Writing a brief

Here’s an interesting scenario I encountered recently. I was working with a client who put an HUGE amount of effort into writing a brief for their design agency.

They spent days writing it.

It had over 15 pages, complete with appendices, a contents page, examples of things they liked etc. Oh, by the way this was just for 1 poster they wanted designed. ONE! I’d never seen a more extensive design brief for such a simple job in my life.

The agency came back with the work, and the client didn’t like it. So the design agency tried again. And still they came back with something that didn’t quite hit the mark. So they tried a third time, and guess what? Yep. Fail.

Meanwhile I was working with another colleague who had a far more complicated design job that needed doing. Did he write a brief? No. Did he agonise over the intricacies of the detailed messaging? No.

He simply organised an hour and a half meeting with the agency and said to them: “This is what I want … what else do you need to know?” And they spent the rest of the time talking it through.

The work that came back was spot on.

So what’s going on here?

On the one hand you have a carefully crafted, well-thought-out brief being created lovingly for the agency. And on the other you have a somewhat lazy approach that came across as rather blasé.

I think I know why the second approach worked better (and I’m keen to know your thoughts on this too).

I believe the second approach worked better because the agency was given a chance to craft the brief themselves. Not only that, but sitting in a meeting discussing outcomes generates wild hand gestures, quick-fire-conversation, and facial expressions that simply cannot be written down. It’s hard to interpret emotion on to paper.

Moral: Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting. Email, phone, skype and conference call all pale in comparison.

What do you think? Is it a waste of time writing a brief for an agency?


Photo by Nic McPhee


This blog post is post number 3 of 7, as part of the “Your Turn Challenge” organised by Winnie Kao, Special Projects Lead for Seth Godin.