You're only as good as your brief

The title of this is a truism that should be pasted on agency walls, and in every email signature. The fact of the matter is, without a good brief, it’s near impossible to provide good work.

The very nature of supplying a digital service, means you’re trying to deliver on something that your client needs and wants, but doesn’t have the ability to do themselves. You’re essentially trying to read their mind and create digital magic in the process. 

So of course we can’t actually read minds, otherwise we’d be sure to be doing something way more superhero-esque with our lives - which is exactly where a good brief steps in. 

If clients don’t tell us what they want, or at least give us some direction so we can help them figure out what they want, how exactly are we supposed to deliver great work?

A brief is the kick-off point to every single project and is the number one resource to make sure you and your client are aligned on the project. It also ensures you know what you’re getting yourself into. 

Below are a few points to really hammer home how important a good brief is to the success of any project;

 

Defines the scope

Until you have it defined what it is they’re actually looking for, in terms of what it looks like all the way through to their key functionalities - You can’t accurately determine timelines and cost. Defining the scope has to be determined from the brief. Even if you go back to them with additional questions, or with opposing ideas, without that initial documentation you’ve got nowhere to start. 

 

Technical capacity

This is your chance to find out about the system their currently using, if they expect you to work on something that already exists, or if you’re starting from scratch. It’s also an indication of what they know in this world, and brings to light any integrations or other tech limitations that could impact development time and delivery. 

 

It gets everyone on the same page

From designers, account managers, project managers and developers - the client brief makes sure all relevant people know what the end result is and what part they need to play in the process. This unifies the project and holds all parties accountable. 

 

Brand Guidelines

If you’re working with a well established brand, they will already have an identity, tone of voice and most likely brand guidelines. The briefing phase is where you get a good idea on the visual limitations and parametres that are dictated by things like brand guidelines. This is pivotal for briefing the design team, as well as your internal planning. 

 

Preferences

Getting some upfront direction on what the client likes, who they see as competitors and also the direction they would like in terms of style and look can make the design process much smoother and straight forward. However, unless you ask, they most likely won't tell you. 

 

You can quickly figure out what you don’t know

One of the biggest benefits of trying to get all the information out in the open before sending through a full proposal and kicking off, is you can quickly see the holes, and figure out what you don’t know yet about the project - or perhaps what doesn’t add up. 

 

You will shorten the lifespan of the project

By getting all the information up front, it’s less likely that you will run into unexpected surprises that rear their ugly heads throughout the process. This typically means shorter time for design and interactions, and a better planned development timeline that helps mitigate hiccups unforeseen to do’s. 

 

There are many ways to handle this briefing process and depending on the nature of your clients and team you can figure out what works best for you. Whether it be multiple face to face meetings, workshops, or if it’s an old fashioned document that you and the client can fill out - either way, it’s the first step to retaining all the information you need, and understanding what their expectations are - without having to exercise your mind reading abilities.