus their efforts on the most important and relevant aspects of the project.
  2. Schedule
    It is useful to manage your time and ideally work according to a project schedule. Writing out a rough timeline sets realistic expectations for you and your design agency. You can also include milestones in your schedule, enabling you to keep track of the bigger picture and pivot or reschedule when needed. The schedule in your design brief helps you determine a suitable roadmap for the project. This is especially important for Kickstarter and small businesses just starting out or working quickly. It allows them to communicate with all stakeholders, including investors. 

You can use earlier projects you’ve done as an example for your budget plan and schedule. If this is your first project and you have no experience with setting up a budget or schedule, you could consult a design agency for help. Our team from SLIMDESIGN would be glad to help you get started!

Deliverables

Although all aspects of the project brief are important, including a list of deliverables is absolutely essential. It ensures that you and your agency have a shared understanding of what work is expected. In this paragraph of your brief, you should ask yourself: ‘What deliverables do I expect at the completion of the project or each milestone?’ Some examples of deliverables are prototypes, technical designs, 3D models, or even websites. It is essential to avoid misunderstandings and to be on the same page as your agency from start to finish. This will save you a lot of time.

Other points you could mention in your design brief

We’ve listed all the topics we think are important to include in your design brief, but if you want to take it a step further, here are some other points you might want to note:

  • The competition: Research your product’s primary competitors. This will help you make better design decisions to stand out from the crowd.
  • Analytic insights: Was this project inspired by a newfound idea? If so, what is it? You can analyse the pros and cons of the original project to help you with your own design. 

Document Evolution

Always use your project brief as a living document with the ability to change. And very importantly: A good design agency will help you tweak your project brief, roadmap, and budget to get the best results for your project.

If you need help after filling in the free design brief template, for example with some of the aspects you’re less familiar with, or you would like to have some insights on examples of the deliverables-milestone combination: don’t hesitate to contact us! We would be glad to help you with your project design brief and kickstarting your project.

And of course, we would be happy to create one for you. With our feasibility study, we can work together to develop a project brief and kickstart your project.

Conclusion

A design brief is one of the most valuable project management tools. By incorporating all the tips in this article, you will have an effective strategy to guide your product development. You can minimize miscommunications, mitigate risk, and effectively manage your resources. A thorough design brief is the best way to ensure the final design solution successfully and efficiently addresses the problems you set out to solve.

About SLIMDESIGN

We see ourselves as your design + R&D partner. We would like to support you in the best way possible. Our goal is to maximize your chance to succeed. This means we like to minimize the development budget and make sure we only do things that create real value. We are happy to delegate tasks to your organization or other partners. We will monitor the progress and support when needed. This way we can support more clients (our time is limited).
If you like to contact us, please send an e-mail. We are happy to answer questions.

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