Data shows that creative design is reshaping products, portfolios, and industry standards at more than 70% of companies.
If creative design is so important, doesn’t it also make sense to invest time and money on writing a good creative brief?
Before the actual work of designing an infographic, launching a PPC campaign, or even beginning to pull ideas together in the early stages, you need to be sure that you have a solid creative brief.
The creative brief is the foundation upon which the work of any creative project will be done, but all too often projects fall short because of poorly written, bloated, non-actionable, ambiguous creative briefs.
And what’s arguably a bigger problem than a poorly written creative brief? The process (or lack thereof) that led to its creation.
In this Process Street article, I’ll try to address the elements that make up a good creative brief, but perhaps more importantly, I’ll look at how to build a process for creative brief writing; one that’s consistent, reliable, and gets the job done.
What is the function of a creative brief and why is that important?
Before we delve into the dogma of what separates the good, the bad, and the ugly of creative briefs, it’s important to understand what a creative brief does (or tries to do), so that we can align our “best practice” principles with a clearly defined goal.
Creative briefs should not be hand-wavy sketches; they need to serve very specific goals, namely:
- Outlining clear objectives
- Providing all relevant information about the project
- A reference point for the entire team, and all personnel involved in the project
It is essentially the core of the project, and should be designed to inform each stage along the creative process.
From the very beginning of the project, due care should be taken to ensure the brief is as effective as possible at achieving these simple, yet crucial goals.
Now the function is clear, it’s time to move to address the typical components you’ll find within a creative brief used to organize information towards that function.
Outline of a creative brief: Key components
A well-written creative brief should include a wealth of relevant information, organized clearly, and without excess.
This information will be used for your team to perform their job. What this information is will vary between projects, but will generally include the following components:
- Title (clear, unambiguous, easily identifiable)
- Overview (high-level executive summary which sums-up the scope of the project)
- Goals (clearly outline concrete goals for the project)
- Budget (specific numbers)
- Timeline (start date, end date, any other important milestones)
- Target audience (clearly place the audience in focus, use personas, declare primary or secondary, understand pain points, etc.)
- Brand image (what is the current perception of the brand, and how does this project intend to impact that?)
- Brand message (what is the primary message, and are there different messages depending on the audience?)
- Value proposition (what differentiates you from the competition, and how are you leveraging it?)
- Tone (the style of communication; intended mood of message; consider preparing a moodboard)
- Research projects (current and recent case studies; previous related efforts such as related or continuing campaigns; include relevant links and resources)
- KPIs (outline exactly how you will assess success of the project)
- Competitors (what do you know about them, and how can you use this information to your advantage?)
- Past insight (build on previous successes or failures)
That’s all well and good for understanding what to include in your brief, but equally important is how you structure that information.
Even if you have all of the information listed above, it doesn’t necessarily mean your creative brief will be a good one, because it still might be difficult to read, and ultimately use, for your team.
So, as you pull your brief together, keep the following tips in mind to make sure it’s as useful as possible.
6 tactics for creative brief writing
1. Don’t make assumptions
You must assume that your team, and everyone who will be reading the brief, knows absolutely nothing.
This doesn’t mean they have unlimited time, or are super-intelligent, so you still have to keep things brief, and simple, but the point here is that you need to be rigorous in laying the complete situation out in front of them, as clearly as possible.
Focus on both the big and small picture issues, and synthesize everything you know (from all of the disparate conversations and meetings with stakeholders) into a concise, comprehensive brief. Someone just joining the team should be able to look at your brief and understand everything they need to know.
2. Focus on the problem and how you’re solving it
For a web design team, the problem isn’t “how do we make a website” as much as it’s “how do we make a website that meets this client’s needs, and is the best solution to their problem”.
Thus, figuring out how to solve these problems is pretty much the whole point of the creative brief.
All decisions should be informed by the established primary goals and objectives, so it’s crucial that everyone is crystal clear on exactly what they are.
3. Keep it brief
Give your teammates the respect they deserve and spare them a novel where a sentence would have sufficed.
Too much information is often worse than no information; it’s up to you to make executive decisions about what to include in your brief.
Trim the fat: cut down your brief as much as possible without impacting the core information. Use headers and bullets to make it easier to read, and remove filler words.
You’ll be surprised by how much you can remove without making a difference to the message. Every word counts.
4. Use clear, unambiguous writing
Use as little jargon as possible. You’re not writing a technical paper, nor are you writing a clickbait headline.
Important concepts must be easy to grasp by everyone reading the brief, so plain language is always preferable.
If you’re forced to include confusing content, be sure to spend time on it when going through the brief to ensure your team understands everything before moving on.
5. Get a second opinion
Or third, or fourth, etc.
Having another pair of eyes check your brief can be invaluable – not only will you be less likely to miss common errors, but you’ll likely gain useful insight you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of.
This principle extends to being as transparent as possible during the writing and editing process.
If you open up the floor to comments and feedback at as many points along the way as possible, you’ll save time versus asking for a single, big round of feedback at the end of a large draft.
Plus, the longer you go between feedback from invested parties, the higher the risk that you’ll have to undo a larger amount of work when they decide they don’t like the direction you’re taking things.
And this goes both ways; whether you’re writing a brief for your client, or hiring a designer to create XYZ, make sure to over-communicate everything and be vigilant in seeking and providing frequent feedback.
6. Develop a process for creative brief writing
Perhaps the most important point on this short list, devising a process for your creative brief writing will allow you to synthesize everything you know and have learned about creative brief writing into a reliable, standardized procedure.
With a process for writing, you can expect a higher quality of output, fewer human errors, and time saved from having to “figure out how to write the damn thing” each and every time around.
A good process utilizes many of the same elements listed here: clear, concise writing, set out unambiguously with clearly actionable tasks, in order to solve or do something specific.
There are a number of ways you could develop your creative brief writing process. You could write each of the most important tasks out on paper, and cross them off as you go, or you could do the same thing in your text editor of choice. You could even invest in one of the weighty, expensive BPM software solutions to try and do everything for you.
Or you could use Process Street, a tool that makes editing recurring processes fast, fun, and simple.
With Process Street’s intuitive and easy-to-use interface, you’ll be able to map your process out as checklist templates in no time.
The fact that editing templates is so easy means you can quickly iterate new checklists, making your briefs (and the process for writing them) more robust and able to adapt to last-minute project pivots.
With Process Street’s form fields, you can build intricate and information-rich processes that you and your team will love to use.
You can even share them with your team, assign tasks and collaborate on editing templates.
Below, I’ve listed a number of templates that highlight a solid process (or sub-process) for creative brief writing. Check them out, and hopefully you’ll be able to use them to inform your own process.
Exemplary creative brief writing processes
Of course, there is no “one-size-fits-all” creative brief process, because the requirements for each will change depending on the project.
However, by following the best practices outlined above and considering the creative brief writing process as part of a discourse between all parties involved (client, all teams involved, relevant management, etc.), it’s possible to build a robust, adaptive process for creative brief writing.
Many of the design checklists listed below represent different creative brief use cases and contain agile sub-processes for creative brief writing that will give you a good idea of how to approach writing and structuring your own.
- Web Design Process
- Animation Design Process
- Social Media Image Design
- Usability Test Plan
- Usability Testing Template
- Blog Image Design Process
- Website Design Client Onboarding Template
- UX Design Process
- Brand Identity Design
- Header Design
- Graphic Design Process
- Logo Design Process
- Website Launch Checklist
If you’re interested in learning more about these checklists, check out the full post on the web design process.
Creative brief as a “living document”
This diagram from Adsubculture illustrates a useful and pragmatic way to think about creative brief writing:
While not as complex as this diagram which situates the creative brief in the wider context of the general strategic process, it is an example of thinking of the creative brief writing process as a feedback loop, or a “living document”.
In this sense, using a process of feedback to constantly fine-tune and improve the brief means you wont have to worry about figuring out last-minute changes, or pivoting focus, because the process will already have this accounted for.
Process Street templates can also be thought of as “living documents” in the sense that they are designed to be tweaked and changed on-the-fly. This is important for adaptability, but is also the crucial enabler of all other key components. The ease and agility of making edits to templates is what makes Process Street so strong in facilitating changing forms of collaboration.
Using Process Street to automate your creative briefs
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Anything from basic tasks like saving Gmail attachments, to shipping your Salesforce leads into MailChimp, this Ultimate Guide will help you through setting up the perfect automation control station.
Learn more about improving your creative brief writing process
Want more resources to help you with creative brief writing, or improving pretty much any recurring process in your business? Check out these similar posts:
- 7 Essential Design Processes & Checklists
- The Complete Guide to Business Process Management
- How to Switch to BPM Software When You’re Just Using Paper
Have any advice on creative brief writing? Let us know in the comment, we’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for the article. I’m looking for a template to start from as recommended for writing a creative brief, but I’m not finding one in Process Street. Do you have one you can share? Thanks!