A Creative Design Brief That Will Make Your Designers Swoon [with template]

Creative Design Brief

Marketers, be warned! Instilling a design brief process can make or break a design project. 

I recently learned this the hard way after burning through a couple of thousand dollars on a design asset that was not at all usable. Twice. The first mishap I chalked up to working with a “bad designer” via an online marketplace. But after making the same mistake again, I realized successful designs require clear, defined instructions from the start.

With this realization, my design brief template was born. I now use it with my designers for EVERY project. It is the best asset for properly articulating the intricate details that take a concept to a final product. Learn from my mistakes, especially when working with designers on a third-party marketplace. The design brief template I share below will help overcome any communication barriers. 

A creative design brief template is a simple yet effective tool in any brand’s arsenal.
Access your free template >>

The Creative Brief Template and Why It’s Valuable

Experienced, easy-to-work-with designers are hard to come by. If you are lucky to find a good designer, they will come with a high price tag – one that many startup marketers cannot afford. That doesn’t mean your brand, goals, and marketing materials should suffer. 

The design brief template is a document that clearly outlines the strategy and execution of a creative project. It gets filled out by a project manager and given to a designer before any work begins. This easy to use template helps set defined expectations early to eliminate the need for endless rough drafts.

The template includes essential details to kick off your design projects, such as the objectives, target audience, requirements, and timeline. Although the template gets commonly used for design requests, it’s also handy when marketing handoffs a project to someone else like a freelance blog writer, an engineer, or a digital agency. Regardless of the project, failing to complete a brief template is a sure-fire way to waste time and money. As a startup marketer, it is disheartening to lose either.

Understand These Best Practices Before Completing the Template

Before getting started, there are several tips marketers should leverage when filling out their brief templates. Following these best practices are imperative for this process to work effectively. 

  1. Identify your needs first. The more you understand what you want in a visual project, the more likely a designer meets your expectations. Write it down, be specific, and be concise. 
  2. Do not skimp on the details. Make an effort to complete the entire template. The more information you provide, the more time you’ll save in the long-run. 
  3. Review the brief with the designer.  This approach is far superior to attaching the document over email or Slack with little to no context. One benefit is that it allows the designer to ask ad hoc questions that they may not ask otherwise. It is better to over-explain. 
  4. Collaborate with the designer early and often. Actively ask a designer for their input. It is helpful to have a professional perspective. A designer may suggest alternative ideas that might work better than the initially planned deliverable—for example, a static PDF product sheet vs. an interactive and trackable landing page. 
  5. Ask to see drafts early. The first time you review a design should not be when the designer has a final asset. Check-in regularly to see the concepts and design in each stage. Plan to see mood boards, wireframes, prototypes, or V1’s.  Having visibility into the process is critical in getting to a final deliverable efficiently without wasting time in revisions loops that could’ve been avoided with good planning.
  6. Know how your designer works. Ask about their process early on. Once you know how to work with a designer, especially one you have never worked with before, you will be ready for streamlined collaboration. 
  7. Establish channels of communication. Understand how your designer prefers to communicate and share how you do as well. Collectively, agree on the best communication channels so that it is open and accessible to you both. Most importantly, stick to it. If you choose to communicate via a Slack channel, don’t start sending feedback via text. 
  8. Provide mandatory assets. Share logos, colors, product images, or other elements the designer must incorporate at the very beginning. This can be a detailed style guide or links to assets in Google Drive. 

A creative design brief template is a simple yet effective tool in any brand’s arsenal.
Access your free template >>

How to Fill Out the Design Brief Template

Now that you understand the value and best practices of a brief template, let’s discuss what information gets included in each section. 

Overview: First and foremost, provide a quick synopsis of the design request, why you need it, and what’s the desired outcome. Designers work more effectively when they truly understand the business and industry they are working with.

The Purpose: In one or two sentences, clearly state why you need this design asset and how marketing will use the design assets.

Objective: Share the goals and driving factors that caused the need for this project. For example, “Our brand image is outdated. We want to breathe new life into our business by rebranding several aspects of our organization, including our marketing materials.”

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): How do you plan to measure the success of the marketing project? For instance, if you’re redesigning your homepage, your KPI might be to increase demo requests or downloads. Whatever your answer may be, it will lead a designer to emphasize specific components.

Deliverables & Requirements: State precisely what you need the designer to produce. Keeping with the rebranding example from above, this could include a new logo or a redesigned website. Additionally, provide any mandatory assets such as design dimensions, product images, source files, or assets’ location.

Target Audience: Think about your ideal customers. What are their challenges, their hobbies, their family structure? Build personas around the demographic traits and characteristics that come to mind. This information helps build a strategic, informed design project that will drive real sales.

Tone & Voice: Describe your company’s tone of voice when creating content for your website, social media, emails, and other marketing channels. Is your business personality professional? Or do you prefer to take a more light-hearted approach? State it clearly in this section.

Brand Guidelines and Style Guides: You likely have standards in place for how to write, format, and design marketing materials. Including a style guide will provide the designer with necessary details, such as company colors and fonts, for consistent branding. 

Current State: Explain the details of the marketing deliverable as it stands today. Share what you like, what you do not like, and the problems you are facing.

Desired State: Next, share your expectations for how the marketing deliverable should look. Be as descriptive here as possible and try not to use the statement, “make it pop.” 

Inspirations: There is a reason the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is so popular. Images often convey emotions, feelings, and scenes more than words ever could. Before sharing a brief with your designer, include real-life examples that closely align with your vision. These images will act as a visual reference or inspiration to lead a designer in the right direction.

What Not to Have: Most marketers list their wants and needs in their design brief but forget to share what the designer or writer should avoid. For example:

  • Please avoid stock images like A, B, and C
  • Use images more like X, Y, Z
  • Please avoid using bold or italics
  • Please do not use a dark background 

Marketing Copy/Messaging & Limits: Designers are not copywriters or editors. If your design asset includes copy, like a call to action, tagline, title,  or sub-text, include ALL messaging at the very beginning. If there is a character count limit or spacing limits, you’ll want to have those details as well. Sometimes, it’s nice to provide a few copy variations, so the designer has options for the design. Remember, design always supports the content — through illustrations, graphics, or images, it’s a way to visualize and emphasize your message.

Timeline & Review Dates: Agreeing to a timeline is an integral part of any marketing briefing process. Unrealistic timelines can be the reason a marketing contractor decides to decline your offer. For this reason, it is crucial to set clear deadlines for both the final deliverable and any progress milestones. 

Asset Delivery: Try your best to clarify how the project assets will get delivered. Provide details such as file formats, sizing, and resolutions. Failing to do so can cause significant complications if not addressed from the very beginning. It also determines what tools the designer chooses to use. For example, do you need to upload your Twitter paid ad as a PNG or JPEG? 2x in size? Does your new logo need to be an SVG or do multiple formats? 

Follow Up Items: Lastly, list any follow up items to discuss after the final design project is complete. For instance, website redesign projects often include a project debrief meeting after the site gets launched to discuss likes, dislikes, additional changes, and more.

Other: In addition to these sections, there is other information that can prove valuable to a designer. The more information you can share in the early stages of a project, the better. Consider adding context around other aspects of your business, including:

  • Competitors landscape
  • Problem statement
  • UX research
  • Hypothesis
  • Market analysis
  • Budget
  • Tools
  • Technical requirements
  • Distribution
  • Team handoff

Final Thoughts

A significant responsibility for any marketer is working with various team members to bring a new concept to fruition. The marketer is the author of a brand’s story, while the designer makes it come alive. It is no wonder this partnership requires strong collaboration and communication to be successful. 

A brief template is a simple yet effective tool in any brand’s arsenal. It is the foundation of a creative campaign that guides a designer to reach a project’s stated goals accurately. 

I encourage you to use this template at the start of your next collaborative project. The process will be night and day to traditional communication methods used in the past. I know firsthand how quickly startup organizations must work to achieve lofty goals. This template will transform a once complicated experience into a streamlined process.

A creative design brief template is a simple yet effective tool in any brand’s arsenal.
Access your free template >>

By Michelle Urban

Michelle Urban is the founder of Marketing 261, a digital agency for startups. With a hands-on, get-it-done attitude, she and her team focus on executing measurable plans to get real results. For over 15 years, she’s built scalable marketing programs for demand creation, lead generation, customer advocacy, and engagement. She’s also a wanna-be writer and weekend windsurfer who occasionally binge-watches Netflix. Ask her about the time she danced with Oprah and Beyoncé on live television.