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Design Relationship Advice: Keeping It Brief

by sarah • October 1

I was recently invited to speak at an AIGA Breakfast Club on the topic of helping to navigate the challenging path from briefing to design presentation.

Design is often defined as creating something visually stunning, but the chances for success are 1 out of 100 without good relationships and communication. So why have we been taking our relationship advice from old guard characters like Don Draper, who have a love ‘em and leave ‘em mentality?

In the spirit of Keeping It Brief, here’s a quick and easy guide to design success and lasting relationships between agency and client. After testing this approach over multiple years, multiple industries, and types of clients— the results have been clear:

A successful solution is reached faster and the design is better everytime.

1st Date: Understand what your Client wants from the relationship by Establishing Criteria for Success

Briefs are often delivered in the form of 20 page power point decks or casual coffee chats— in either scenario it’s easy to miss the key objectives. Make sure you have clarity by debating, discussing, and ranking the 4 most important objectives for your project. Nearly every client brief can be translated into for key goals.

  1. Clarifying the Brand Personality (What does it stand for?)
  2. Creating Stand-Out (Who’s the competition?)
  3. Delivering an Emotional Benefit (How is it connecting with the audience?)
  4. Functional Considerations (Understand the real-world implications of production.)

2nd Date: Get to know each other better by Visualizing it Together through a Visual Brief

Brand X needs to be: Iconic, Premium, Disruptive, Modern, Innovative!!!! All of these words can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. Are Apple and Google both not “iconic” brands? Yet they approach design in nearly opposite ways. Instead set up a Visual Briefing Session, where you debate & discuss they “why’s and why not’s” of how to translate key words of the brief into visual inspiration.

We have 4 simple categories (but these can be tailored to each project):

  1. Muse (represents your audience)
  2. Typography
  3. Graphic Elements & Illustration style
  4. Photography

3rd Date: Seal the Deal during the Exploratory Presentation by creating Design Buckets

The most important goal for the first presentation is making sure you deliver a solid range of work that meets the brief in distinctive and compelling ways. Set up 3 to 4 “design buckets” by mixing and matching different elements of your visual brief to rapidly prototype different design concepts. This will allow your team to envision the end goal for the exploratory presentation and help them align their talents and time accordingly.