How to write a creative brief

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A good "creative brief" contributes to efficient, good quality communication design that meets your needs, leads to great final results, and leaves everyone happy with the process of getting there.

An inaccurate, or merely verbal Creative Brief can lead to time wasted, incorrect solutions and frustration for everybody involved.

The Creative Brief is like the foundation of a house — without a solid foundation the house is weak. Without a strong, well-thought-out Creative Brief, a project starts out frail and it takes a lot of work and effort to build it up. Why start a project at a deficit? We advocate a Creative Brief for every significant project.

A Creative Brief is a plan for the project. It describes your intentions.

Being — and feeling — focused from the beginning of the project allows the creative team to avoid wasting time by going down the wrong road or needing to make a decision while lacking some crucial detail. The Creative Brief is where the crucial details surface — it is worth taking the time to get it right!

This article is a guide on how to prepare a Creative Brief. It will help you write a brief before you meet with your designer, or help you prepare for your kick-off meeting so you and your designer can write the brief together.

What is a "creative brief"?

A Creative Brief is a plan for the project. It describes your intentions. The Creative Brief is about communicating your ideas and intentions clearly.

The most important questions a Creative Brief answers is “Who are we talking to and what are we saying?” The rest are details — details you will also include in the Creative Brief.

A creative brief needs to be collaborative.

It is important to remember that the writing the Creative Brief should be a collaborative process, so make sure to ask questions of your designers so they can advise, flesh out, and troubleshoot the brief with you. You are hiring them to solve problems, so involving them at the brief stage will result in a stronger, more comprehensive Creative Brief.

All decision-makers need to contribute. They all each hold keys to the project’s success by the very fact they are decision-makers — they need to start the decision-making process at the Creative Brief stage.

The creative brief — Just answer these questions

Project overview: The overview includes logistics as well as goals.

  • Project title Project

  • Description (just a one-liner)

  • What are the objectives of this project?

  • What do you want it to do?

  • How does this project fit into your organization’s long-term goals?

  • What form do you want this project to take? (i.e.: An identity system? A publication? A website? A Poster?)

  • What are the deliverables?

  • What budget has been allocated to this project?

  • Has a budget been approved?

  • What date does this project need to be completed by?

Mandatory items: The things that need to be part of this project no matter what.

  • What are the corporate identity requirements? (Logos, logo standards, corporate Pantone colours, symbols, trademarks, signature motifs, or other graphic elements)

  • What must be included?

  • What must be avoided?

  • Are there cut lines, titles or other key copy?

Audience: To engage your audience you need to understand your audience.

  • Who is your audience?

  • Provide enough detail so your designer can understand who they are. Not just demographics: lifestyle, attitudes, values, etc.

  • What do they care about?

  • What should be avoided in talking to you audience?

  • What do they think of your organization or product right now?

Response:

  • Which of your audience’s beliefs, ideas, behaviours or attitudes do you want to influence?

  • What do you want them to think and feel about your brand?

  • What do you want your audience to do? (Call a number? Make a donation? Learn something? Tell someone?)

  • How will your audiences use this item? (Brochure, publication, website, etc.)

Positioning: The features, benefits and values you offer.

  • List the significant features and facts about your service, product or organization.

  • Why is it valuable to your target audience?

  • Who are your competitors?

  • What values and practices do you want to ensure your audience knows about your product or service?

Message:

  • What is your message? If you could communicate one sentence to your audience, what would that be?

Tone: Design creates tone, and tone influences the audiences’ perception of the company or its product.

  • Use adjectives to help paint a picture of the impression you wish to convey: (ie: Sophisticated/elite/healthy, professional/serious/scientific or energetic/youthful/environment-friendly, etc.)

  • What do the audiences currently believe or think about your organization or product?

  • What tone and imagery engages them?

  • Show your designer your existing communications materials

  • Point to any examples that capture the tone that resonate with your goals.

Content: Content needs to come from somewhere, what is the status of the content?

  • Copy: Copy is every piece of text that needs to be included. Where is the copy coming from? Who is writing it? When will it be ready and finalized? (final means written, copy-edited and proofread) Do you need professional writing or editing?

  • Imagery: Imagery refers to photos, illustrations, and other graphic elements. Would you like your designer to be responsible for procuring all imagery? If not, who is responsible for imagery? What form are photos in? What format and resolution? Is custom or stock photography needed? Are illustrations desired?

  • Does your project need additional content to be created? (copy-writing, photography, illustration, graphs, Flash animations)

  • Is there anything else your designer should know about the content?

Writing a Creative Brief is not easy, but that is because it requires all those involved to think the project through, establish clear goals, and actively participate in problem-solving — tasks that benefit any project.

It does, however, make sense that writing a Creative Brief requires some hard work because that is when all the core decisions are made. Once all the core decisions are made, your creative company will follow the plan without requiring your hard work. Once the Creative Brief is strong and solid, the rest of your work is actually pretty fun.

If you go through this list and answer (or consider) all of the questions that are relevant to you, you will be well on your way towards a successful project!