By David Jenkin

Most designers and copywriters have stories to share about the hassle and frustration of an improperly briefed project, illustrating just how important it is to get it right.

The bad brief headache

Adrian Benjamin, founder and CEO of 86design, a company he describes as a ‘forward thinking design and development company’, says he has many such stories. He describes a brief that he once received which simply said, ‘we need a logo’.

“That was it,” says Benjamin, “Four words for a brief. So okay, not my first rodeo. I send back a mail asking pretty much for what a brief would have – what is the company, what colours do you like, do you have examples of what you like and don’t like? I offered to send a few examples of icons and text layouts just so they can get an idea and maybe point me in the right direction. But nope, they simply reply ‘just do what you think is right’.”

Benjamin says that he then did some research online to see what the company was all about, based his designs around what he found and sent them off. The reply he received told him it wasn’t what they were looking for, the answer Benjamin says he was expecting. He replied with a request for an example of something they like. In response the company asked simply that he make it ‘pop’.

“Blasphemy,” says Benjamin, “Nothing gets a designer’s blood boiling more than the word ‘pop’. What does ‘pop’ even mean? Do you want the logo brighter? Bigger? Larger text? Should the text be in some form of shape? Should it be a calligram? Saying ‘make it pop’ is basically like saying ‘we need a logo’. So back to square one.”

Benjamin says that he learned from that incident and now has his clients fill out a form with spaces for the important details. However, a good brief can do more than cover the basics, it can inspire brilliance.

The ideal brief begins with…

Graeme Gauld, founder and art director of design and brand development company Redbeerd, says, “A good brief will introduce the client – brand, individual or company – their history and background and their motivation for their brand and this particular project. It will then introduce the project itself. This should explain why this brief is necessary and ultimately, what the project’s purpose is.”

Gauld re-emphasises the word ‘purpose’ – it’s crucial, he says.

Steve McNamarra, award-winning copywriter, creative director and creator of, writes that every brief should contain a specific and attainable objective and to do this he advises that one consider what the audience should think, feel or do in response. “The objective should always be clear and specific, never ambiguous or overloaded,” he writes.

Gauld further suggests that some of the client’s competitors be included in the brief so as to aid positioning and ensure originality rather than similarity. “If the client has a corporate identity guide they must include this to ensure brand consistency. Examples of previous work may also be helpful, whether to keep in line with or steer clear of,” he says.

Know the consumers

Also crucial, Gauld adds, is identifying a target market through demographics in order to position the project appropriately and effectively. “If the logo for teenage girls is too masculine, the product could potentially fail.”

McNamarra also writes about the importance of including at least one consumer insight in a brief – a simple truth that applies to a significant portion of the target audience. “A consumer insight will help you understand why people buy, why they don’t buy, or some other aspect of the way they behave,” he writes.

What challenges have you faced issuing or interpreting creative briefs? Tell us in the comments below.