Here's the scenario: You need a designer to help you with a very important project. Perhaps you need a new logo, or a new website, or a banner announcing your end-of-year recital.

You've identified three talented professionals. After reviewing their portfolios and and describing your project to each, you've selected one. Her (or his) proposal was well written, demonstrating her understanding of your project, and well priced. Her work showed her capacity to handle your project successfully.

Now what do you do?!

Prepare Your Design Brief

You wouldn't build a house without telling the builder how many rooms you need and you shouldn't give out a design project without defining your needs for your designer. Just as a floor plan includes all the details about your house, your design brief should spell out all the requirements for your job.

Let's say that your design project is to create a consistent format for your all printed materials and a basic template for each: schedules, brochures, special announcements, recital programs, and so on. You produce everything in-house, but you want the kind of professional appearance that comes from a consistent look and feel across all your visual media. You want all the pieces to relate to one another visually, but each has its own purpose that must also be accommodated.

Your brief should cover these broad areas, which we will flesh out in a detailed checklist below.

• A clear description of the program and its goals

• Overall design objectives - the overall appearance (personality) of the items being developed, which should be consistent with that of the rest of your business

• Communication objectives - what the overall design should say (your company's core values) subconsciously to your customers

• Functional objectives - what else the design needs to do to "work" well

• Design, communication and functional objectives for each specific item within the larger design program

• Technical requirements and limitations

• Deadlines

• Cost constraints.

No matter what your project is, no matter how small or large, your design brief should cover these areas. Preparing it means that you have thought through your project thoroughly and ensures that your designer understands all the details of your requirements. Plus, you will then use your brief later as a checklist to evaluate the designer's work and direct its development.

Checklists to Help You

Below are two checklists that can form the backbone of a successful design brief. One is for describing the overall program and goals and the other is for each and every item within the broader program. You may adapt these checklists for your own projects.

Following each subject in italic is an answer that might apply to our sample project.

Design Brief Template for Overall Program

Name of program: Development of a format for printed materials

Description of program: Design of an overall visual look-and-feel for ten different printed marketing pieces and creation of a digital template for each piece

Goals of program: 1) To create a consistent and professional appearance across all materials; 2) to ensure readability, impact and ease of use of individual pieces; 3) to increase the ease of producing new pieces through the use of pre-formatted templates

What you want to communicate about your dance studio (your brand positioning, or core values): We specialize in providing dance instruction for school-age children to improve their confidence and physical well being.

Personality of your dance studio: Warm and friendly, professional, supportive, at times zany and full of fun

Target audience: 1) Moms of school-age children, 2) secondarily, school-age children

Other existing company visuals to coordinate with: Building signage, interior signage, logos on t-shirts and dance bags, website, newspaper advertising

Important visual equities: Logo and symbol, color palette, typeface used on website

Functional requirements: 1) All pieces must carry our logo, symbol and contact information. 2) All templates must be easy to use and compatible with our computer software

Delivery date: All templates must be completed by mid-August

Cost constraints: Design and printing of most items will be done in-house by staff

Design Brief Template for Specific Pieces

Name of piece: Special events template

Description of piece: A template for announcing special events that occur throughout the year

Goal of designing this piece: Provide a template that can be used to easily and quickly produce important announcements in-house

#1 communication: This event is sponsored by our studio

#2 communication: Name of event

#3 communication: Date of event

Personality of this piece: Same as overall company with emphasis on fun and exciting

Target audience: Same as overall company plus prospective students and their moms

Required elements: Logo, symbol, contact information

Copy: Copy for a prototype special event flyer is attached

Artwork: Digital logo and symbol are provided, a photo is attached

Functional requirements: Must be eye-catching at the front desk, must have an area for photos or art, must provide for each event to look different within the general format

Physical description: 8 ½" x 11" single piece of paper

Technical requirements: Must work with Microsoft Word or PowerPoint

Printing process: Office printer, color or black and white

Printing limitations: Margins of printer, paper available for office printer, color photos don't print well

Cost constraints: As inexpensive as possible to produce

Now It's Time to Brief Your Designer

With these checklists in hand, you're ready to get your designer started. Your briefing meeting is not only your opportunity to discuss your project in depth with her, it can be an exciting kick-off meeting to infuse your designer with the excitement and enthusiasm you feel about your business.

Within an agreed-to amount of time, your designer will return with some creative, thought provoking and delightful alternative designs that she believes meet your design brief.

Now what do you do?!

In upcoming Part Two of this article we will discuss how to evaluate design alternatives, how to select the best for development, and how to give your designer the guidance she needs to produce great work for you.