Monday, September 28, 2009

How to Brief a Creative Part Two: Using Real Words.

Several months ago I got a design brief from a fellow designer whose clients didn't like the first round of logos he had created for them, so he (weirdly) hired me to come up with some new directions. His brief to me included these excerpts:

Requirement: Logo and Branding Opportunity: Expansion of the [company name] brand. Alternate revenue stream. Existing infrastructure What is our unique proposition? Edgy and premium quality service at a competitive price point. What allows us to say this? We have the infrastructure already in place to deliver that promise. Tone: Vibrant, bold, edgy Channels: TBD

Good lord. If designers talk this way now, we're all in trouble. The main problem with this brief of course is that you could apply this 'description' to anything and nothing. There's nothing tangible and it really doesn't seem like he (or perhaps even his client) was sure of what they wanted. When designers get briefs like these, they end up engaged in a 'guess and check' situation, often leading to a 'search and destroy' situation. The designer is now in charge not only of the answer, but the question too. The resulting work will seem vague rather than thorough, and no one will come away happy.

Designers aren't marketers, so using marketing vernacular to describe your message won't be as helpful as doing some legwork prior to the briefing. You should be able to describe your product or service in laymen's terms. When in charge of creating my own message for projects, I try to create a synopsis that I can describe in about 15 seconds to most anyone. The effort involved in this exercise is well worth it, because while it defines your message in easily articulated terms, it also means that the brief is less likely to change throughout the design process. Think of it like a mission statement.

Ideally, a creative brief is best built with input from the designer that includes some flexibility for the outcome, but the initial briefing process needs to explain your message from the angle of how you want your audience to perceive it. This means that you should check the words, "I like..." at the door. It's not about your personal preferences any more than it is about the designer's.

Most of the time, a project evokes something in its audience. Explore the sentiments your project should convey to the people interacting with it. Use words that actually mean something rather than buzz words whose meanings are elusive. Make lists of these words and the things they make you think of. Ask yourself whether those conclusions are objective.

To this day I don't understand what I was supposed to do with the 'brief' above (what do they even mean by "channels"?)

A new logo is not going to increase your revenue stream in any quantifiable way,* and any designer who promises that is asking for unwarranted accountability when the client comes back asking for hard proof of return on investment. Unfortunately, I think that in looking for some stability in the marketplace, some designers imply that there is something inherently commercially strategic about graphic design. I just don't think that's true. Obviously with enough research and marketing efforts, business findings can inform how a logo is designed, but ultimately, I don't think that's the designer's job.

*Update: Last night I attended an AIGA event, where Debbie Millman discussed Sterling Brand's redesign of the Tropicana packaging. In the presentation she basically refuted everything I've written in the last paragraph here. Not only did they create a fully, unabashedly commercial strategy in the redesign, Tropicana sold 600,000 more units of orange juice as a result.

I stand by my statement that graphic design is not inherently commercially strategic. But Sterling Brands certainly proves that you can make it so.

1 comment:

  1. hahaha i work at a law firm and we do some business consulting as part of helping companies build themselves to a level for possible sale. i hear descriptions like that brief ALL THE TIME. it drives me crazy. to me, it's the first sign that the company has issues. if someone must use such meaningless language to describe a company or a service, it's a red flag that something is seriously wrong.