Creating a written brief

briefOne of the biggest initial problems designers and clients face together when beginning any project is the brief.

Many of my clients tell me that they find it incredibly hard to give an outline of the project they want their designer to undertake. And understandably so. If you have never commissioned any design work before, you probably wonder what on earth they are asking for. It is incredibly useful as well for the designer to have a brief. There will be no hidden surprises halfway through, no awkward conversations of ‘We thought it would include such and such…” or “Surely you knew that is what we meant?”.

With that in mind, I offer here a simplified guide, for designers and clients,to getting a clear concise brief.

1) Keeping an open mind

The first thing I would suggest is let your designer design. Trust them. Don’t start a brief with a step-by-step guide of what you want to see. It pays to get a fresh viewpoint on your project, and that is what you are paying for – a designers eye. Keep the brief as open as possible. As an example an open brief would be

We require a full page national advert promoting our business to single females in their 20s.

A closed brief would look more like

We want a full page advert with a hunky looking male on a red background with pictures faded into it and separate boxes selling all our products.

One leaves no room for imagination and is arguably already wrong before a penny has changed hands, and the other leaves the designer plenty of room for concepting. That was a real brief by the way. I know.

2) Set deadlines

This is often the first question i ask. More often than not alot of clients approach me on a Monday with a deadline of 5pm Monday evening. There is only so much you can do in a timescale of that tight degree. Think ahead and start the process long in advance of any deadline if possible. It can make a project dramatically more expensive for the client if it is urgent so you, as a client, can save yourself money by thinking ahead. Tell your designer a realistic timescale that you feel is achievable. Often i suggest ‘x’ days for concepts, another ‘x’ days for artworking the final design, a few days for proofreading and then one more day to prepare for print.

3) Don’t be embarrassed to not know

No really. If you don’t know what you require, ask your designer and they will help you. If you need a brochure, speak at length to your designer about the potential solutions. They have created many, from a tight budget to a lavish budget and your job fits in somewhere. With a conversation and some examples, you will see what you need.

4) Money. Oh yes. Money

This IS the first question I ask. And that may sound mercenary but I have been designing long enough to know that with this layed out on the table, you then both know what you can achieve with the budget available. It works both ways, I have had clients come to me with a budget that far exceeds what they actually require so when I show them what they can have AND save money they thought they needed to spend, they are instantly happy at your honesty, and normally then proceed to commission something else they didn’t think they could afford.

I have also had clients who thought they could get a 10 page website for a pittance, and it is best to know up front what the clien expects to spend. You can normally find a solution to fit their budget, as long as you know what it is up front.

5) Say what you do like, and what you do not.

So you like red, you don’t like green and you really do want to see something contemporary. Brilliant. Then say so and the designer instantly gets a feel for what you are looking for. You are employing their expertise, but you must get what you want, so if something is essential to you, tell them. It will make the whole process far more enjoyable.

6) And converse

Many of my best clients enjoy the design process as much as I do, and this is because they get involved. That is not to say that they sit on my shoulder day in and day out, but they voice their opinions, offer up thoughts, make suggestions and throw things into the mix I may not have considered. You know your business and its market, I know how to design. Together the potential is enormous.

7) Select a decision maker

And finally, I suggest appointing someone as ‘The Decision maker’. By this I do not mean the dreaded words “Design By Committee”. I mean select one person, either the Media Manager, The Owner, The Managing Director or someone who will say “That’s it, we will run with that”. Opinions are vital, but too many causes more problems than it will solve. How many designers have come across the situation where the project has been discussed, concepts supplied, final artwork produced and then you hear the dreaded words…

I’m just going to show it to my wife / the office / my brother / my friends

So now we potentially go back to square one, and some suggestions can range from the sublime, to the ridiculous. Bear in mind at this stage, as a client, you are liable to be charged if the whole process begins again. So ensure if you do want other opinions, then ask for them at the beginning. It will save you time, money and your sanity.

The best solution to all of this is to provide your client a written brief to fill in.

You have experience of what may crop up, and you can ensure all bases are covered from the outset. I have a simple A4 PDF, 2 sides that I ask every client to fill in on the commencement of any design project. It will prove to be worth its weight in gold I promise you. You can refer to it throughout, it protects both you and the client should disagreements occur and in my experience, ensures a great creative process with a super outcome.




  1. Jess Abley


    I was wondering if I could have some advice.

    I am about to start working on some projects as a freelance designer, and need to give my client an idea of how much work will cost what etc.

    I’m at a Junior Designer level, and have worked on live briefs whilst I was studying (the finance parts were taken care of by the partner I worked with) so have experience with this kind of work rather than just university projects.

    Other than this I’m a little bit lost, I’m aware the average freelance fee per hour is around £10-£20 for somebody at my level, but I’ve no idea how much to charge for a whole project.

    Can you give me any pointers? They’d be very much appreciated!

  2. Nicola Baker


    I have pretty much the same problem and therefore question as Jess.

    Although I haven’t been to uni, I have taught myself and practiced on live briefs through crowd sourcing websites such as 99designs and designcrowd.

    But as I am starting to get extra work through some of these clients and some new, I have been asked on a few occasions what my rates are and what I would charge for “a logo design similar to those on my website” for example?

    I would love your advice on this problem and also if you have any advice on gaining work as a new designer? I have a full time job outside of the design industry and am trying to get myself out there to continue to build on my portfolio but also to make it into the design world full time either as a freelancer or more likely into an industry position!

    Thanks and regards

    Nikki Baker

  3. Matt wall

    Nice blogs and very helpful but wondered if u can help or advice me on something.

    I’m a graphic designer with 12yrs+ experience in the design/print industry but have been unemployed for the past year. I placed an advert on Gumtree offering my services but basically looking for a full time job not freelance. Today I’ve had a phone call with an offer for freelance work which I’ve accepted but where to start…. I need the work/money but no don’t know where to start. If this works out well then it’s a good foot in the door for me as I’m not having any luck with work at the moment. Any advice? I’ve asked them to email me details of what they want doing. I have my pc with all software on it so I’m capable of working from home etc..

    • Jim Adams (Author)

      Hi Matt

      Sorry for the delay in coming back but it has been ridiculously busy here. Forward me your details and examples of work and I will come back to you privately… All the best, Jim

  4. Ani

    Hi, Very informative blog!
    I was wondering if you could help me.
    I’m a Digital Animation graduate, and I’ve been doing a lot of “family/friend” work for peanuts. I’ve done some design work and now I am getting refferals. I don’t know what my pricing should be and when to take payments/give proof/drafts or anything. I was wondering if you could provide some sort of very appreciative guidance as into the process from a client coming up to you to delivering the product.

    • Jim Adams (Author)

      The easiest way Ani is to either phone, or set up an email address and email companies and competitors to find out the going rate if you are unsure. It all varies on your locality so there isn’t one answer I’m afraid.

  5. Hi, Ive been freelancing as a branding specialist (logo designer) for about 6 years and have learned many things yet still am trying to grasp the endless issue of the client brief, as well as pricing amongst many other things… You outlined some really great info but I was wondering if you might have an example brief youd be willing to share so that I might be able to get a better idea of some industry standards these days being that ive been out of work for about 2 years after my son was born and am just now getting back into the swing of things… thanks again for the great info!

  6. Luv your blog, very informative and helpful. I want to set up as a freelance graphic designer. Graduated in 2012 but was self taught prior to that. I would really appreciate your advice on how to start getting clients,rates etc.

    Thanks in advance.

  7. Nurul Subhan

    Hello Jim, I noticed this is an old post. However this info has been invaluable. Any chance you could get into touch with me to help me with some inquiries.

    Your help has been greatly appreciated!

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