This article was published on: 31/10/2010

Herbert James Draper - Ulysses and the Sirens 1909

Knowing what you want to achieve before setting out to do something is very important. It sounds like a bit of a dumb-ass thing to say, of course it’s important! But you’d be surprised how often designers can get over zealous when it comes to jumping into creation without due diligence.

The significance of a clear design brief is something I’ve only recently truly appreciated…and I mean ‘truly appreciated’ not just a superficial nod of the head toward it. I’ve realised that it is something my elders and those that are wiser have been attempting to drum into me since my school days. But as with many things the lesson has to be learnt for yourself for it to properly sink in. Which kind of makes this article a bit pointless, but hey you’re here now, so you might as well carry on reading!

Really it is a pretty simple concept. Ask what you want to achieve, and then fulfil it. To be fair at some level most designers will do this. The issue is the quality of this question. The key to becoming a great designer is becoming an expert in asking the right questions. The creation of the brief should be the hardest phase of a design process. It carries a huge amount of responsibility, as the old saying goes:

“Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it”

If you don’t ask the right questions and are not completely clear with your brief then everything that follows suffers. In one fell swoop you can damn a project to costly delays and a poor end product. Yet even on a commercial level, it is apparent that designers across the globe have been all too eager to jump into development. The only way you can be clear with your brief is through knowing your target audience and what they demand. A deadly trap that many designers fall into is designing for themselves. Many millions of £$€’s have been wasted because of this.

A brief permeates every level of the design process and spawns many further, more specific, questions during development. If you get it wrong the design will move further and further away from any original intentions at every stage. A solid, well constructed, clear brief acts as a mast that, if necessary, the design team can strap themselves to in stormy Siren infested development waters (especially those pesky brainstorms). A clear brief makes the design process easier because it acts as a fixed point that designers can check against and keep referring back to. With an identifiable reference point it prevents you straying too far.

Our desire to create is an admirable human trait. But with inexperience the temptation to jump in and just start ‘making’ is strong, exuberance can runaway with us. It is possible, after all, to find problems through the act of creation. But without focus and direction these problems are much more likely to become icebergs able to sink your ship. You’re not quite setup to deal with the surprise. A clear brief allows for a more methodical design process which at every stage prepares you for the next. A healthy design process should be one of refinement not damage control.

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