Web & Graphic Design

Tips on writing a professional brief for your design contest

In the last post on how to maximize the efficiency of your design contests, I’ve wrote about deciding what is the right amount of money for the winning design. Once you’ve gotten over establishing a prize, the next step is to provide a detailed and professional brief. A poorly written or incomplete documentation is a sure way to alienate designers, as they usually perceive it as forebearer of wasted time and confusing tasks. If a significant amount of essential data is missing, you’ll see a lower number of submissions per designer. Later on in the contest, they will be busy correcting or adapting their previous ideas, rather than use the same amount of time to come up with different and more mature concepts.

Usually, you should include at least the following information from the get go:

  • a general description of the product/service being promoted and its target audience. In this case, general means relevant rather than short. Managing to achieve a balance between size and data, helps designers maintain interest, understand the project faster and focus only on what’s important rather than trying to guess (and get it wrong). Would you trust them successfully handling a mix of management, branding, copywriting and design tasks for you instead of just the one they’re  most qualified for?
  • the list of materials (file types) required at the end, be it a website template, a high resolution pdf, vector illustration etc. Try to avoid listing all the known extensions available, especially the non-raster ones: it usually means recreating the design rather than automatically reexporting it. Don’t forget about dimensions, color and other media specific (print, web etc) restrictions, which you should know beforehand, since they usually influence a concept’s execution. Miss this and you might find yourself having to pay extra for the necessary changes.
  • any mandatory text, images, identity guides  etc. Being a designer does not automatically imply good copywriting skills. That’s why, a couple of hours saved by not writing your own copy means loosing some good quality work. Also, it’s a sign of  common courtesy to do any stock photo searches beforehand, rather than have each and every designer spend hours finding (much the same) proper imagery which you may or may not approve of. If you have a logo that needs to be included, try at least to add a high resolution version, when the vector source file is missing.
  • provide some examples of previous designs you’ve used, or work you’ve come across and liked. Not being able to meet face to face with the designers, robs them of valuable clues about your likings, so have to rely more or less on luck. Plus, seeing how they’ve been influenced by the sources of inspiration, will help you realize which are the truly professional ones.
  • the real project deadline. Even though there’s already a deadline for the contest, you should also mention when is the project expected to be complete. Even in the best case scenarios, you’ll still need a couple of days between these two dates to make sure everything goes according to plan.

A thing which you should avoid at all costs is combining several design jobs that require different skills into a single contest. Let’s say you need a new logo and a website to go along with it. I’ve come across plenty of real life situations where one designer provided a great logo and another came up with a wonderful template. Unless you’re willing to award two or more prizes, then one of them must go. Plus, you won’t be able to use their work for inspiration since you don’t own the copyright yet. The most common workaround is to divide it into multiple contests. Even though sometimes it might take longer, in most cases it will provide you with several advantages:

  • better overall quality thanks to the talent and specialized skills for each specific task;
  • more submissions as designers tend to avoid extremely bloated contests where there’s a high risk to work for days without an actual compensation;
  • faster overall process as there are less tasks to juggle at the same time (for both sides);

Whatever you do, don’t change the brief halfway through the contest. Whether it means adding extra requirements or changing content and visual elements, it’s always a bad  idea which will leave behind a mob of angry designers. If you really need to do that, you should also consider raising the prize. Otherwise, your actions will normally be perceived as unprofessional and you might be left working with amateurs only.

From what I’ve been able to observe so far, most clients find the task of writing a brief for a design project as a difficult, unnecessary and stressful task. This is especially the case in situations which are perceived to require deeper technical knowledge such as interactive websites or innovative product design. As a result, i often ask my clients to explain everything the way it feels natural to them, as it lowers the amount of misunderstandings that might arise.

At the end of the day, the brief is supposed to concisely and precisely explain to any newcomer what the specific task is about, when it is due, provide the inputs and specify the outputs. While missing a couple of details it’s not that uncommon, not being able to create a thorough one points to a shallow understanding of the project. In this case, rather than risk working on a false premise, it’s best to go back, reanalyze and rewrite it. That little extra effort will save you a great deal of time, money and peace of mind in the future.

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