Design Brief

Explanation

This harmless little collection of questions not only enables to deliver a market success, but literally saves hundreds of agency hours of moving text in the layout from left to right because goal, strategy, concept or user story weren’t defined.  They are vital for any kind of project, no matter if redesign, feature add-on or startup concept. Some agencies create answers as part of their strategic brand consultation and presented it to the client as a rebrief titled “How we understand the project”. But it is more than a simple recap. It is strategic business consultation in disguise that adds missing pieces in the business model, business plan or revenue model  without which no real design strategy is possible.

Examples

A couple of examples of creative briefs used by agencies to  collect vital information from the client. Always one step into business strategy. Once the client starts to struggle with the answers, the agency can then step in with a design sprint or concept workshop.

Steps

My (nowadays) barebones, undesigned and distilled design brief. Streamlined to supply all the important answers without rattling the product manager’s nerves with elaborate forms. It purposely leaves out competitor analysis, existing material, brand consideration and many other vital aspects that would be time consuming and exhausting to extract directly. The client manger will notice them as missing anyway while going through the questions and will then become a willingly contributing part in the answer collection.

The best way to place these questions is the unobtrusive way in a casual meeting. Coffee and sweets keep everyone relaxed and busy so the answers can come out unrehearsed, unrushed and undefensive.

What do you want to create for whom and what problem do you solve?

What the answer delivers

Mission statement, most important persona

To keep in mind before asking

“We want to create …. for…. in order to….” Product managers  often prioritise innovation above value when launching products or adding features. It’s often more about wowing people with something snazzy or packing it with features so it can appeal to a broader audience than making sure it does one thing well. A good agency always tries to educate to shift the focus towards solving a real customer problem. But it’s important to not take user input prescriptive instead of informative. Like asking a toddler what they want versus what they really need, people really don’t know what really makes sense for a large audience. Products need to create solutions that serve the needs of lots of people, not satisfy the wants of some people with particular preferences and backgrounds. The question can be asked as one sentence, or split into two questions.

Who gets how much of what? And why go here versus somewhere else?

What the answer delivers

USP and benefit, reason why, more detailed persona(s)

To keep in mind before asking

 Good agencies try to convince the client to solve the essential problem with the minimum amount of effort. This requires laser-like focus on doing one thing well. A phased roadmap can then expand that solution for people who think that the MPV is missing something. Answering this question also automatically defines the target audience / persona which can then be fleshed out further.

What does project success look like, for who?

What the answer delivers

Project goal, main deliverable, user testing metric

To keep in mind before asking

How do we measure the success of this project. How/when do we know when we have succeeded? Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) must solve a real problem for the user. Without that, there’s no point in even bothering. We need to find the subset of possible features that will accomplish that goal. It’s a huge bonus if the solution delights the customer, but without solving any problems, it’s pretty hard to delight them for long. This answer will indirectly also answer if this project is part of a larger strategy, e.g. tied into a multi-touchpoint campaign. 

What timeframes are we talking about and what do we need to get started?

What the answer delivers

Deliverables, deadlines, brand material, project material

To keep in mind before asking

Basically, when does the client want to see what results and what do we need to get from other stakeholders, possibly other agencies before we can even begin (Sometimes waiting for a brand guide can take weeks if it comes from a competing agency). Sometimes it can also fall under the table hat some kind of deliverable or result has already been promised to stakeholders, shareholders, bosses, the media, the team. Sometimes this is the point at which the client will bring out an excel sheet with 10 predefined deadlines he forgot to mention which turns everything the team has thought about how to proceed in this project on its head.  

Lets briefly define the next steps

What the answer delivers

User research possiblities / Global UX definition as milestone

To keep in mind before asking

The asnwer to this question can open an opportunity for two vital project phases that can often be missing from initial client project plans: 1) an extra time frame for definition of global behaviours and UX rules, global UI assets like menus or search, global UX processes etc, and 2) squeeze in a small user testing, SWOT Analysis, competitor analysis before the actual project work begins. There is always something global to define before starting with the actual UX or user journey concept that, if missing, will have a negative effect on the whole project, even if it is as small as language rules  (e.g. sign in versus log in)

These 5 questions don’t save the world, but getting answers means a drastic reduction of rework or revision rounds which for an agency can be the difference between making a good profit on a project, or making no profit at all.

Do you agree? Anything missing?

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