A brief encounter

How can we communicate key information to get the best out of our designers?

Soudi Masouleh

Writing a design brief isn’t easy! You can give the exact same brief to multiple designers and they’ll all come up with a different and very unique interpretation of it, so you really have to be specific. Our brilliant Design Editor Jonn Langan has outlined the essentials below and I truly recommend the “Re-brief” section!

Soudi Masouleh

Jonn Langan

Every season, the decision to design and produce a new product is made. The reasons for this decision can be made for a multitude of reasons. The desire to refresh a product or collection, the need to change or reduce costs on a particular product, or maybe just the need to challenge the market with a fresh approach.

Once a decision is made, waiting for the inevitable brief to surface can be a painful time period. There will be rumours, small discussions with key personnel, and sometimes even a brainstorming or kick off to start a season, but nothing is normally 100% fixed or confirmed at this stage. This means it can be hard to keep tabs on which key details and factors will need to go into a final brief.

With so many pieces of important information that need confirming and then communicating, why do we always rush through the briefing process?

Often a brief is issued and then a timeline for the season is started. But with design and development time ticking away, the pressure for the team to make the right decisions to stay on track increases daily. To make good decisions people need to feel they have got the space to think, discuss and research.

There are literally hundreds of details, factors and filters that can be placed into a brief

Furthermore, there are literally hundreds of details, factors and filters that can be placed into a brief. From fabric details, to pricing considerations, fit systems to consumer profiling, sales expectations to product lifecycle, merchandising options to competitor products etc.

Therefore a brief has a large responsibility to get it right. But this should not necessarily be placed solely on the Product Manager (or whomever creates this brief). Surely with the vast amount of factors involved this should mean the process should be collaborative.

Therefore a brief has a large responsibility to get it right.

Should briefing be a more collaborative process?

Don’t get me wrong, there is a definite need for top line decision making to align with brand strategies and high level creative direction. But the expertise of the team cannot be under estimated to enhance a brief to a more effective level. For example, most briefs consist of a balance between a set of fixed information and variable information.

Fixed information is often details like retail price, profit margin or sales expectations. These kinds of details are often meticulously researched and agreed upon at top level and should form part of a core selling strategy. This kind of information will aid all parties to understand what are the fixed boundaries that a design needs to work within.

Variable information is often light on details or sometimes missing completely. This is normally because these details could either not be agreed on or it is left up to the creative process to figure it out. This is where the ambiguity in a briefing process can cause problems later down the line.

Generally speaking, the more variable information in a brief the greater opportunities for creative thinking, but equally the greater opportunities to deviate away from the focus of the brief. Therefore balancing a brief can be a delicate process.

Also for some people in a team, a briefing is when they are hearing this passing of information for the first time. Therefore it is not uncommon for people to react to the information. Expecting people to take in, understand, form opinions and agree to information within such a sort space of time seems an impossible task.

How can we better integrate a brief into a timeline?

So to enable all parties to have a chance to think about and contribute to a brief, I think there is a great opportunity to do what I have always called a Rebrief.

I think there is a great opportunity to do what I have always called a Rebrief.

Designed by ijeab

A Rebrief is a processed reaction, once the initial brief has been presented. It generally focuses specifically on the variable information and is undertaken by the more creative roles in a team, such as designers, developers and materials personnel. The idea is to start to try and answer some of the questions thrown up by a brief, and ultimately narrow down the direction before final decisions are made.

This gives an opportunity for all the creative parties to discuss, research and finally present their thoughts back to the whole team, before a final brief is issued. This enables all members of the team to start to visualise what direction the product may take and eliminate wasted time, resources and energy in the development process.

This Rebrief can then be integrated to create a final brief for everyone to develop the product from. Having these conversations early in the process may take some extra time, but are there to help unite and guide everyone forward, be the touchstones for future reviews, and ultimately make sure the right product is produced.