What to Ask Your Client Before Creating Their Design Brief

The Importance of a Good Design Brief

The importance of the design brief isn’t something that all clients immediately see.

How many times have you found yourself working to what you believed to be your client’s objectives, only to find out too late that you’ve missed the mark completely?

Creating a good design brief is the first crucial step to take in order to achieve great results.

Below are 10 questions you can ask your clients to help you create a good design brief for them.

Question 1: "Can You Tell Me About Your Company?"

Clients have a habit of assuming that their business and their brand is as familiar to you as it is to them. You need to hear their story in their own words.

Ask for as much background information about their company as possible. Extend their explanation to cover their market and key competitors.

You’re aiming to establish a brand personality, or work within an existing one, so attempt to engage with their brand persona on a personal human level.

Additional questions like, "If your brand was a newspaper, which one would it be, and why?" might sound silly, but can be incredibly revealing.

Question 2: "What Do You Want to Achieve with the Design?"

Ask your client what they want this particular project to do for their company. Also, ask why that outcome is important to them.

For example, if you’re doing web design work, you can ask your clients what desired actions they’d like their site visitors to take. Is it to sign up for their newsletter? Is it to pick up the phone and call them? Is it to sign up for an account on their website?

If you can create a design brief that describes a clear statement of their goals — and the priority they place on each goal — you’ve gone a long way towards getting the background information you need.

Question 3: "Who is Your Target Audience?"

If you can find out who your client’s target audience is, you can begin to build an accurate customer profile. (In UX design, this is called a user persona.)

You want real details, and as much of it as possible. What is the age of a typical customer? What is their income bracket?

Knowing about the client’s target audience will give you the ability to determine the most suitable means of visual communication and engagement techniques for reaching out to them.

Question 4: "What Do You Want Me to Produce?"

It may sound surprising, but too many design briefs are fuzzy when it comes to outlining exactly what deliverables clients expect you to hand off.

You need an outline of the materials, medium and media in which your work will be realized, along with details of distributions, design cycles and ways in which your work will be used.

In order to have an accurate account of the design project’s deliverables, you need to ask what the client wants you to make for them.

Question 5: "What Exists Already?"

You need to find out, as soon as possible, if you are working within already-established brand guidelines.

Ask about corporate colors, design preferences and the existence of any design and style guidelines. There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a design project only to discover you need to start over because you didn’t adhere to a company style guide.

You also need to check out their previous creative work in order to ensure brand consistency and identify possible areas where previous designs may not have been successful in achieving their goals.

Question 6: "What Makes a Design Good?"

Make sure your client explains how they will assess the effectiveness of your design.

What things do they look at in assessing a design?

You need to know how your design will be judged.

Question 7: "What’s Your Budget?"

Even if it’s only a rough guide, a budget estimate will give you an idea of the kind of solution you can offer and realistically provide. You should also check out the timeline. If the project has a strict deadline, you need to know as soon as possible.

Question 8: "What Designs Do You Like?"

Get examples of other creative work that your client particularly admires. Encourage them to discuss the details of the design.

They may not be familiar with the design industry’s language, but you should be able to get an idea of their preferences regardless.

It’s also particularly helpful to look at their competitors’ designs together.

Question 9: "What Designs Don’t You Like?"

Also ask your client for examples of work they think is inappropriate or unsuccessful. Find out what causes them to feel this way. The answer may be purely down to personal tastes, but will nonetheless help you get an understanding of what not to do.

Question 10: "Could You Tell Me About Your Company’s Project Workflow?"

It’s also a good idea to get the essential administrative stuff out of the way.

Find out what the sign-off procedure for the design project’s deliverables will be. Determine what hours they’ll be able to work with you. Find out what modes of communication are available to you (email, phone, Skype, IM, etc.).

If your work will be subjected to a group approval process, ask who will be the final decision-maker. Designing for a committee can have a habit of making things more complicated, so when there’s an impasse, you’ll have a go-to person to solicit a final decision from.

Your Turn

What are other good questions to ask a client before you create a design brief for them? Have you had an experience where a bad design brief led to terrible results? Share your stories in the comments!

* Image credit: "Info-packs" by eelke dekker

  • The client should also analyze the need or the purpose of their web presence. Most of the clients ask for something exceptional, out-of-box and highly creative designs. But at times they complicate things and might downgrade your website.

  • I also like to ask: What’s your preferred way of communicating? What might get in the way of getting approvals in a timely manner? Is there anything you especially want me to know about working with you and your organization? Do you have any questions for me about how I work?

  • That’s a great thing for the client to articulate in their own words. Because, you’re right, if what they want isn’t congruent with their business objectives, then the site design will be a failure.

  • All wonderful questions Merdith! Thank you for sharing them and adding to this article.

  • These are great questions, thank you for sharing!

  • Some good questions here.

    Personally I don’t go in to quite so much detail but the questions I always ask though are Question 1: “Can You Tell Me About Your Company?” and Question 8: “What Designs Do You Like?”

  • Think I’ll bookmark this post. Thanks for the info. This step is critical for timelines, expectations and understanding what’s required.

  • This is great post with great ideas. i have made a note of all the points that you mentioned in the post.

  • Aaron Peeler

    For me, it’s always important to establish the desired effect of the design. How do you want possible-customers to remember you? What emotions do you want to evoke from the design? Most respond with “Surprise me,” or “I trust your judgement” which can always get hairy in the end. But, keep them in the design-process-loop and the design will take shape as progress is made.

  • This is avery good post. One thing that is VERY important is the payment schedule, also the person who is responsible to authorise this and the person responsible for payment (also their contact details). It is very difficult to get your money when you don’t know who is responsible for this.

  • Good article, although you could of mentioned “Competition” who else is doing what you’re doing and how are you doing things different?

    I find that makes the client think about their business or organisation in a different light. Try it next time, you never know!

  • Karen

    I’m currently the designer/editor and publisher of an association run by committes. I was thrown in the deep end for the job for their newsletter.
    After 3 publications it has become frustrating, stressful etc because a brief has not been put in place. I have accepted the errors and timely process when it was not my fault, but then it has been because of no brief. Well, I’m putting my foot down. It’s time to do a brief, or find someone else to do this free service!!!

    Thank you for this post. Was a great help. Especially when you mentioned committees as this makes it difficult in how to know how to process the brief.

  • Coco Polacco

    You should ask if anything wasn’t covered that they want to add.