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August 8, 2013

Scrap the Design Brief: Six Tips for Better Design Strategy

Many innovation project leaders rely on a design brief for the creative team prior to concept exploration.  It might include an overview of the problem to be solved, positioning language, a research recap and design constraints.  But it falls short of providing true creative focus because it tends to be generic and without clear design direction.  That’s because key market insights can be misinterpreted…or  fall through the cracks entirely.  And that can lead to inefficiency driven by off-strategy creative output, and a middling solution.  Here are six tips that will transform that brief into a crisp Design Strategy to deliver the optimal design solution as well as many other positive project outcomes.

  1. Think of a Design Strategy as a natural bridge that translates consumer insight and other project parameters into actionable, on-strategy direction for the design team.  It’s a way to focus creative energy on what really matters to consumers, the brand and the organization.  It defines what the design team needs to solve for in both functional and perceptual terms.  It gives the team something to really sink their teeth into…without stifling creativity.
  2. Pinpoint what functional and perceptual attributes consumers value most.  Consider the gaps between your product and competing products, as well as gaps between all products and consumer expectations.  Target those attributes that are both highly valued and poorly delivered.  This goes a long way to crystallizing problems and opportunities in a way no one can ignore.
  3. Use the chosen attribute gaps to develop “Innovation Platforms” that provide concept development guidance and inspiration by describing the “what” of a new offering rather than the “how”.  A solid platform describes a functional or perceptual utility without specifying how it is delivered.  This gives the creative team the latitude they need to invent a range of potential solutions.  And it ensures that they go a mile deep against what you’re solving for and consumers care about—rather than a mile wide on stuff that’s off strategy.
  4. Be sure to develop meaningful criteria for execution and concept evaluation:  Agree on what a “good idea” is and has to do for the brand, the marketplace and the organization.  I fear that not all ideas are good ones, and this exercise gives you the freedom to winnow down objectively without sapping initiative (or hurting feelings!).
  5. Incorporate capabilities and constraints in an even-handed way.  It’s not just about what you can’t do in production.  It’s also about what you can do.  In production.  In marketing.  In distribution. Let everyone weigh in (and buy in), and push on the cross functional strengths that make ideas possible.  Not just the limits that shut them down.
  6. When presenting your strategy, shy away from endless bullets with detailed, murky language.  Words are open to misinterpretation…and don’t hold attention.  Communicate with vivid graphical tools that the team can readily understand and get excited about.  The best way to spur conversation and build consensus is to keep everyone awake and talking with crisp visuals that tell a coherent story.

So abandon the blah (blah, blah) design brief in favor of a coherent, focused design strategy.  It’s the best way to build consensus, focus creative energy and ultimately land on the strongest design solution.  Feel free to get in touch to find out more.

1 Comment »

  1. Pretty interesting approach. Two things come to mind. First, that in the footwear design world, the design brief seems to a thing of the past. I have not received a design brief in 10 years of consulting. Used to be commonplace, now nada. I think that is a sign of the times…a quick email and a text or two seem to suffice. Also, the design brief was more of a exercise for the marketing department and served as a wall between real projects and asking for sketches from the designers. If you asked the designer to fill out a design brief, normally you get something very different.

    Secondly, I am working on pure innovation based product ventures. The normal design brief fails at this role as it is based upon making investment returns rather than answering any real problems that face consumers/users. So what does a innovation brief look like or is that such an oxymoron that it would be pointless to create? Or is more of a design strategy for the team to focus upon and then that the wheels start to spin?

    Any thoughts out there?


    Comment by Stephen Opie — April 2, 2014 @ 10:19 am

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