Working for an in-house design team means that your colleagues will assume you have all the context you need to create your designs. You all work for the same company, so you all know all the things, right? Not so much.
You need to be sure you have all the right inputs before getting to work so that your work is rooted in business goals and strategy.
There are a couple ways to do this. In some cases, you might start with a project brief, which lays out the problem to solve, the audience, and what success and/or failure looks like. That evolves into a strategic brief, which takes the problem and combines it with research and cultural insights to carve space for it in a creative sandbox.
Of course, not every design need comes with a project brief or strategic brief. Some projects are too small to merit them, while others are too urgent to require them. That's why I put together a form to collect all the inputs necessary to create my design briefs.
What is a design brief?
A design brief is a doc that includes all the information that you, as a designer, need to execute on the goals of a given project.
The goal of a design brief is to form guidelines that leave great potential for creative output but are also mindful of any immovable constraints (budget, timeline, people, and so on). Ideally, it sets up your team to lean on their strengths and allows them to stretch in meaningful ways while also meeting the requirements.
Create an intake form
If you don't have a project or strategic brief to work from, I recommend having all design requests be submitted through a detailed intake form. The information in that form will allow you to get the context you need to craft your brief.
Here are the questions on our intake form at Zapier, which are strategically broken into three groups:
Requester info, like name and email, for a point of contact
High-level info, like stakeholders, urgency, and metrics
Detailed info, like audience, success/failure indications, and benchmarks
First off, let's review some simple details.
What's your email?
What team is this for?
What is the title of your project? Describe it in just a few words.
Next: high-level info.
Who has ultimate deciding authority on this project?
Provide a full description of the project. The more information, the better! Include the problem you're trying to solve, and/or what you hope to accomplish.
Do you know what KPI this corresponds with? Y/N
If so, which?
What's the deadline to get this back to you for review?
How urgent is this project? High (within a few days); Medium (within a few weeks); Low (whenever, tbh)
Where can we find background information, research docs, or other contextual reference? This question is required. Please include links to docs or relevant Slack convos. The more context, the better!
Is this for a review, or is it new work?
Have you talked to the Product Marketing team about this project?
Lastly: strategic stuff (technical term)
Describe your target audience. The more specific, the better. For example: who they are, how we will reach them, what we want them to feel.
What action do we want them to take?
Why should they believe us?
What metric do we hope to move or what are we going to measure to see if we're successful?
Have you already identified content needs besides design? If so, are you already working with someone on those needs?
Do you have any positive benchmarks in mind for this project? For example, other brands, competitors, or similar projects that you admire?
Have you created any work so far (it's ok if you haven't)? If so, please provide links.
Is this content critical to the completion of other tasks, projects, or work? Describe how this fits into the overall scope of work.
Get notified of requests
I recommend sending all form submissions to one spot. At Zapier, we have a #brand-requests Slack channel, and a summary of the responses is automatically sent to that channel whenever someone clicks submit on our form.
The requester gets tagged in the thread, which allows for all conversation about the project to live in one place.
This all happens automatically with a Zap.
Zapier lets you automatically send information from one app to another, helping you reduce manual tasks. Learn more about how Zapier works.
When the request comes through, our team has a high-level understanding of the project, and we're able to quickly triage who works on it.
Automatically create your design brief
You might take it one step further and autopopulate a Google Docs design brief template each time you get a submission. For example, you could create a Google Doc with the following headings (or whatever your design brief includes):
Initial creative references
Then you could port the info from your form into this template so you have a ready-to-go design brief to start with—you can always make tweaks after it's created. If that sounds like the best route for your team, here's how to create and autopopulate a Google Docs template.
There's a famous quote (often attributed to Charles Kettering, former Head of Research at General Motors): "a problem well-stated is half-solved." Regardless of the questions you ask, following a repeatable process like this allows project owners a chance to get granular with their needs—and sets up the creative team to do their best work.