Dylan Smith

Briefly on Briefly

How to set the stage for a successful project

This week, fellow freelancer Alex Magill shared a link to a short documentary called Briefly. From American design firm Bassett & Partners, the film has veteran designers, advertisers, and architects give their thoughts on the important role of a single document in the creative process.

Whether you work freelance, run an agency, or contract others for work, this is worth your 27 minutes. It benefits everyone to learn how to set the stage for a successful project.

I watched Briefly while exercising but managed to jot down a few phrases – and one in particular – that caught my attention.

Ideas that can be designed, not design ideas.

I’m paraphrasing a line that appears at 2:16 at the top of an advertising brief questionnaire. Any designer who has sat in front of a hovering art director or been told to “make the logo bigger” knows how frustrating it is when a project has already been designed in the client’s head before you’ve even touched your mouse.

This single sentence helps to set the boundaries for the entire client relationship: they have problems and you have solutions. When working for an overly prescriptive client, you’re not a designer at all. You’re just the person who knows how to use the software for someone who doesn’t.

Of course, I have a lot of love for collaboration and none for adversarial working relationships. Don’t assume that someone who brings you design ideas is trying to control your work or stifle your creativity. Chances are they’re just trying to help. (Hanlon’s razor applies here, as it does almost everywhere.)

Take such opportunities to communicate and educate. If a client can learn something from you, they’ll value your input even more moving forward. The best results come from workshops, exercises, and conversations.

One of the interviewees in the film mentions later that you should “challenge, respond to, and rewrite the brief.” Frank Gehry believes a brief is a document that you “develop with a client.” These quotes are reminders that you shouldn’t immediately discount a poorly written brief. The project presented to you isn’t necessarily the project you’ll work on.

Watch the full Briefly documentary below.

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