The Design Brief

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Getting What You Ask For

A successful outcome to a design project means different things to different people. In an effort to align the expectations of the client with the deliverables of the designer, it is critical that a design brief be developed and agreed to, by both the client and the designer.

Regardless of who actually writes the design brief, it’s the client who really defines the design brief in order to communicate their objectives clearly. Some clients may prefer to do this on their own before meeting with the artisan, and others may want to talk with the artisan, discussing various approaches to the work while the artisan takes notes.


What’s In A Design Brief

The design brief will also set out the timelines, budget, and how they want the work to proceed. The design brief aims to answer any questions the designer might need to ask the client, both before and during the process.

A client can certainly prepare a draft design brief in advance of hiring an artisan to execute it, and in fact, this is probably a good idea as it will help them clarify what it is they really want and which type of craftsperson is best suited to meet their needs. However, keep in mind that the design brief is created with reference to the artisans own design process so it will be necessary to refine and edit the design brief with the specific craftsperson before the actual design work begins. Remember the client must ensure that the brief they finally agree to with the artisan communicates their objectives precisely. Having said that, “keep it brief” is a always a reasonable rule of thumb.

The design brief the client eventually signs should be one that gives the client a sense of security, a sense that they have expressed as clearly as possible what they are looking for from the artisan.  Achieving this usually means that there are some standard topics that simply must be covered. To that end the following design brief template may be helpful as a starting point.

I have provided the Design Brief below but you can also download the Design Brief Template in MS Word format to edit as you like.



The Client needs to tell you a little about themselves; They might feel that simply meeting with you is enough or that their company is a household name, but artisans still need to hear the clients version of their story. It’s important for the client to provide the artisan with enough information to ensure that they understand why they have been selected for the job and what the client’s vision is for the outcome; how do they see themselves using the product in the short and long term?


Note: For your own purposes you may want to extend this background information to a high-level synopsis of your target market, whom your competitors for this commission are and how they differ from yourself – why did the client ultimately choose you? It’s important for you to be aware of your competitive advantages in the eyes of your clients so that you can develop these advantages further if possible.




A clearly defined objective is critical to the success of any design effort. This section of the design brief should explain the need for this particular product. If the design brief offers a clear statement of the client’s objectives, and the priorities they place on them, it will be doing a large part of the job it needs to do.




This section may not be necessary for all types of design projects however for larger installations intended for public spaces (such as custom wrought iron gates, outdoor furniture, commercial commissions for stained glass or tile work etc.) it can be helpful to clarify the “vision”. Describing the client’s vision in words can help to express more clearly what the client/company is about and how this project will affect their lifestyle or the way a company does business. Part of this process should involve an effort to define the work’s audiences.




Outline the materials, medium or media in which the design will be realized, the design cycles, the distribution, the design parameters in general, and the client should say as much as they can about how and where they see the design being used. The client will also need to detail any constraints on the project or its delivery.




The client’s design brief will need to tell the artisan some things that the clients would like their design to say about them, adding if possible some examples of work that they think scores highly in this direction. If the client is determined to have their home seen, for example, as one that incorporates modern elements with traditional materials and techniques, the client will need the product design to do the same. This differs from the objective and vision in that it speaks more to the client’s values than to the product itself.




The client must clearly define how they will judge the success of the project. Provide measurable outcomes tied to how the product will be used by the client, taking into consideration the expected life span (eg. is the product intended to become an heirloom?), it’s flexibility (e.g. does the client expect the product to appeal to different people or be used for a variety of purposes?), maintenance (does the client understand and accept the maintenance requirements?) etc.




Provide the budget and tie spending to the stages of the design process and measurable deliverables. A high-level budget should reflect and align with the detailed project plan. You may require a deposit up front to begin the work and additional payment instalments tied to the progression of the work. It’s important that both you and the client understand precisely how these payment stages are defined.




Provide a high-level summary of the project plan.





The client and designer should agree to a list of any/all known variables and constraints that might impact your ability to deliver the project. This might include everything from budgetary and time constraints, to materials availability, handling, shipping and other manufacturing constraints.