Red Cell Innovation Inc.
helps our clients solve business problems with technical solutions, from custom
machinery to e-commerce.
When creating a new software application, website, or
mobile app for a small business, often some creative materials such as a logo,
web design, or user-interface is required, and it’s time to reach out to design
Where to Start
Before asking one or more
designers to submit designs, time should be taken to write a solid design
specification, sometimes called a design brief or creative brief.
The quality of designs received will be reflective of the quality of the
The art of the brief is to
give enough information to inspire the designer without inadvertently planting
an idea that will limit or bias his or her creativity.
Writing a Brief
Explain what is being
designed, and possibly why. How will it be used, and by whom? From where are we
starting, and what does the finish line look like?
Be as specific as possible
e.g. “a logo for business cards and envelopes”, or “a control panel
for a monitoring station”.
About the Client
Introduce the client and the
nature of the client’s business. Consider concealing the client’s identity.
This is not for fear that the designer will contact the client, but rather that
he or she may encounter information that could steer the design in the wrong
direction; for example seeing an old logo or web design that the client hates.
Tell the designer about the
brand, especially if one has been well established. What colours does the
client’s logo contain? Include any pertinent details about the client’s
industry and even its competitors.
List all established
constraints to avoid wasted time. Stating that a website design must be
high-contrast for accessibility, or no wider than 960 pixels will allow the
designer to focus on only what is practical.
Brief the designer on the
goals and target market for this design. Provide any available demographics if
Are there colours, or colour
palettes to adhere to or to avoid? Or other traits, like “the client
likes/hates rounded corners”. Choose your words carefully. Mentioning that
the client hates rounded corners will help eliminate those designs
before we even start, but saying that the client likes them could result
in 25 designs, each with round corners.
“I’m not sure what I want,
but I’ll know it when I see it” is a
surprisingly common paradox. What values, feelings, or messages should the
design convey? Are there themes to consider or avoid. Consider using metaphors
or comparisons to express intangible traits. “Like that Mac guy in the Apple
ad, but less of a jerk”, “more like the Beatles than the Rolling Stones”,
or “smokes dope, but doesn’t inhale”.
Provide sources of
inspiration. This should be as varied as the expectation of diversity.
If “the Victoria’s Secret
website” is the only source mentioned, you will probably receive something
that resembles the Victoria’s Secret website. If five different clothing
websites are specified, each having its own style, the designer will be forced
to get a sense of the client’s preference without fixating on one particular
If possible, detail about
what or why the client likes about each: the typography of one site, the mood
of another, the proportions of a third. Make note of any exceptions: “love
the colours but it feels claustrophobic”.
Supply any elements that each
design must include. If placeholders are to be used, they should
resemble their final content in colours and proportions. For graphic design, supply
any text that will certainly be present such as phone numbers or e-mail
addresses. Request that any paragraph text be greeked, or direct them to
http://lipsum.com so that evaluators will not be distracted by content.
If designs will/should
contain photographs, markings, or drawings, supply a collection of images that
the designer is allowed to use and make it clear that other images are not
allowed. This keeps the designer focused on layout instead of image selection
and likewise enables the client to focus on the designs instead of the
Evaluation is another topic,
but whether the design will be evaluated and decided by committee, the boss,
end-users, or third-parties, avoiding any possible biases or influences
now, will avoid headaches later.
Design professionals of all
media, be they graphic, architectural, interior, or industrial are susceptible
to the same assumptions and biases as the rest of us. Approaching the task of
procuring creative services methodically ensures miscommunication and
unnecessary billed hours.
- First published in Moving Business Forward (Winter 2013).
- Photograph © 2012 Ron Harvey, used under license. Reproduction or redistribution is prohibited.