How to Write a Creative Brief

A recipe for a satisfying-ly effective design project.

Collato did some investigating to try and understand the challenges that creatives and clients face in the workplace. Our findings? Creative briefs.

It turned out that designers are too often presented with a brief that doesn’t fully encapture what the client envisions. Other times, clients won't submit a brief at all, maybe just the occasional scribbled note or unplanned phone call. Either way, design briefs, or lack thereof, are a major source of frustration on the design side.

But don’t get us wrong, creatives can also be difficult to communicate with; their complex lexicon, savvy technologies, and fancy software programs can be a real ice cream headache! We understand that it’s difficult to know what designers want without any real direction.

To make this workflow better, we put together this seven-step guide to help you cook up a killer creative brief, with some questions for inspiration!

Prepping your Creative Brief

A creative brief is a document that outlines your project expectations for a designer or a creative team. In most cases, the creative brief is written at the beginning of a project to boil down exactly what you want to accomplish; whether that’s printing an advertisement, designing a logo, or launching a website, it’s all articulated in your creative brief.

Briefs are used across a wide range of creative disciplines, including architecture, interior decorating, graphic arts, and industrial design. While anyone can create a brief, generally a company’s marketing department will submit a creative brief to partner with a design agency or freelance artist. In smaller businesses, the team-lead will likely be the one to create a brief.

So if creative briefs are so commonly used, then why is a well-written brief so hard to come by?

The most simple answer is that writing a creative brief is difficult, especially when the success of your project relies on it! Maybe it’s your first project, and you aren’t sure what the design team expects from you. Or maybe you need some creative direction, and aren’t positive where to start.

Whatever the reason may be, don't worry. We got you covered.

The Recipe for your Creative Brief

Mastering a creative brief is no easy task, but a well-written brief is the secret ingredient to a successful design project. If the creative team fully understands your goal and objectives, audience, budget, and overall expectations, you will end up with a beautiful project that satisfies all your design needs.

1. Business Overview

A business overview is a short snapshot of your company. Imagine that your creative team is reading about your business for the first time, what should they know about you?

You would probably start off with an introduction of your company and the sector you work in.

In this section you can also incorporate something about your background story, or maybe your mission and values. It can hint at the tone or company voice that you’re aiming for.

Don’t forget, you are “telling” not “selling” your business. You want to give your creative team a glimpse into your company so they can better understand the services you provide and the product you offer. Check out these questions for inspiration!

  • What does your company do specifically? What sort of services do you offer?
  • What is your company mission, values, and vision?
  • What is your brand or company voice?

2. Project Goals

Arguably the most important section of your creative brief is the goal of your project. Here you should depict the project’s primary purpose; if that’s running a marketing campaign, coming up with a new brand, or just aiming for more website traffic, that’s all iterated in “project goals.”

We want our website to be compatible on smartphones and tablets.
Our social media channels don’t receive enough traffic.
Our textbook covers are out of date. We want to redesign them.


Additionally, this section contains your objectives, the smaller achievements throughout your project that make up the goal. In other words, it’s what needs to happen for your goals to be accomplished.

Users can access our content via smartphone in four clicks or less.
An increase of 10,000 followers on Instagram in the next four months.
Redesign and publish new covers by the start of the new academic year, August 2020.

When writing this portion of your brief, make sure that your goal and objectives are clearly defined. Use clear, plain, and simple language to get your point across. You aren’t trying to prove your English proficiently here! For example;

Our company is seeking to institute an accessible website with a variety of different landing pages that will be completed ASAP.

Versus:

To launch a website with 4 new landing pages, finished by January 2021.

The first example is vague and confusing, it leaves too much room for misinterpretation or miscommunication. Your aim should be concise and straightforward. Don’t be afraid to use action words, dates, and numbers!

Remember, you have a problem that you need help solving. Make it clear what the problem is so the design team can come up with solutions. Here are some questions to help you out:

  • What is your problem that needs to be solved?
  • What will make this project a success?
  • Are there any steps that the design team should specially take into consideration?

Sometimes it can be tricky to condense your project intentions in one or two sentences, but don’t worry, you'll have many more opportunities throughout your creative brief to clarify your thoughts, wishes, and ideas. For now, focus on well-written goals and objectives so your design team has the resources to kick-off your project.

3. Target Audience

Your target audience is who will benefit from your product or service. By having a concrete understanding of who your target market is, your creative team can focus on strategies that cater to your core customers.

Finding your audience can be difficult. Think about your product and what services it fulfills. It is crucial to identify the pain that your product alleviates and then think about who specifically has those pains. For example, if you’ve learned that most affordable backpacking tents are too heavy, and you start a company to sell economical and light-weight tents, then your next step is to discover who is having this same problem. In this instance, it’s probably other backpackers.

Also keep in mind that your target group will likely have similar traits and characteristics, such as age, gender, location etc. These little details to describe your potential customers will better help your creative team make informed decisions throughout the project development.

Consider these questions:

  • What is the pain you are trying to solve? Who has these pains?
  • What are the demographics of your audience? This could include, but not limited to, age, gender, geographic location.
  • What are the psychographics of your target group? For instance, personality, values, interests, and lifestyles.

4. Special Information

Is your product friendly, fancy, techy, or outdoorsy? Do you want to be perceived as bold and bright or calm and soothing?

This is your opportunity to share all of your creative ideas! What colors do you like-or not like? Are there any color combinations that you just love or completely despise? What font styles attract you? The flowy handwritten ones - or the more mainstream serious ones?

Incorporating all your design tastes in this section helps your creative team gauge the tone of your design project. Use Pinterest mood boards, Instagram pages, and magazine tear-outs for  inspiration!

This is also the space to state all the relevant information (AKA the nitty-gritty specifics). This includes file formats, resolution of images, and software systems. Although planning out the meticulous details can seem tedious, it limits potential challenges throughout your project.  Here are just a few of questions that could be helpful in this section of your brief:

  • What colors suit your company persona?
  • What type of fonts do you like/dislike?
  • Who or what is your design inspiration?
  • Will you use pictures in your project?
  • What file formats do you prefer?
  • What about the resolution of images?
  • What softwares do you use? Are they compatible with each other?

5. Competitor Information

An often overlooked section of a creative brief is competitor information; however, knowing your place in the industry can greatly assist the design team. It can be a way to help your company stand out from the crowd!

Two plant nurseries sell the same product, but they market their products in different ways. The first one is trendy and urban, appealing to a younger crowd who want to make their indoor spaces aesthetically pleasing. The other nursery focuses more on backyard gardening, selling plants and equipment to make vegetable gardens, outdoor patios, etc. This would likely suit older customers. Although they sell a seemingly close product, they are advertised to a different audience.

Knowing who your competitors are is really important to clarify your design strategy. It helps your creative team make decisions that differentiate your product from similar ones already on the market.

  • What can you take from competitors' marketing or design choice?
  • How can your company stand out from similar services in the industry?

6. Timetable

In order to stay on track, it’s important to establish a schedule in your briefing process. Setting due-dates and deadlines helps the design team manage how they will spend their time and resources. It also allows you to see milestones throughout the project and gives you inside on the design process!

  • When do you expect the project to be finished and handed back?
  • Are there any landmarks throughout the project that should be addressed?
  • Are there any deadlines that need to be focused on?
  • How often or at what points will you provide feedback?

7. Budget

In some ways budget and timetable go hand-in-hand. Establishing a budget for your design project helps creatives delegate time spent on billable tasks. Money can sometimes be a touchy subject, but be sure to talk about your budget expectations, right from the start!

  • What is the overall budget for this project?
  • Are there any disciplines that you would like to specifically administer funds to? Such as, research, testing, or design in general?

Whip Up Your Own Creative Brief

There’s no doubt that your creative brief will change as you go. You’ll get new ideas and varying feedback, or you might even shift your focus all together, but luckily a brief is a living document! What’s important is that you and the designer are on the same page throughout your project development.

Voila! And there you have it, all the ingredients to prepare your own creative brief.

Writing is hard, especially when there's a lot depending on it. Learn from those who’ve done it before, check out Collato’s templates here!

Made with 🍦 in Berlin.