how to prepare for your next design project

when you’re not in the business of graphic design, it can be hard to know the best order of operations in getting a project started. what i often end up doing for clients who need a little strategy clarification is summed up in this article so anyone can follow it, consider all the preliminary factors, and end up with a great starting point to bring to any project initiation. while it’s not a final blueprint, having these questions answered before you start makes it easy for both parties to deliver on the same goal.

use these guidelines to prepare your next project and write a general creative brief

define the goal of communication for the project

before you decide on the format of the communication, it’s good to think about the general messaging going into it. what are you trying to tell your market? in the best-case scenario, what do you want them to do in reaction to this piece? a good place to start is to write out a company description and include any mission statement or boilerplate for reference, then indicate what the immediate goal is and how this project will work toward it.

define the audience

this is where you define all the types of people the project should speak to, and describe for your designer their typical lifestyle choices, interests, and availability to similar services. the purpose of this information is to inform your designer on how to communicate with your audience while differentiating you from your competition. if you can, provide sample profiles of typical individuals who would use your products or services. some questions to answer here are: what should the target market think, feel or do in reaction to this piece?

keep consistent with your brand objectives

if you have a brand brief or style guide in place, you will want to use it as a guideline for every project so as to stay on message. if not, the first step is to collect as much of your previous collateral as possible and bring it to your designer for reference. whether you are sticking with an ongoing messaging plan or trying to break from the past, the over-arching narrative of your business should inform all your marketing efforts. submitting these materials to your designer will allow them to work within the context you’ve created, or create context for you if need be.

define your budget

budgeting for a project can be tricky when you’re working with an industry with as wide a fee range as graphic design. there are all levels of firms out there, and as with anything, you generally get what you pay for if price point is your first concern. be realistic about what the value of the project is to you, and what you expect it to do for you. do research with the design firms you’re interested in and ask for a range of what similar projects have cost in the past. be honest about what you can afford, and be open to advice on what can be done within your budget, or perhaps what can be done if you put the project off for now and save a bit more for a bigger impact down the road. an experienced designer will be able to scale a project to fit your budget, so you may not get all the bells and whistles you originally dreamed of, but you can get the materials you need from the designer you want to work with, at a price you can afford.

define your deliverables

some clients have logos, taglines, photography, illustrations, charts & graphs or copy that will be used in creating the final piece, and some will be looking to have any applicable elements created specifically for the project. if you have a set of non-negotiables, make your designer aware of them from the beginning. bring any style guide you have in place that specifies how these materials are to be used, if applicable.

define success

similar to defining your goals, you’ll want to put together some measurable success markers so you can track what your marketing efforts are doing for you. be realistic here, every piece is not going to convert to new business, but if you have a percentage return of new interest in mind, desire noticeable positive feedback from existing clients, or if you would like to break ground in a specific way with a new market, these are things to list from the outset and track as your efforts are put into action.

the designer you choose to work with will ask many more detailed questions to draft a creative brief that will address the your project-specific goal. in the meantime, clarifying these thoughts will allow you to communicate your needs more clearly, and will take a lot of the guesswork out of the discovery interview. if you’re not currently working with a designer and need some help in choosing one, some good starting advice can be found in how to choose the right designer.

if you’ve got everything ready to go, let’s get started!

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