Art Of: Writing a Brief

After a client requests your services, agrees to working with you and signs the Licensing Agreement the next step is to ask a lot of questions in order to get better acquainted with the client’s company and write a project brief.  If possible, asking them in person is best because it promotes a discussion rather than back and forth responses. I’ve found that I’ve had better responses when I was able to ask follow-up questions. Second best would be over the phone and third would be via email or form.

The questions that need to be asked are going to be different based off the client needs but here are the basics of the brief:


Client info
  • Client name (company)
  • Contact info
  • Secondary person of contact (incase you find it hard to get a hold of your first contact. It happens)
  • Best time to contact
  • Location: Make sure you know what time zone they are in
Your info
  • Your name/ Your company name
  • Your contact info
  • The Date
  • job #
  • Job Description


Client description and services

Small, medium, large? Start up or around a long time? What industry are they in? Do they sell something, provide a service etc? Where is their headquarters?

Any important information about the brand

Are they online? Do they have stores/offices? How much of the identity is already established? List out 5-8 words that describe the company (etc. edgy, modern, minimal, innovative)


Who are their direct competitors?

What sets the client apart from their competitors?

Target Audience

Who buys their product/uses their services? What’s the sex, age range, ethnicity, financial income bracket, education level? What are their hobbies? What other brands do they buy? How do they shop?


Project scope

What services is the client requesting? Most of the time, a client will make up their mind about what they think they need. Sometimes they are wrong however. Be sure to ask what problem they are trying to solve or what they hope to gain from the project. It is best to make sure you are apart of the strategy.


What kind of licensing does the client need?

Do they need all exclusive rights so that no one else may use the work or would a non-exclusive license work. Stock photography is a good example of non-exclusivity. When you purchase stock, you realize that it is made available to any other person who cares to pay for the image. If you hire a photographer however for a very important advertisement, you will most likely be paying more for exclusivity so that no one else may use the photos.

What is the duration of the usage?

A lot of creative work, with some exceptions ( i.e logos) should have a “duration of use” or else, the client would end up paying an extraordinary amount of money to own the designs “forever”. Most designs like posters, print material, t-shirts, or anything editorial have a “shelf life”. The longer the need, the more they should pay. *Be sure to ask a creative professional, a mentor, a teacher, or someone who knows more about the “norms” of charging in  your industry. You can also take a look at The Guild of Graphic Artist Guid to Pricing and Ethical Guidelines , a book full of pricing and licensing agreements for some answers as well.

What is the budget?

Does the budget include any production costs? If the client needs print material, are they willing to handle that themselves, or do they need you to take care of it.  Make sure they are aware of extra fees for production costs ahead of time.

What is the timeline? Is it realistic?

Most start-ups who haven’t worked with designers before have absolutely no idea how long it takes us to do our work. So do your best to share your process with them up front. If they know how much work goes into it, they will probably be more flexible. If they do have a fixed deadline, be honest with yourself and them. If you are too busy or if it is too short a notice, tell them. The worse thing you could do is agree and not deliver.


Strategic Goals

The strategy is the why behind the what. Most of the time, when working with a start-up, they will come to you with a pretty firm idea of what they need from you. It could be a logo, a business card, or a website design but that is usually as deep as it gets. Most don’t think strategy and it’s your job to consider everything. On the other side of the coin, if you’re an agency working with a large client, the client will more than likely present you with a problem and ask you to strategy and come up with a solution that you pitch to them. Here are those questions you need to answer in the brief:

What goals are we trying to achieving? How does this project help feed into the overall brand strategy?

Tactical assignment

What will we do to achieve the goals? What are the deliverables?

Phases of the Project

If the project is large, it would be good to break it down into phases matching it with a timeline, so that the client knows when they can expect the work and when they have to provide timely feedback.

 Traffic Delivery

Maybe this project calls for multiple channels of communication. If the problem is that not enough people are coming to the client’s website, you may suggest some sort of relevent social media sweepstakes. I say relevant because if their target audience is 50 – 60 year olds, they are less likely to be on twitter or instagram, but MAY be on Facebook and will most likely have an email address.

Measurement of Success

This is a little overkill for the small mom and pop start-up, but for larger clients who are paying big money for the creative, they want to know the ROI, or return on investment. They want to know how much growth your project will bring, be it click-throughs from the email marketing to the website, purchases, subscribes, likes on Facebook etc.


What is the brand personal and tone?
What are the key messages to reinforce. This may be best shown visually through a mood board or inspiration pages that all represent the feeling, color scheme, and tone.
Other Creative Guidelines
Other relevant brand considerations. Do they have specific fonts/colors that must be used Etc.?

6. TECHNICAL SPECS (optional)

This is where you would put technical information, for example, if you’re doing a web job, listing out the coding languages to be used, what ftp clients/Content management systems to be used, etc.

If you’re working in print, you would list out the quantity of the run, the pricing, the vendor you’re choosing to work with, paper specs, pantone colors etc.

So there’s a lot here, but the most important is probably sections 1,2,3, and 5. Strategy and Technical specs are often over kill for the start-up client, but it’s good to know strategy and have it in your back pocket for those times that a client has a bad idea and you can reason your way out of it with showing a better strategy.

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