How important is the project brief?

How often have you gotten a brief that consists of the client or boss telling us, “I want something modern and dynamic, like nothing else out there!” and all they’ve given us is a small explanation of what the projects is? Sometimes there isn’t even an image or logo to use as a starting point and you’re suddenly expected to create the next big thing with your incredible creative “powers”…

Of course we can blame the client for giving us a very poor brief and tell ourselves that he doesn’t have any ground to argue with the results because it’s his own fault even though in large part our own oversight is to blame. That’s right, we’ve failed our client, because it’s our job to educate the client on the importance of the brief and how it can influence a project.

I often have to remind myself that the client has been thinking about the project long before sitting down to discuss it with me and more often than not they have an idea in their head of what they want.

Of course many believe that we can read minds and even though I know we can’t, I’m not going to be the one that bursts their bubble… it’s all part of our mystery and charm!

So how do we get all the information we need?

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1. The Client doesn’t know what information you need:

Planning ahead can be crucial at this point. I like to have a standard group of questions that can be applied to every single project such as:

  1. Who are your competitors for this type of project?
  2. Do you have any examples of what you like in terms of look and feel?
  3. What is your budget for the project?
  4. What functionalities would you like on the project? Do you have examples?
  5. What part would you need from me? (Here I run down a few options such as hosting and domain, analytics, ux, coding etc. or just simple design)

Each one of these questions might have 2 or 3 ways of evolving and then it’s good to have a few extra options more specific to the project, but often the above question open the client up to answer other points that you might not have thought about and you can also take the opportunity to explain to the client that his idea of the project might need some changes ex. a Portfolio layout for a banking site wouldn’t make much sense.

Be careful not to let the client think that he will be able to give you the brief as the project evolves, because that’s a formula for disaster and can waste time on both side of the fence.

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2. The Client wants the world:

The other possibility of course is that you have an over zealous clients who has done so much research that he has folders, pinterest boards, USB pens etc. of content and they have thousands of ideas on where to take the project that is two steps short of world domination! Of course as much we want as much information as possible in order to create the best proposal that caters fully to the project’s needs, but sometimes too much information can also be harmful, because with too many ideas we lose focus.

When this is the case I usually like to steer the client towards a more focused strategy and break the brainstorming as follows:

  1. What is the primary focus for the product? Is it a weather app or corporate site?
  2. What are the basic functions or what’s the minimum it should do?
  3. Where are you looking to expand the product and in what order?

These 3 questions usually help to draw out the basics of the product and give us an idea of where the client wants to expand and how you might accommodate for that evolution from the beginning. Of course, these 3 questions are similar to what we try to get from the client in the first point, but whereas in the first point we’re trying to draw information out, here we are trying to focus the information and so reduce the points of discussion.

 

3. The brief creates the proposal:

At this point many we are expected to put together some kind of proposal whether it be the price tag for your work or an initial wireframe. Even if you’ve done all of the above like an expert with years of experience, there are going to be things that were not included in the initial brief either because the client didn’t remember them or because after your meeting you both realised that something needed to be changed or added.

Here I go against what I suggested in the first point and admit that to an extent we have to leave room for an adaptive brief that might have things added to it or taken away.

I personally like to give a proposal that leaves space for growth by listing all the points that were included in the brief and then add a price tag for extras variable between 2 prices depending on the complexity(ex. 100$-300$). This let’s the client know how much he can add without going over his budget and also let’s him understand that you’re not going to keep adding the project just because he remembered something over breakfast.

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Conclusion:

In my opinion the brief is one if not THE most important part of a project and can make or break even the greatest of ideas. Getting all the information you need is not an easy task, but hopefully with the help of this article and your own personal experience the next time you go into a meeting to receive your brief, you’ll have a strategy on how to extract the right information, but still be comfortable with the idea that you might not be able to cover all the bases and that’s alright as long as you’re prepared to adapt to the changes beforehand.

 

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