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How to write an inspirational design brief


The ‘Briefing canvas’ is one of 30 techniques included in our PLAYBOOK, the free toolkit for creative thinkers.


Most of us don’t work alone. We collaborate within a team. That team could be a mix of colleagues, clients and suppliers, all with different specialism and disciplines. The brief brings us all to the same page. It is the formal communication of the challenge or opportunity definition which all can understand. It ensures we all start from the same starting place and head in the same direction.


The brief should be a living document which should evolve with the project.  It’s a tool to share the common understanding as that changes or crystallises. Cycles of revisiting the brief and re-confirming or re-framing the problem are good practice throughout the creative process.


Think of it as a filter where findings from the discovery stage are analysed, described and refined as clear problems and ideas. It makes sense of uncovered possibilities and sets the intended direction, priorities and limitations.


In a good brief, the problem is synthesised into something everyone can understand, with actionable goals. It is a clear statement of the problem and ambition. The focus is on painting a clear picture of users, their real underlying needs and any unique insights. The brief is the description of WHO wants WHAT and probably WHY.

In should be…


Narrow enough to make a solution achievable, by having some clear parameters to guide restrictions and goals.


Broad enough to enable creative freedom, without over-specifying methods or technical aspects.


Also, it should seek to….


Inspire by making the problem more action-oriented if you can and, preferably, pose it as a question rather than a statement.


The Design Thinking process recommends it be…


Human-centred. It should be framed to specific people and their needs.


Our briefing canvas provides a highly focused view of GOALS, CONTEXT, CRITERIA and a guiding STAR. Simply work through the questions and topics on the briefing canvas to map out a clear direction for your project.


The ‘Briefing Canvas’  provides a useful format to help build inspirational springboards for your projects. You can download the Briefing Canvas below.

Briefing canvas worksheet
The Briefing canvas


This section describes the “who” and the “what” of the problem frame.


The “who” is the target audience or user. It is a profile specification, supported if possible by example personas.


The “what” is the problem from their (the target audience’s) perspective. What do they want to achieve or need to overcome? It is their pains and gains. It is their cause.


Empathy maps, story vignettes and vivid personas can really help colour goals in the brief in a way that triggers inspiration. The GOAL, ultimately, is the answer to the fundamental “How Might We …” question, so you may want to include this phraseology here.


The Context section should set the scene around our protagonists.


At its heart it is the “why” of the problem. It is the jobs our users need to accomplish, and the triggers or plot twists which lead them to act.


It should describe all relevant aspects of the situation around them, including any alternative options they may have, otherwise known as the competitive landscape.


The “Criteria” section is all about the “how, when and where”. It is about setting the framework and boundaries for the solution.


It will usually include specific and quantifiable constraints such as timescales, budgets, resources, performance metrics and technical specification. Consider anything from legal requirements to material properties.


Criteria will also include other guiding elements like brand and values, organisational background, solution scope and category. It may even include information about wider stakeholders and potential partners.


The final section is the “Guiding Star”. This is the fundamental insight or focus that guides the solution. It is the Aha moment, the big idea or  the Wow factor.


It usually emerges from the empathy or discovery stage as a key revelation which will distinguish the solution.


The Guiding Star could also simply be the driver behind a brand and its positioning or mission. In other words, its unique way of doing things.


Alternatively, it could simply be an initial launch point for inspiration, known as a “Primary Generator”. For example, I like rockets and space; the solution should be “space age”, whatever that means.



The worksheet is included in our free PLAYBOOK, a collection of 30 of our favourite tools and techniques. Download them all now in the PLAYBOOK.


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