Creative Brief: the difference between project failure and success

One of the biggest problems that those in the creative industry face is disagreements with a client once a project is off the ground running.


Many valuable web design agency and client relationships are thwarted by this. What could have been a long term working partnership ends up being roadblocked by terms, changes, direction and late payments.


Although, this can be overcome in a simple, logical and professional way and both parties can understand each other with complete transparency. There is a solution, but unfortunately it is a step that many creatives skip.


Does creativity and paperwork mix?

Well according to a recent survey, 39% of designers don’t ask their clients to sign any paperwork to take a project on.So the answer would seem to be no.


The same survey also showed that creatives prefer clients who know what they are looking for at the outset of their design project, according to 51% of the designers surveyed.


Furthermore, the opportunity to be creative and design something that they thought was ‘cool’ motivates 62% of designers to take on a project; compared to the other 48% who are motivated by the monetary gain and just 6% who believe the client’s prominence a key.


48% of designers think that the lack of helpful feedback is among their biggest challenges in working with clients, while 42% point to clients’ lack of direction and 25% think that a client’s unrealistic expectations are major obstacles.


So, referring back to the solution for all of this; the answer is a creative brief.


How a creative brief can solve problems

In most cases, you ask someone to sign a contract and they will front some reason as to why they would rather not sign it. A contract thrusts the hard and fast rules of the business side into a project; the planned length of execution, fees, payments and rights of use are just some of the elements that are drawn up in a contract.


It seems the common practice at many large firms that the team will sit down together for a project meeting and each department head will listen to the project scope and the results that are desired at the end of the project.


In this practice the stages of a project are stacked up like bricks of a building, each brick depends on the stability of the brick laid before it. Obviously then, when certain departments begin to falter in the delivery of their parts of the project, it affects the stability of the next stage, and the next department can’t execute their parts on unstable foundations.

Unfortunately due to missed deadlines, incompetence, lack of completed work and other problems that seem to thwart the completion of a project, the structure collapses; often leaving the design team to take the brunt.


A creative brief, drafted by the design team can be the cement that holds the project together. Once a concise brief with clear goals and time allocation is established it makes it much easier for other members of other departments to know where they stand in terms of their milestones, and most importantly when their deadlines are.


While unfortunately the situation described above still seems to be the common (ill) practice for many companies, a creative brief can conquer this. In a corporate setting where there is a demand for strict adherence to timescales and targets, a creative brief keeps a team on track.


Another thing that is common of companies who do not have a creative brief is that often when a project isn’t completed within the stated timespan, extra hours need to be put in free-of-charge to ensure that the project is completed tip-top as fast as possible. This has a further knock-on effect on other projects and eats into the time and effort that should be focused on new clients and their projects.


Getting started on a creative brief

Digital communications appear to have contributed to people suffering a lack of memory. This is particularly evident when working with a client. For example, when a client can’t recall when something was said in an email…like asking to be paid.


Organisation is key and a good place to start is by creating a folder for each project and having a short but accurate creative brief written on the outside of the folder.


For example;

  • The name of the project
  • The project’s due date
  • Those involved with the project along with contact details
  • Milestones for material needed by these people
  • Daily notes of the project’s progression
  • If milestones were met on time, and if any were missed, by whom?
  • If any changes were requested, and by whom?
  • When files were delivered and by whom?


Within these folders there should be printouts of the design stages, emails from other departments and people, and anything else that pertained to the project.


These folders are invaluable when it comes round to ensuring that a team’s deadlines are all met when you are juggling sometimes several projects at once.


Writing a creative brief

A creative brief should be simple, yet accurate enough to convey all of the information listed above at a glance. Remember that the client as well as the team will be looking at it, therefore it needs to outline all of the useful information in the simplest way. There are many examples on the internet, but here is a great example of a creative brief;

  • Client/Client contact information
  • Title of project
  • Prepared by
  • Contact details of the person who is responsible for in-house project management
  • Background/Overview
  • Detailed description of EVERYTHING that needs to be done!
  • Timeline/Milestones
  • Start Date
  • Project Milestones
  • Payments Terms
  • Ownership Rights


Of course this is just a basic example; the more detail that you list, going into smaller details, then the more you will safeguard yourself against any potential misunderstandings that may arise during the progression of the project.


When misunderstandings arise

Misunderstandings occur often in web design. There are projects that throughout are clustered with issues and differences with the clients, and in other cases there are issues with getting paid at the end of the project, and this is usually when a client will question how much work has been done.


In these situations, where you have to sit down with a client and go over all of the aspects of the project, and show proof of requests, changes and costs that are incurred by you, your creative brief and you folder will be the key to solving these misunderstandings.


Furthermore, if in the event that you didn’t sign a contract at the start of the project, which you really should have, then your creative brief and project folder will demonstrate the intent, argument and steps taken to complete the project.


You will also find that your creative brief will come in handy when handling repeat clients. It is a great resource for retaining clients to service with their ever-changing web design needs; as a company grows, their original brief serves as a reminder of how a client likes to work with you.


A creative brief is a tool that is valuable, resourceful and purposeful for your business. So head to the nearest stationary shop, grab some folders, design a creative brief sheet and see how much easier it makes handling projects and clients.


For informative articles on the creative industry, web design tips and know-how, or to get your regular digi-fix, head on over to the Kalexiko blog.