Design Brief -- Prescription Without Diagnosis Is Malpractice

Ninety-five percent of all conflicts arise from miscommunication and design is no different in this regard. In-depth interviews with designers revealed that they often lack a clear sense of their clients' wants, while the clients clearly look to designers to demonstrate their wants and it becomes a classic "chicken or the egg" dilemma. Therefore, in the interest of responsibility and accountability, it is important that stakeholders co-create a design brief, outlining strategy, context and execution before inception of the design project.

Auditing 81 design briefs from design consulting, corporations and academia, uncovered nine steps that a successful design brief must contain to assist businesses across the board:

Philosophy -- Place the project in the corporate development context, the organization's history and the challenges it currently faces, are briefly described. Typically includes key organizational moments, cultural values and beliefs, formulation of the vision and mission as well as the strategic/tactical intent of the design project and how it fits into the overall scheme.
Metrics used: Achievement of strategic goals and leverage of competitive advantages.

Structure -- Place the project in a network context, this includes the arrangement of the organization and its environmental strategy, supply chain and how it interacts with society.
Metrics used: Alignment with corporate management process and current network.

Innovation -- The desired innovation level is described, providing a clear sense of the market and technology risk in which the corporation is prepared to engage. This includes area of focus (technical, financial, process, offering or delivery) and innovation type, ranging from incremental to breakthrough innovation.
Metrics used: R&D budget, numbers of Intellectual Property (IP), revenue percentage of new products.

Social/human -- To provide a clear sense of the intended target user, their identity, needs, behavior and activities are described, including legal matters such as safety, ergonomics and consumer rights.
Metrics used: Satisfaction with product, ease of use and style. Morale: Satisfaction of employees and compliance with guidelines and regulations.

Environmental -- Provide an overview of the level of eco-ambition, from mere compliance to rethinking how a sustainable business can be created. The levels of improvement are: Redesign details, functional improvements, process redesign and systemic innovation.
Metrics used: Compliance with regulations, goodwill, brand value and ROI.

Viability -- To ensure the corporation's current and future growth/progress, it is important that projects are considered as a portfolio and that strategically most important, as well as most profitable projects are pursued.
Metrics used: Product cost, revenue/sales, percent of new products sales, market share of products, sales to break even, development process total cost, net income/profit, percent of new customers sales and percent of repeat customers sales.

Process -- To economically and repeatedly accomplish the stated strategic and contextual objectives a flexible multi-stage gate process is required. The design process usually consists of three phases: Direction, design and development, which can be subdivided into more sub-phases as needed for individual projects.
Metrics used: Time to market, number of new products developed, number of design modifications, phase cycle time, number of new products introduced, team assessment of design effect, peer evaluation, frequency of changes in specifications, number of products completed, number of patents and percentage of new features.

Functionality -- To profitably meet the target users requirements; a specific functionality needs to be created based on the selected technology, product architecture and features. It includes a description of platform and whether it be a modular or custom product.
Metrics used: Functionality (new or improved), unique selling points, number and type of required number of shell keeping unites (SKU) and technical performance requirements.

Expression -- The physical manifestation of how the business desires to be perceived (brand perception). This is achieved though design language and design principles.
Metrics used: Alignment with design strategy, brand attributes, corporate design and product line design language, design principles and logo, product name, slogan and mantra.

These nine steps are certainly integral but by no means sufficient. To engage the design team and support them in synthesizing concepts, the brief needs to inspire them. If the content is right, yet, the brief is neither memorable nor inspiring, it will accomplish little more than being a document designed to CYA because, at the end of the day, it is results that matter, not procedures.