The creative brief: 10 things it MUST include

Learning how to work well with clients is essential to any commercial creative business. Terry Lee Stone’s new two-part book series, Managing The Design Process — Concept Development and Implementing Design — offers insights and guidance on how to take projects from initial concept to successful completion. The intricate collaborative partnership between designer and client must begin with an articulated set of objectives and goals. There needs to be a summary of all the factors that can impact a design project. In other words, a creative brief.

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What’s a creative brief?
In the best cases, a creative brief is a document created through initial meetings, interviews, readings and discussions between a client and designer before any work begins. Throughout the project, the creative brief continues to inform and guide the work. A good creative brief will answer these questions:
• What is this project?
• Who is it for?
• Why are we doing it?
• What needs to be done? By whom? By when?
• Where and how will it be used?

The 10 most important things to include in a creative brief
1. Background Summary: Who is the client? What is the product or service? What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (or SWOTs) involved with this product or service? Are there existing research, reports and other documents that help you understand the situation?
2. Overview: What is the project? What are we designing and why? Why do we need this project? What’s the opportunity?
3. Drivers: What is our goal for this project? What are we trying to achieve? What is the purpose of our work? What are our top three objectives?
4. Audience: Who are we talking to? What do they think of us? Why should they care?
5. Competitors: Who is the competition? What are they telling the audience that we should be telling them? SWOT analysis on them? What differentiates us from them?
6. Tone: How should we be communicating? What adjectives describe the feeling or approach?
7. Message: What are we saying with this piece exactly? Are the words already developed or do we need to develop them? What do we want audiences to take away?
8. Visuals: Are we developing new images or picking up existing ones? If we are creating them, who/what/where are we photographing or illustrating? And why?
9. Details: Any mandatory information that must be included? List of deliverables? Preconceived ideas? Format parameters? Limitations and restrictions? Timeline, schedule, budget?
10. People: Who are we reporting to? Who exactly is approving this work? Who needs to be informed of our progress? By what means?

Terry Lee Stone is a Los Angeles-based creative manager and writer. She teaches the business of design at Art Center College of Design. The author of several books on design, her recent series is called Managing The Design Process, published by Rockport Publishers. Visit her website; buy her books here or at your favorite bookseller.

Chart graphic by AdamsMorioka from Managing The Design Process: Concept Development by Terry Lee Stone, from Rockport Publishers

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Comments (13)

  1. Posted by Katy on 02.9.11 at 5:45 pm

    What about the medium of the Creative Brief? I work at a PR/Marketing firm and we keep having people actually delete fields from the template when they don’t know (or are too lazy to find) the answer.

    We use a Word doc template but are looking to do something new… PDF forms are great but then when you go to print them if the person kept typing when there is no room left that part doesn’t print.

  2. Posted by David Young on 02.11.11 at 2:42 am

    Great post Terry. It’s amazing how often projects start without a brief. I’d also add that a creative brief, reviewed with the client, is a good way to confirm that everyone is on the same page.

    There’s been a lot of talk in the ad-world lately about how they need to re-think what a creative brief is. Here’s a link to one such post, with an interesting discussion, lots more links, and a funny video from a creative and their thoughts on briefs…

  3. Posted by Terry Lee Stone on 02.12.11 at 5:48 pm

    Katy, I don’t think the medium of a Creative Brief is as critical as the content shared in the briefing. It’s about providing the design team with info to focus their efforts and a buy-in tool to use with clients. So if that is a conversation, an email, a written document or a form— whatever works, works for your project.

    David, thanks so much for the link, that post is really good. I recommend that you all follow those links for some interesting conversations about Creative Briefs. (Although that movie depressed me, I must say.)

  4. Posted by Andrew S. Dungan on 01.13.12 at 11:58 am

    As a nonprofit client going through a massive overhaul of brochures, website, etc., this is extremely great information. I do have some background in marketing, branding, etc., but this is tremendous. Thanks for putting this out “there.”

  5. Posted by okello designo paul on 10.26.12 at 12:28 am

    very helpful indeed i should get some more tips sometime i love it

  6. Posted by Fraser Creative Copywriter on 05.16.13 at 10:49 am

    As a freelancer I know that a proper brief is a rare thing. An excellent brief even rarer. But when you do get a good one the job is so much easier!

    I also wrote an article about the Creative Brief as it relates to freelancers and would love some feedback.

  7. Posted by KRD Entertainment on 07.6.13 at 2:58 am

    WOW just what I was looking for. Came here by searching for advertisement

  8. Posted by cgalup on 02.4.15 at 11:14 pm

    The breakdown of of the 10 important things to to include in your brief is clear and concise. I know this will prove useful in the future when working on projects.

  9. Posted by AnnKotovaru on 09.25.15 at 6:48 pm – Шлифмашина угловая Bosch GWS 10-125

  10. Posted by Jack on 09.28.15 at 4:30 am

    Mike, thanks for great article. Your tips helped in my work.I was looking for a good examples of creative briefs and I found a very useful collection of examples and templates

  11. Posted by Jack on 09.28.15 at 4:31 am

    Mike, thanks for great article. Your tips helped in my work.I was looking for a good examples of creative briefs and I found a very useful collection of examples and templates

  12. Posted by janiece laureano on 05.3.16 at 7:25 am

    my colleague wanted IRS TD F 90-22.1 several days ago and found a document management site that hosts a huge forms library . If people are interested in IRS TD F 90-22.1 too , here’s a

  13. Posted by Megan on 11.2.17 at 6:04 am

    Nice brief ideas.. One more such website is having free templates and excels.

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