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Best New Thinking Winner 2010

Briefing by Design

Advertising planner Sarah Musgrave brings her experience briefing designers and internet creatives to shake up your ideas about creative briefing

As advertising briefs tend to produce an art-directed or designed output, the temptation is often to use the same briefing process you always do. After all, the demands of the creative team will be very similar. Your designers need background and context around the project, an understanding of the strategy and the desired behaviour or attitude of their target audience.

Designers are problem-solvers. More than just appealing aesthetics, their work can encapsulate ideas; be smart, and witty. It can serve as a metaphor or work as a visual pun which -when related back to the parent brand- haloes or enhances it. However, often in the overall communications strategy, the client will decide that the design’s primary role is to provide the emotional foundation of a brand’s identity – its aura.

If your client is practiced in writing design briefs than you are lucky. Many are not, and you will be their primary source of support. You should be aware though that maintaining the same template and process for this project could result in the ‘role of the design’ being to ‘to launch sub-brand x’ or to ‘increase loyalty’ with the tone and personality to be ‘reputable and friendly’ or ‘progressive and urban’.

If a picture is worth a thousand words – how do you improve the chances of your design communicating the right ones?Below are a few common-sense exercises that may help.Be strict about the job design needs to do.

Be strict about the job design needs to do.

Aside from managing the client’s expectations, this helps the designers focus.

Deciding what part of the task is the advertising’s domain, what falls under distribution or promotion and design’s responsibility provides more clarity.

  • A large service corporation historically perceived as unwieldy and difficult to navigate wants to improve its customer experience and thereby satisfaction. Marketing has its plan in place but the website design needs to relay this change. The look and tone need to be softer…or kinder… or more speedy…but which?
  • A long-standing and somewhat staid retail brand wants an overhaul. The marketing strategy and ad campaign may be intended to force reappraisal but the logo should be attention grabbing so as to open dialogue… but without abandoning the brand’s heritage.
  • A toy corporation’s image may be light-hearted and juvenile, but its new product line of school calculators is a more serious departure. The packaging’s job is to reconcile the two.

In the midst of this, however, allow for as much transparency as possible. Share the advertising proposition or media strategy and wherever you can the creative directions that will be taken. Help them imagine where their designs will fit in with the big picture so they can prioritize the brief’s elements.

Try NOT using words. And if you do, use different ones.

The client wants ‘funky’ logo. But everyone has a different definition of ‘funky’. How do you make sure you are all speaking the same language?

Rather than talking around the subject, try working with other stimulus… fabric swatches, wallpaper samples, Pantone colour charts…a piece of jewellery that encapsulates the spirit, or a picture of a lamp that you saw in a market.

Exhibit #1. ‘Funky’ like dark denim with orange contrast stitching? red velvet? purple fur?

Try working with different vocabularies. Think of the ones used for wine, cheese, or cuisine. Instead of dependable, is it ‘thick’ or ‘rich’? Friendly like ‘bubble-gum’ or ‘jelly’. Edgy could be ‘sharp’ or ‘tangy’. Easy-going may be ‘fluid’.

This can take some practice. Browsing graphic design in journals like Grafik, Communication Arts or Creative Review helps. Next time you pass by a furniture boutique or art gallery and something grabs your attention; ask the attendant how they would describe it, what words they would use.

As for more abstract ideas, Comstock and Getty Images have classified most into analogies, business metaphors, symbols and concepts with search engines on their sites. Even if they are archetypal -and somewhat boring- you can browse through the 100’s of images that come back for ‘imaginative’ and choose one that works. Keep the ones that don’t to provide a context and contrast.

Ditch the formalities.

Formal and theatrical briefing can work when dramatizing the proposition or bringing the insight to life for the team is the best way to be impactful and inspirational.

Sometimes, though, an organic process between the designers and their planner can work miracles – particularly when both are in new territory with each other.

An informal – less structured, more fluid – discussion that begins an ongoing dialogue may serve you better in the long run. Talk about design. Ask your questions and learn from them. Build in time for more catch-ups if possible and leave room for change and development with the client. As always, the client may change tacks and having an open door to your team when that happens is helpful.

Come equipped. Bring in your books – Dictionary, Thesaurus, Getty images books, Pantone colour charts or Dulux paint cards as well as your stimulus of swatches, samples – even food. Where possible have an online terminal available.

Then as you would normally, if you get caught up in a word, work it through. Find pictures, colours, definitions, or other words that get you all to the same place.

Informality is also beneficial when -with all the aids you’ve gathered- the brief could be seen as overly prescriptive by the team. The more deconstructed the talk, the less constrictive it will seem.

Finally, have doubles to leave behind. They may use them – they may not – but leaving only your Times New Roman / White Paper briefing document may deflate all the energy you’ve worked so hard to create.

Be honest about creative license.

A client unable to articulate him or herself comfortably in design language may say, ‘Be as creative as you like.’ ‘You’ve a blank canvass.’ and ‘I’ll know it, when I see it.’

As much creative licence as this implies, designers are often wary of these instructions. Firstly, the blank canvass rarely exists, but secondly, the lack of direction can also be paralysing.

Sometimes it helps to force the client to draw up some parameters by bringing up their design history and executional mandatories as well as their personal preferences.
If the company has an agreed style guide, leave it with the team. Take them through the existing retail universe or website.

Helping to determine what is flexible and what really isn’t, as with any creatives is appreciated information up front. After all, the same client that says ‘You’ve blue skies’ may not have signed off on a design that did not use green or red and helvetica in the last 5 years.

Sarah Musgrave is a Canadian planner who has worked in Toronto, the West Coast of the US, and most recently in London. An advertising planner she has also worked with designers, and new media creatives. She has a longer paper on creative briefing. If you want a copy then email her here: mailto:musgraves(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign) And at the time of writing Feb 2004 she’s on the market! Planning Directors please note!









Designed by Matthew Pattman