On certain websites, we get a list of basic steps in writing the design brief. It depends on your project requirement and your type of work. But if you believe that “Design is a problem-solving tool” and you would like to contribute strategically to influence business outcomes, then you need a detailed in-depth design brief.

Design Brief is not a definition of a problem but the beginning of an exploration.

“We need to design a pen for Left Handers” -If this is going to be the brief, then the client is not going to utilize the designer’s expertise. Client’s marketing department could be wrong in coming out with ideas like this.

“I need a cooking oil container, which appears similar to a Temple Tower” – another brief. Thanks for the invitation.

A Business should hire a designer to find a solution for the problem and not to execute his solution.


The first step in any business engagement is to call your customer as “PARTNER” than “Client”. If you call them a client, it means you are providing them with a service and implies they are in charge.

The design is not a Service. It is a problem-solving consultancy and an equal partner.

Think of calling them as “Partners” with whom we can share responsibilities, equally accountable for the projects. When you work as partners, mutual respect increases and great designs happen.


Who will write the brief? A Designer? Remember – Partner – Shared Responsibility – Two heads are always better than one. Design Brief should be prepared by a team of 2 people, one from the design team and the other from client’s….oops…sorry… from your Partner’s side.


This section contains the scope of the work, objectives, background, business needs, expected outcomes, ownership of the project, stakeholders details.

Objectives – It’s the working title of a project in the initial stages till research phase. Example – General request you get from your partner – Can you design a container for 5litre cooking oil? – To design a packaging for a cooking oil. Can you design a wearable medical device? – To design a medical wearable device.

Background – A bit of detail regarding the project and the company.

Business Outcomes of the project – Ask questions to understand the outcomes of business. Example -Why do you need a new shape for the container? Why is this the best time to change the shape? Why there is an urgency? Business outcomes can be

  • To stand out from the marketing clutter
  • To launch during festival
  • To increase market share (How to increase the share)

If the business outcome is specified to increase the market share – How are you going to do? You may need to come out with new value propositions from the research and discussions with your marketing team, which need to be reflected in the design.

Design can contribute to meeting those business objectives if it is made very clear.


Category refers to the specific industry in which the product or service is involved.

SouthWest Airline’s customers were people who had been traveling by buses, cars and never or rarely traveled in flights. If we had chosen Airline passengers as the category for Southwest, our designs would not have connected the required target segment.

Starbucks – Can you define the categories? It’s not a just coffee house anymore – Place for people to hang-out – Home away from Home – An office away from an office. It’s fighting with products/services from multiple categories.

McDonald – Which category McDonald’s in? Fast Food? It is involved in “Entertaining” category. Its original concept was to have a place for families to have fun. Happy meals – Play parks – Games – Puzzles, Small Toys – Clown – Slogan. If you designed a product/service based on “fast food” category, concepts would be limited compared to “Entertainment” category.


If you would like to be a leader, you need to IGNORE the trends.

Great Brands Ignore the Trends

Again, it depends on your field. Do you think Apple collects all product images in Consumer Electronics field and then generate Ideas? I understand – Apple can afford to create a new trend. But Apple too has started as a small company. Anyway, it is up to the Design Brief team to decide on Trends to be followed.


“Men, 18 to 25”, “Household women of 30 to 40 years”, “Executives”, “Everyone” – Let’s close the browser and go for a walk!

Target Audience or customers are the heart of any business. Generally, there are usually multiple audiences for a product/service. It’s important to note the cultural, regional, gender, emotional, behavioral, attitudinal differences of each segment. Each segment may have different needs in various situations or circumstances.

One of the examples from “The Innovator’s Solution”.

A Quick-service restaurant wanted to improve its milkshake sales and profit.The chain segmented its customers by characteristics of existing milkshake customers. Since sales were not picking up, they did user ethnographic research. The most surprising insight was half of all the milkshakes were bought in the early morning. Most of the time, the milkshake was the only item these customers purchased, and it was rarely consumed in the restaurant.

Early morning customers had a long and boring ride to work. They needed something to keep the commute interesting and avoid being hungry after a couple of hours.

In the Evening, when the same customers come with their children, they buy a milkshake for different reasons. It is like a moment to connect with their children by satisfying their needs.

As a user, I may buy a product in Chennai for a different reason, and the same product in Delhi for another reason.

User’s need, desires may change based on the circumstances. So, the target audience section should have certain scenarios specifying the user’s needs and desires.


If your client is a cooking oil manufacturer, he may have an alliance with a scientist-consultant, who would be responsible for the chemical formula of oil, mixture ratio, quality levels. The client may be filling oil in containers at an outsourced facility. As a designer, we have to understand the network of Client vendors and the partners that make the client’s business model work. We could make a good design solution when we understand how partnerships with their external vendors can be influenced.


The most important things a company/client does inside his office/premises which contribute to the product/service to users. The activities may be related to production, marketing, servicing etc… Once we understand those key activities, we can check whether our new proposed solutions affect those activities, modify any of the activities, or eliminate some of the activities. The client would be happy if we could eliminate some of those activities.


Resources could be assets, manpower or any other resource which help a company to create and offer a value proposition. Though some of the activities are outsourced, many were done in-house. Resources involved in implementing those critical activities need to be identified.

For example – Imagine an Oil Can filling station where a conveyor fills 5 containers in one setting. You have designed a container wider than existing containers, and filling machine could fill only 4 containers instead of 5 containers at a time. Cumulative production loss would be high in this case. Good knowledge of existing resources, corresponding activities will go a long way in cutting down design cycles, provide an optimized design.

Can your new design eliminate some of the resources, or require any new resources? Can it be possible to modify any of your existing machines to accommodate the new labeling requirements?

You may need to divide this further into departments or any other suitable divisions.


Understand how a company reaches the customer, how they communicate to them, how they deliver the product/service to the customer? It includes Distribution channels as well as Communication channels. If you are proposing a Call-Centre support, can it be integrated with an existing system or you need to hire extra resources? If the container designed is wider than earlier design, it would affect the Bulk Packaging dimensions. Can the existing channel handle or what would be cost, time implications? Are the channels capable of providing the desired customer experience? Can the channels communicate what you as a designer expect to communicate?

Need to divide this into Communication Channels, Distribution Channels.


A product’s cost covers every employee’s, every asset’s, every process’s cost. When we decide, the oil has to have a particular value proposition, you are going to pay more to the consultant for feasibility and formula preparation, pay for experimentation and testing, preparation of formula mixture, testing and certification, taking the mixture liquid to filling company, training the employees on how to mix in production, modifying production parameters, and the list goes on. If a design affects a filling station production, it is going to affect the cost of a product. We can have a backup call center, but will all those accumulated costs create necessary profits?


How a company generates cash from each customer? Is it a recurring cost? Is there any loyalty from the customer? If the client supplies product through MLM, then the freedom level differ. Understanding revenue stream will help a designer to explore design possibilities. If a product cost increases due to design, and designer can guarantee that there is a way to increase the revenue to offset the incurred cost, the client will be happy to accept the design solution.


Do they have details of perception of their brand in customer’s eyes? If it’s there, then we need to reflect the same in our solutions. Understand their Brand Culture, Brand Emotions, Brand Personality and Brand Values. Understand whether the product or service is a Stand Alone product or Brand-Extension.


Is the brand conscious of environment? Is the company trying to sell long-lasting products? Is the company helps in recycling of products, when no longer needed? Do they have any social programs running? Are they part of any social or cultural movements?

Driving social change is one of the significant marks of great brands. Instead of engaging in attention-grabbing donation activities, brands design and run their business to make a sustainable impact on society. It is creating “Shared Value” along with their customers, employees, alliances. It is a more integrated approach. Understand and design based on the level of Social Responsibility the company is interested.

Note: The brief will have further details of timelines, budget, phases of work.


A well-written design brief is a road map, guiding to the path of success, help you to define steps, outcomes and act as a good project tracking tool. It saves time and shortens the design cycle. Provides a shared understanding among all stakeholders. Extensive design brief enhances creativity. A detailed design brief will help a designer to study the business in detail, proactively contribute and create an impact on the business. The design is nothing but working with people, for the people, and by the people.

References: Design Brief by Peter L. Phillips

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