You’re receiving a brief! You lucky duck. Look at you and all your work and your ability to function like a capable human adult. Well done, you. But “brief” is a pretty wide term. There’s a lot that goes into a brief. There’s a lot you need to take out of a brief. Does your client know how to brief someone? Do they even really know what a “brief” is? After all, it’s a very industry-specific term. Well, whether they’re calling it a “directed discussion of project objectives” or a “chat thingo about that design stuff”, here’s a list of tips to help you get the most out of your meeting.
1. Research the client
You’ve been approached by a client to do some work and you’re about to meet with them to receive a brief, so it makes sense to know a little bit about them. Who are they? What do they do? This will help you to prepare for the meeting, so you’re clued up about the business and not desperately flailing around like a fish in a bucket – what, with their little fins and their tails and their desperate attempts to get back into the ocean. So unprofishional. (Not sorry).
Also, it’s important to research whether your client’s values align with those of your professional practice. If not, you may need to question whether you actually want to work on this project. Keep in mind that an incompatible fit does not make for a fun or effective working relationship.
2. Ask questions
You’re in the meeting, you know what your client’s about, now you’re being briefed. You need to know what you’re getting into and the only way to do that is to ask questions. You might get a golden client. Might. One who lays down exactly what you need to give them what they need. But you probably won’t. So, ask.
Here’s a bit of a list to get you started:
- Who is the target audience for this particular project?
- What kind of personality or tone of voice are they trying to illicit?
- Do they have a brand guideline document you’ll need to work with? If so, you’ll also need access to all the appropriate logos, palettes and typefaces, and potentially an extra bit of time to wrap your head around it all.
- Who are the stakeholders who will be influencing the direction the design goes in? Are they all present?
- And, of course, when is the deadline? But more on that later.
3. Define your project deliverables
The client say it’s “just an annual report”. Is it? Or is it an annual report and a series of smaller break out brochures that complement aforementioned annual report? Is it a rebrand? If so, you can probably assume that involves a logomark, some business cards, a letterhead, possibly some packaging, maybe even a fun Facebook cover image that is, “like, really understated but just makes the brand ‘pop’, y’know?”. Oh, we know.
This is hugely important, not only so you know what needs to be done in the timeframe you have, but also in terms of cost. It means, from the get-go, you can quote based on all this extra collateral, protecting yourself from later statements like, “We assumed custom-designed candleholders were included in the initial brief when we said ‘re-brand’. We’re not paying you.” Alternatively, it means you’ve brought it up straight away, so the client knows there will be additional costs for additional design. And while you’re a designer, yes, it’s not just your design hours you’re taking into account. Meetings are still on your time. Rounds of alterations are still on your time. Design View’s Andy Rutledge put together a handy read on taking into account client factors when calculating your hours.
4. Ask more questions
Okay, so this point may or may not have been included already (hint: it has), but it really can’t be reiterated enough. There are dark and dirty questions that need addressing, too – things like money and ownership and copyright. Whether you’re flying solo or part of a bigger picture, you need to look out for yourself.
What are your usage rights? Who owns the final design or illustration? How long do they own it for? What can you show on your social media and when? While these may not be questions you’ll throw out in the middle of a brief discussion (that’s a pun), unless you want to be there for days, they’re definitely things you’ll want to consider when writing up your quotes or contract agreements.
Money. Ew. Yuck. Talking money is the only thing more awkward than your weird uncle on the dancefloor at a wedding. But unlike his “formal” suit jacket/stonewash jeans combo, it’s a necessary evil. Whether you’re asking your client or asking yourself, you need a plan to cover you financially. Are they paying your super? It’s customary to be paid an amount before you begin – what percentage will that be? You’ll need to negotiate a “kill fee” in case you get halfway into the project and it’s suddenly canned. If it’s ongoing work, you’ll want to be clued in to their payment cycle. What’s the payment breakdown? Is it a fixed rate? Is it hourly? So many questions. Money is GROSS.
Just kidding, money. Love you.
5. Make sure you know your deadline(s)
Because obviously. Adoyyyyyy. But seriously. You can’t meet it if you don’t know it. And this will give you an idea of whether you’re up against a realistic timeframe or you need to jump into negotiations. There’s every chance you’ll have more than one deadline within your final deadline. For example, there may be an expectation that you’re working with the printer, in which case what you thought was your final artwork deadline may actually be your print deadline. So find out what the overall deadline is – when they plan to push their site live or send out their annual report, sure. But also work out those other details – it may help to break your deadline down into milestones.
And set a “concept” deadline – a date when you present your concepts, they choose one (or, more likely, “a combination of the first and second but with the colour palette from the third”) and then you’re signed off and free to go forth, fine tune, finalise and free your design into the world… give or take the stipulations of your usage and ownership agreement.
Image by Symon McVilly