A Brief Guide to Briefs


Ben Wilson
Ben Wilson

on 9/29/2020

Like most agencies, we spend a lot of time listening to our clients and discussing the work to be done. The exchange and conversation is critical - but it's noisy and everyone needs to get on the same page for the work to start.

That's where a "brief" comes in:

Briefs are required for work to start.
Briefs can be used for almost any kind of work (strategic, creative/design, dev).
Briefs should provide goals, priorities, audiences.
Briefs should be short.

Briefs are the guidelines before the work is done, and the measuring stick after the work is done.

If you've worked in the marketing or creative fields, you are probably aware of the "Creative Brief". It's tried and true and we still use them today. But as our work has become increasingly complex and sophisticated, we've adapted a number of other briefs that perform the same basic functions, for different types of work.

Here's a brief overview of the briefs we use:

Creative Briefs

  • Define a single project or outcome, e.g. an advertisement or perhaps an entire campaign or website
  • Defines the goal, audience, calls to action, design requirements, and initial creative direction.
  • Are separated from the execution, and do not define it.

After the creative brief is determined and approved, we can move forward with the work. For simple projects like ad design, we would move into design. But for complex projects - like a website or an app, we must define the experience at a deeper level for there to be consistency with the goal of the project. We have to define the User Experience (UX). We do this with a "UX Brief".

User Experience (UX) Briefs

  • Relies upon a creative brief for goals, priorities, audience.
  • Defines audience interactions, technical limitations.
  • Does not define project specifications or discrete design.
  • Defines a brief list of priorities (must have, should have, could have)
  • Defines how we will measure success.

Those two briefs are well-established standards in our industry. They help to take a discrete request and define guidelines for work. But - what do you do when there's a far larger challenge - one that might require multiple requests or pieces of work, but all need to be aligned?

As we began to create more sophisticated, comprehensive programs for our clients, like launching a new brand, we identified the need for something that could define a landscape rather than a single effort or output. We call these "Strategy Briefs".

Strategy Briefs:

  • Tend to be audience-focused. Where is our audience, and how can we engage them?
  • Provide priority of platform and medium
  • Describes audience motivations, challenges, and our desired actions, rather than design or messaging

Having created and iterated on many briefs internally, and having seen how effective they are at crystalizing direction and aligning work - we have also developed an externally-focused brief for prospective clients, or for nascent projects for current clients. We call these "Prospect Briefs".

Prospect Briefs:

  • Recap conversations, summarize and align goals, priorities
  • Use common language all team members can understand
  • Define the work that we'll be responsible for
  • May provide estimates or timelines, but...
  • Are NOT scopes-of-work, but rather a working document - a "shared understanding"

In summary, briefs are powerful tools that condense and summarize the landscape as well as set goals and guidelines for projects big and small. They are quick to write and easily readable. They become the foundation of work and provide a lifeline from the beginning to the end of a project.

For us, they've become invaluable, required work and communication tools for every discipline and for both internal and external work.

Want to see how we use them? Contact us to tell us about your project.

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