We’ll know it when we see it …

Senior designer Lynn Spencer lets off a little steam about receiving poor briefs.

The phrase most designers hate to hear is, “Come up with some ideas – we’ll know what we want when we see it”.


This is possibly the worst thing a client can say to a designer or creative agency. Such ‘open briefs’ might seem exciting because they open up endless possibilities for creativity but, in reality, they can lead to wasted time and effort, endless revisions, disappointment and even disputed charges. Everyone is left feeling deflated and wanting the process to be over.

It shouldn’t – and need not – be like this!

How can we avoid creative frustration?

Simple. By agreeing a clear brief from the offset.  Not only does this save time and money in the long term, it helps set the project expectations on both sides. 

The brief is the place where you agree what is required in terms of project spec – goal, budget, timeline and last but certainly not least, the overarching message.

A good brief should set out the ultimate objective(s) of the task in hand. Is the aim to raise awareness, reposition a brand, change attitudes about a company, announce new feature or benefits, drive brand loyalty, generate sales leads, create higher footfall, engage an audience or satisfy requests for more information?

It should inform a designer’s research, help them gain an understanding of the client’s needs and challenges and, ultimately, fire their imagination and creativity.

 A clear project brief will benefit everyone by:

  • Providing a clear and concise document that has been agreed by both parties
  • Ensuring everybody is working towards the same goal
  • Informing and exciting the creatives so they can create unexpected solutions!
  • Being a practical source to check progress and ensure activity is ‘on brief’

What does a good brief contain?


Seems obvious but knowing what the budget is from the start of the project helps agencies determine the best and most appropriate route forward. This need not be a bone of contention as this blog explains.

Timescale, milestones

What’s the deadline? Is it yesterday or do we have the luxury of time? A good brief also needs to be specific about timelines, from first speculative ideas to outline roughs and then final approval. It should provide details of the medium that will carry the material and the eventual publication or production deadline.

Target audience

Who are you talking to? This is valuable information as it will help set the tone of voice and messaging most likely to appeal.

Background information on product or service

Is there a story? A hook we can expand on?


What are they doing to solve the same problem?


What do you want to happen? Drive awareness, buy a product, measure success?


Is it a print campaign, a brochure or something that lives in the digital arena? Are you using social channels?

Floundering in a sea of guesswork, supposition and intuition in the hope of finding something that appeals is not a good approach.

With a comprehensive brief, an experienced creative can devote their enthusiasm and skill to producing great results in the allocated time.