We need to talk about the design brief… again!

Having previously marvelled at the lack of research and design industry engagement with the graphic design brief, I remain mystified.

A design brief is generally an expected physical or metaphoric artefact for guiding the creative process. When a brief is lacking, is incomplete or unclear, it can make an already ambiguous graphic design process and discipline even more fractured.

Yet, even in broader design discourse, there seems to be little research on design briefs and the briefing process (Jones & Askland 2012; Paton & Dorst 2011). It is astonishing that, even by 2014 in ‘Creating the Perfect Design Brief’, Peter Phillips is able to comment that “there are still no books available about design briefs” and that the topic is only “vaguely” covered within professional design education (2014, p21).

Even in the wider field of design, there is little consistency about the form that a brief takes. Some sources suggest that a brief only requires one page (Elebute 2016; Nov & Jones 2006) or even a single line of text (Jones & Askland 2012). At other times a design brief is described as complex, high-level and embedded within a design process which designers respond to with the aim of producing an end product to satisfy clients’ requirements (Ambrose 2015; Patterson & Saville 2012). Ashby and Johnson refer to the design brief as a “solution neutral” statement, the aim being to avoid preconceptions or the narrowing the creative possibilities of a project (2010, p40). Others describe a consultative (Walsh 1996), collaborative and stakeholder-inclusive process (Phillips 2014).

It is worth reflecting on why the briefing process has been so neglected within creative academic disciplines and why, within professional creative practices, there are few agreed formal processes. Within academic design discourse, briefs inevitably manifest as an assumed artefact or process, customised for the specific research purposes; but the reason for their use or the antecedent for the chosen format are rarely addressed. Until this further research is done, one can only hypothesise about influences, such as cultural and historical factors.

This leaves an academic gap in the study of the design brief and, alongside the inconsistencies within professional practice, suggests the need for further investigation within both paradigms.

Ambrose, G 2015, Design Thinking for Visual Communication, Fairchild Books.

Ashby, MF & Johnson, K 2010, Materials and design : the art and science of material selection in product design, 2nd edn, Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford.

Elebute, A 2016, ‘Influence of layout and design on strategy and tactic for communicating advertising messages’, Global Journal of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, vol. 4, no. 6, pp. 34-47.

Jones, WM & Askland, HH 2012, ‘Design briefs: is there a standard?’, in International conference on engineering and product design education, Artesis university college, Antwerp, Belgium, 6 & 7 September 2012.

Meron, Y. (2021) “‘What’s the Brief?’: Building a Discourse around the Graphic Design Brief”, M/C Journal, 24(4). doi: 10.5204/mcj.2797

Nov, O & Jones, M 2006, ‘Ordering creativity? Knowledge, creativity, and idea generation in the advertising industry’, International Journal of Product Development 3, vol. 3, no. 2.

Paton, B & Dorst, K 2011, ‘Briefing and reframing: A situated practice’, Design Studies, vol. 32, no. 6, pp. 573-587.

Patterson, J & Saville, J 2012, viscomm: A guide to Visual Communication Design VCE Units 1-4.

Phillips, PL 2014, Creating the Perfect Design Brief : How to Manage Design for Strategic Advantage, Allworth Press.

Walsh, V 1996, ‘Design, innovation and the boundaries of the firm’, Research Policy, vol. 25, pp. 509-529.