Creative briefs, visual trends and starting a design project


As a designer you have a very simple yet challenging task every single time. Some might say you are supposed to make things pretty. Well, it is a good idea to cover that base as well ;) But, however, the main task you are working on, is to get a message across.

What is the thing you need to achieve?

When you get to work for someone you are usually given a task like designing a logo, draft a website structure, maybe even get a whole range of stationary designed. Either task is a unique thing and should start with one big question for you as a designer: What am I supposed to bring across? What is the purpose of the thing I am working on?

When I work with clients I go through an extensive process with them to clarify what we are actually doing and what the output is supposed to look like. This proves to be helpful in many situations because some clients ask for things but do not necessarily need these. Often times it makes sense to make sure everybody is on the same page. Quite literally.

The steps are usually like this:

1. Talk about the topic and create a creative brief

I write down notes while we are doing this and I ask a set of questions. These are The basis for the creative brief by the client.

2. Write a protocoll and get it to the client for approval

I might have added a few things here and there which help to elaborate on the idea and make clearer.

3. Get to work and compile a set of graphics, fonts and images which fit the topic and intentions

These are compiled in a huge mood-board. When I am working on an interface or a website I might skip to creating a styletile right from the start.

4. Get back together with the client and discuss the styletile / mood-board

What is right, what is not? What should be pursued and what is not quite there yet. The great thing about this step is the fact that people see something and will give you extremely valuable feedback. It has happened more than once that I got information out of this session which was a) completely opposed to what was in the briefing at the beginning of the process, and sometimes people really started mentioning important things when they saw things and commented on them. Do not skip this step, it can prevent you from wasting valuable time and save both parties from loosing many nerves throughout the process.

5. Start designing and use a timer

A timer? Yes a timer. It is a great thing to set a little alarm to remind you of two things:
a) every time you see the alarm (I set mine to 6 minutes) I stop for an instance and reflect whether I am still on track to reach the desired goal or whether I am simply doing what I like. There is a huge difference in same cases. Beware to follow the path with the things you like.
b) It is a great sign to start a new version of a logo or element. The 6 minutes are enough to draft a logo and get it on the canvas in many cases. So this way you have 10 versions in one hour. Only by creating many logos and designs you will be able to get the best work created. Quantity eventually leads to quality. But do not take your 30 something logos with you to the client!

6. Select the best and most promising designs with you to discuss them with the client

Which ones really knock it out of the park? Only show your best work.

7. Continue to improve them and go back again

I usually have 2 feedback loops planned for. And I plan the time according to that. If things go down south and it takes more time and effort, I have a basis to recalculate my fees. Maybe you work with value-based pricing, so this does not really impact you as much.

The danger of being headed in the wrong direction

Following these steps you should be fairly safe to not hit the wall of astonishment when presenting your first designs after the the briefing phase. You have lead the client to get a feeling of what to expect. They have worked with you on the briefing and know what you were looking at to get inspiration and narrow down the choices. Clients love to be surprised, but only when it is great work and meeting their expectations. Take the risk out of the first presentation by making everyone feel comfortable. The presentation of the first designs is just one step, not the big revelation moment. Rather surprise them with the outstanding quality than some idea which is borderline akward.

What about trends I hear you say

Oh, trends. Like those you can buy in the design asset bundles? Well, what do you think? Are they good? Are they bad? Just go back to the top and see for yourself. You want to create an awesome vintage style hipster logo? Great. Does your client actually need this? Or is it just a fashionable thing to do right now? What happens when you travel into the future? Will your client still be happy with it in 5 years? The trend might be long-gone but your client is stuck with a logo from last season. So there you go: When it serves the purpose: Embrace such a trend. If it is just for the kicks right now, do not do it and rather spend your time on creating a t-shirt with the vintage look and sell it. It might make you more money, t-shirts only live a season or two and are used to be thrown out after some time.

In a future post I will talk in detail about the creative brief. But the steps above should be a great first set of steps to take when starting your design project. And if you are reading this as a potential client looking to hire a designer talk with her or him about these steps and whether they will follow these. It will probably be a good basis for a successful project. If you like the process because it sounds like a good idea, feel free to work with me, or let your designer consider taking these steps with you. Thanks for reading.

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