It’s ironic that an event all about a good quality design brief started with me totally failing to pay attention to my own brief for the evening: after a long Tube journey, I rocked up at The Library, ready for BookMachine fun, only to discover everyone else had gone to The Driver at King’s Cross. So I arrived… a little late.
But luckily, tonight’s speakers were far more on the ball than me, and they sailed through Brief Reading 101 to entertain a packed BookMachine house with three stimulating talks about the importance of, and ingredients for, a successful design brief.
Jo Sayers, a director of ELTjam, introduced us to the concept of interative briefing, a term that cropped up again and again throughout the evening. Unlike the design focus of the other speakers, Jo’s context was the writing of briefs for authors and editors of learning content created for digital delivery. He had three take-homes for us. First, focus on the needs of the user of the product that’s being created: if the author feels emotionally involved in the underlying reason for the product, the outcome will be better. Second, use the brief to highlight any assumptions you’ve brought to the process, or things that need testing; the authors may be able to help find better outcomes. And finally (and here’s where we get truly iterative), incorporate testing into the briefing process: if you can find out how people are using and responding to your product during the process, you’ll be able to adapt and evolve the brief accordingly, helping you achieve a truly successful result.
Our second speaker was Mike Cryer, who founded EMC Design in 1990. Like Jo, Mike gave us three key areas to think about when preparing a brief. We started with a focus on the market for the book: where it will be published; who it’s for; how it will be used. As well the end users, you need to think about the wider market too: what are competitors doing – and what do you like or dislike about their designs? Secondly, we focused on the structure of the design, looking at aspects like brand colours, typefaces, or common features that need to be shared between different product forms such as digital and print books. Mike’s next point of focus was the visual information that publishers provide to designers. Whether it’s a Pinterest mood board or a list of emotions that the design is intended to inspire, the more information you can give to a designer, the better. Designers like lots of detail, Mike assured us, and there’s no such thing as too much.
You can find out more about the elements of a successful brief in this free downloadable white paper written by Mike: Managing your Design Processes Within Publishing and How to Save Costs.
The third and final speaker of the evening was Julia Garvey, Head of Marketing at GL Assessment. Julia gave us a briefer’s perspective, having the benefit of 25 years’ experience of producing marketing materials of all kinds. The first golden rule from Julia’s presentation was ‘Be clear’. Tell the designer which parts of the brief are set in stone, which are flexible, and which are open to interpretation – and always keep in mind what you’re trying to achieve, as this will help the designer decide what to emphasise. Secondly, provide concrete examples of your reference points: it doesn’t help to say ‘make it like Google’ in your brief, because the visual appearance of Google changes from day to day, so make sure you provide specific screenshots of the particular element of Google that you want the designer to respond to. Julia’s third guideline is that you should wait until the brief is complete before giving it to the designer. If you’re working with a draft text of only 50 words, and it expands to 200 words during the design process, the designer will have to tweak and adapt the design on the hoof, so it’s much better to get all the pieces of the puzzle in place before briefing – at least as far as possible. And at the end of the talk, Julia advised us what to do when things go wrong – something we all know is inevitable sometimes. When a design doesn’t meet your expectations, you need to be specific about exactly why it’s unsuitable; it’s a good idea to ask a colleague (without priming them first) for their opinion on the design, because it’s easy for briefers to be too close to the work to see it clearly; and above all, talk to the designer instead of emailing. Some of us find phone conversations stressful, but if you make the effort to discuss the issues with the designer, the two of you will be able to work together to come up with a solution.
And my advice? Always read the invitation carefully when you’re going to an event – especially on a rainy night. Thanks to Laura and the expert panellists for a stimulating evening with plenty of food for thought. I hope to see you at the next one!