Allow Me to Brief: Why design scope matters

Tracing Paper
Residential Floor Plan, Sketched by Hand

There are very few designers who receive enough status and trust in the public eye as to receive commissions in which they determine the scope, budget and full detail of their works themselves. Even well respected designers, such as Karim Rashid & Philippe Starck work to a brief, limiting their creative freedom. A design brief is the explanation of the desired outcome of design works. This includes time frames, budget, scope of works and the details given to achieve the desired look and function. Product designers, graphic designers, web developers, architects, interior designers & photographers use briefs. A well-written brief acts as a summary of the project itself.

What are consequences of an off-target brief? The most common results to the designer of working with an incomplete brief are loss of time, money and enthusiasm about a project. The effects on a client can be loss of trust in the designer and a polluted brand image. All of these are damaging for any designer, so how can you be sure to get a great design brief?

  1. Get the details. This might take multiple sessions with a variety of end-users for a project, whether it be market analysis, employees or grandparents – anyone who will be using the space or effected indirectly by the space, for example, a corporate office in another country will still want a say in a branch of their business. The main quantitative details are the time frame of project, the budget and the scope of works. These are simple to list off, but doing renovations or refurbishment in existing spaces around families or employees or students can be multifaceted and complex. Make sure to understand the needs of your client. Also, this is a great time to give feedback on the viability of the project. If you think they are dreaming, tell them (in a professional way) why you think the budget won’t stretch and why. Honesty about this will gain credibility over other designers up for the job.
  2. Understand the ‘Why’.
    Sample Board
    Project Sample Board, Master Bedroom

    Ensuring a deep comprehension of the motives for your client to want this design are crucial to executing it well. Included in the qualitative phase is the mood, the function of the space, the experiential needs of those using the space & any materials or colours that are required or undesirable. If designing for an established company, often these questions are answered at least in part by the vision of the company and brand image. If working with residential clients, this stage will often be uncovering the personal style & likes of those using the space.

  3. Review the brief. Let others who were in the meeting with you have a look through and add to the brief if they see fit. It is a great idea to communicate this back to your client to ensure you are both on the same page.
  4. Stick to the brief! The effort to create a thorough brief shouldn’t be wasted. Keep
    Chch Boyds High Cross Section
    Original Architectural Cross Section of Christchurch Boy’s High Building

    referring back to it. Every time you need to make a decision on materials, colours, shapes, lines, look back at the brief, and this will be an amazing guide. While a brief can be seen to limit your creative freedom, it is an incredible tool that will keep you on-track to having a happy client! My most successful projects have been ones started off with large briefs that became a platform for the entire design.

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