Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Process | Creative Briefs Made Simple

Recently I found myself halfway through a web design project only to realize that I was just NOT on the same page with the small agency I was sub-contracting for. I the past, this agency hadn't ever given me a ton of direction but had always been happy with my first attempt at a design, so the unequivocal thumbs down surprised me. We worked it out, and came up with a strong design in the end, but it took a solid sit-down to really discuss the goals for the site, end-users' needs, and the client's existing branding. If we'd worked these things out up front, the first round of design would have been much more focused and effective. For me, the process reinforced the need for a solid and well-thought-out creative brief, even for the "simple" projects, and even if, as a designer, you sometimes have to write it yourself.

So what goes into a good creative brief? Simply put, the document should "put down in writing" the project scope, goals, and anything that might influence your design decisions. I've seen creative briefs that spanned over twenty pages with a thorough market analysis and long-term brand strategy, but most web projects don't require anything that dense. In my experience the basics should include:

  1. wireframes for the site's homepage and typical lander and body pages, and for any additional pages that feature specialized functionality or content such as galleries or forms (for simpler sites, a wireframe may not be necessary—an overview of planned pages, what they contain, and how they're linked, may suffice).

  2. a snapshot of the target audience(s), what they are expected to do with the site, and any special needs or factors such as physical impairments, typical education level, internet connection speed, level of familiarity with web standards, etc.

  3. a list of adjectives that describe the personality and emotional tone of the client's brand (ie. professional, high-tech, high-touch, warm, compassionate, expert, educational, helpful, gentle, soft, authoritative, strong, bold .... that kind of thing). Sometimes this is best broken into two lists: "What we are to our current audience," and "What we'd like to be."

  4. brand standards—vector logo(s), color, font and photo styling specs.

  5. examples of stationery, brand collateral, print materials, advertising, TV spots, whatever the client feels best embodies their brand's current look and feel.

  6. examples of and responses to competitors' sites—how does the client feel about design, color, use of photos, fonts, white space, and usability of things like interactive homepage marquees or tabbed content?

  7. some sites or brands the client likes that may not have anything to do with their industry at all. It helps to have some description of why they like them, and what details they may not like.

Once a good creative brief has been compiled, ask all project stakeholders to agree to it, in writing. When you present your designs, you can refer back to the fact that in the brief, everyone agreed that X, Y and Z were the most important functions of the site, and point out how you've matched the design to their existing brand. This should focus your decision-making and cut down on requests to change the color scheme or add unnecessary elements to the homepage, or worst of all, start over with a new design.

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