How to Brief a Designer

A great design brief is an essential part of getting effective results from your designer. But where do you start? We have found that some of our clients have never had to do a design brief before, or that the ones they provide miss essential facts that can transform the end result.

What is a design brief?

A design brief is a document that states all the tools a client has to make the end result its best.

Focus on the results and outcome

The content needs to focus on the results and outcome of the design – how it can achieve the business objectives (sales, events, brand positioning etc.).

That means that the brief should not focus on the aesthetics of the design. This is really important. It can feel natural to advise the designer on your colour preferences, fonts, and the general image of how you envision it will appear. This ultimately clips the wings of the designer. The designer is not costing just for time spent but for the depth of their conceptual abilities. Allow them that flexibility and the end design will be better for it.

The risk of dictating details like this is that many clients try to appeal to so many markets that the design becomes too broad – and appeals to none. Designs become compromised with a mash of styles and will often not look unique.

The layout of the brief:

Outline the business

Begin by outlining your business. Avoid jargon. Explain what you do, your history and intended direction. This helps to inform the design and the market it will be competing in. It allows us to explore competitors choices and start thinking about achieving the business objectives rather than visual expectations. It is also more time efficient if these facts are presented upfront.

The project goal

Go on to explain why you’re asking for design work. Is there a message you want to convey, and why? Are you selling a specific product or trying to increase general sales? Is the design work awareness based? Is there an event to promote? Are you inviting enquiries or subscribers? Do you want successful market research, or perhaps more referrals?

Once that is pinned down – what is your USP? All of this will help inform the creative choices.

What is the context of the design work?

Detail the reason behind the work. Is there a brand reinvention? Are you updating or expanding the business? Do you need more promotional material within an existing brand? If this is the case, the designer needs some reference for the existing work. This can be in the form of a style guide or original documents.

Even if the task is to design a new brand, it is useful to have the old documents. This is good for consistency and knowing what to change or keep.

What is your target market?

At this point, it should be relatively clear for us to tell, but there can be surprises. Detail your target market and the priority audience of that target market. Include the geographics, demographics and whether it is business-to-user, business-to-business, age, gender, income etc.

Other content

The quality of the final design is strongly limited by the source material. That includes graphics, photography and copy. The brief should state who is providing these materials and who you are asking to do it. We would recommend getting all of these done professionally, especially photography, as the end result will be stunted without.

Who approves?

Quite simple; state who is required to approve the designs and if there are any use of partner and third party logos to consider. When third party companies or organisations are involved, both client and designer must be mindful of their brand guidelines.

The output

How is the design going to be used? This is important and detail is required here. Explain your ideal specifications; what printing requirements there are, if it will be online and where, if it needs to be digital or both. State the quantity as this will dictate the print solution – digital print for short runs, or specialist large format for exhibition style designs. For long runs, lithographic can be used. Also include any matching colours and corporate fonts, if relevant.


Provide the designer with examples of research of effective design and competitors. This will help the designer understand your expectations of relevant design, but also what you don’t want to see. For example, there could be a grunge design from a competitor that you absolutely don’t want to go near, and would rather have a clean design. This is broad enough to avoid clipping the designer’s wings. Examples help the designer see the client’s tastes without stating their likes and dislikes, which generally aren’t good at expressing tastes.


Knowing a budget is the best way for the designer advise on appropriate design solutions to meet the goals of the design project. Stating a budget within the brief prevents the designer wasting valuable time and also saves time on the client side too. Openness ensures that the project can be delivered, and that the designer and client will be a realistic and good fit for each other.

Timescale and deadline

Offer a realistic schedule. Consider not just the amount of time needed for the design work, but also the availability of yourself to review the designs and request and approve amends. If the work needs to be printed, speak with the designer to gauge the printing schedule, and make sure you enquire early for that service. Consider also that the stages of a project will stagger time; the consultation, concept development, production and delivery can only happen consecutively. If the project is a website with specific online functions, these may also need more time to develop.

The Guiding Document

All design jobs will benefit from having time to properly review. Rushing a design project will see the end result less than it could be. Preparing your brief with all of this information will help towards avoiding this, especially if the project is very tight on time. If tight, be upfront about it. Designers understand that these projects can fall to short deadlines, and that’s okay – but they need to know.

The design brief is the guiding document for the project. You can think of it like a business plan, but just for a specific task. It should cover everything necessary to the project that is easy to refer to throughout the timeline. Finally, it needs to be in black and white – a verbal brief will not suffice.

At Digital Glue, this is what we do. We know that our best work comes from listening first. We give you the information you need to ensure that the results are the best they can be. Getting us a well-built design brief means that you will save time in the long-run and get the very best value for your investment.

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