Writing an Effective Creative Brief for a Design Project

A creative brief is almost like a roadmap for how a project will turn out. It is the best chance to set the tone of your project so it starts off in the right direction. Your design will be only as good as your brief.

I remember a quote from a seminar on writing good briefs conducted by the Philippine Association of National Advertisers (PANA): “It is the miracle and magic of advertising that a structured, formal document can produce communication that touches people emotionally.”

There are all types of creative briefs and methods for developing them. The approach you use is less important than the mission: communicate clearly and thoroughly what you want. In other words, provide detailed instructions.

Affinity Express has order management systems (AESB and IDEA) that guide our clients through all the critical details, from size to folding specifications to fonts that must be used. Essentially, our technical team created an electronic client brief to make it easier for clients to communicate. We give them an area for “Additional Instructions” in which they can write anything that might help inform the designers. They can also attach as many reference documents as possible to show styles they like, old versions of documents, color combinations that work well and more.

Whether you are a client and use Affinity Express or not, here is what you should include in your creative brief for your internal team members and outside providers.


What is the goal of the design? What are you trying to communicate and why?

Last week, Kelly tasked me with the design of a tool to sell website services. She explained that such a tool would help our clients’ sales people to sell, ultimately benefitting us with more orders for websites. We needed to communicate why it is important for small- to medium-sized businesses to have websites, the features provided and the fast turn times.

Project specifics

What are the deadlines? What are the deliverables? What is the desired output size, orientation, printing specifics (e.g., DPI, full bleed, etc.)?

To meet the request of the news publishing client, we had to create a strong draft that could be shared in two or three days. Kelly felt a two-page, 8-1/2 X 11” flyer would be best, with a portrait orientation. Because this document will ultimately be provided to all our clients using website services, we needed to create a design that could easily be adapted by adding specific company names and logos.

Mandatory information

In addition to details like contact names and numbers, addresses, website addresses and social media information, what absolutely must be incorporated?

For this project, we used placeholders for all of the contact information. The document will serve as a leave-behind for newspaper sales people, so it should enable advertisers to reach the sales person easily to say, “Yes, I want you to build me a new website!”


Who is the target audience? What are your competitive differentiators? What is the call to action?

We have two audiences for our website sales tool: our clients and their local advertisers. To illustrate the advantages of our offering, we highlight the price but also include a matrix of features. This gets the message across that our clients can deliver high-quality, feature-rich websites at very competitive rates compared to other providers in the marketplace. We included a call to action for small- to medium-sized businesses to contact their trusted newspaper salespeople for more information or to place orders.

Reference materials

Do you have examples of the look and style you want to achieve? What are the styles you want to avoid?

This is one of the best ways to communicate intent. As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Whether it is a professional sample you love or a hand-drawn layout to show where you want to put various elements, designers are visual people and can grasp your concept much faster this way.

Recently, Kelly, Unmana and I were brainstorming over the design concept for a wallpaper for employees. Rather than using words to show what I found inspiring, I found designs from well-known companies that I thought had the same energy and bold colors we would want for our own. This step resulted in both Unmana and Kelly picking the same option and giving me a strong start to create something unique for Affinity Express. Working with a visual is a lot easier than two or more people coming to a common interpretation of terms like “bright, eye-catching, creative, etc.”

Overall, when briefing your designer or creative team, it is important to come as a storyteller and inspire them. Here’s one good example from the seminar:

I once had an account executive give me a brief with a hole burnt into it. That got me curious. Then I noticed it was for Pizza Hut’s fiery pizza. Right there, she got me. It’s not the brief in itself that inspires you but how it’s briefed. Everything must be filled with an opportunity to make you smile, to make you stop and think.”

In many cases, the people providing instructions to designers are not from the same discipline. This can make communication difficult, as you probably don’t speak the same “language.” But it is absolutely critical that you give your team a thorough and clear description of what you want. Although Kelly and Unmana are very verbal because they are writers, we’ve evolved into a strong team because we learned to collaborate through email and by using visual examples.

If you focus on providing solid creative briefs, you will save both time and costs for projects, improve the morale of your team and produce better design work.

Thanks to Kelly Glass for her input on this post. 

About Mel Fernandez
Mel is senior graphic designer for marketing at Affinity Express. He combines his love of art with an understanding of advertising and marketing principles to create effective designs.

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