6 Ways To Tackle A Difficult Design Brief

September 17 2020

6 Ways To Tackle A Tricky Design Brief

If you work in a creative industry, then you know that troublesome briefs come with the territory.  From the super-complex to the utterly mundane – via the minefield that is ‘designers’ block’ – there are times in even the most successful designer’s life when they struggle to find inspiration and a solution to their clients’ needs.

What separates the wheat from the chaff in these instances is the ability to work through the bottleneck, breaking the creative process down into its component parts to better identify where the problem lies, and how to fix it.  We’ve pulled together some key strategies for tacking a tricky brief and what to do when the juices just won’t flow…


Immerse yourself

And no, we don’t mean in a hot bath or even a large glass of your favourite tipple, tempting as that can seem when you’re feeling stumped by a difficult brief.  Immerse yourself in your client’s world – their aesthetic, their challenges, their ambitions.  Putting yourself in your client’s shoes can help you achieve a deeper understanding of their needs and is a great way to add new layers of thought-provoking information to a vague or uninspiring brief.


Question everything

Nobody wants to be the idiot asking stupid questions in a meeting.  But when it comes to dissecting a design brief, we’ll let you into a secret – there are no stupid questions.  You might know – or think you know – the answer to your questions already.  It might be completely obvious.  But listening carefully to how your client answers even the basic questions can give important clues into what they really want from a design that might not be explicit in the brief.


Think like the end user

On a tricky brief, especially if your client has already rejected your initial ideas, it’s easy to become fixated on simply gaining their approval.  But as a designer, your goal isn’t simply to please your client, it’s to help them achieve their objective – customer satisfaction is just a happy by-product of your ability to do this.  In the vast majority of cases, the work you do is not aimed at your client, it’s aimed at their customer, so keeping this person in your mind is one of the best ways to identify the crux of a difficult brief.  Brainstorm on paper if it helps – who is this person, what do they like, what do they need and what’s stopping them from engaging with your client?  Only when you’ve figured all of this out can you do work that will capture that person’s imagination.


Stay visual

Design is a visual discipline, but with tight deadlines or tricky briefs, the pressure can cause even the most experienced designer to retreat too much into their own head.  If you work in design, there’s a good chance you are a visual thinker, so staring at a blank screen all day won’t do anything for your process.  Try mapping out the problem in a visual format – use a whiteboard, a mood board or even a blank wall dotted with sticky notes and magazine clippings.  There’s a reason detectives use this method to map out a case – bringing all the evidence together in a visual way, however insignificant it may seem, is sometimes needed for the puzzle to fall into place.


Develop an acid test

How to know if your idea works?  You have to test it – and be honest about the result.  Pitch it to a colleague.  Can you explain it on a short phone call?  Could you sketch it on a Post-It?  Your concept may be perfectly clear in your own mind but if it’s not easy to explain to someone else then there’s a good chance that something will get lost in translation.  If this is the case then you may need to go back to the drawing board using the techniques above to simplify the whole concept.


Know when to unplug

As the old saying goes, you can’t flog a dead horse – and the best designers know that while there’s a time to buckle down and apply yourself to the task at hand, there’s also a time to take a break and clear your head.  A brief that seems more tangled than a bowl of spaghetti can look a lot less complicated after a good decompression session – and that can be anything from a screen break or a lunchtime walk in the fresh air, to visiting an art gallery or delving into a favourite pastime for a few hours.  Creativity isn’t a tap, you can’t turn it on and off – sometimes the smartest thing you can do to recharge your creative batteries is to switch off for a while!

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