What makes a good creative brief?


Before answering that question we need to know what a creative brief is.

Based off of my experiences as a branding designer, marketing email designer, web designer, print designer, art director, and film producer, a creative brief outlines the objectives of the project, the timeline, and helpful background information to inform creative decision-making.


Popular opinion

Our industry's widely-accepted definition of the creative brief (according to AIGA) goes something like the this:

  • Background information on the company, product or service
  • Insight into the target audience
  • Brand attributes, promise and mission
  • Competitive landscape
  • Business objectives
  • Compelling offer
  • Call to action
  • Metrics for measuring success
  • Supporting data
  • Functional specifications (if applicable)
  • Approval process
  • Timelines
  • Budget



The inquisitive documentary (below) by Bassett & Partners illustrates thought-provoking ideas about the creative brief, it's purpose, and evolution. Watching creative experts like John Boiler (CEO of 72andSunny), Frank Gehry (world-famous architect), and John C. Kay (GX at Wieden+Kennedy) discuss their real life experiences is eye opening. A well-structured creative brief is built on trust and partnership. It should inspire the creative professional with insightful information and a challenging problem to solve. According to John C. Kay, it shouldn't be prescriptive.

The most important thing about the creative brief is that it must inspire the people who are given the task of solving the problem. The brief has to leave a lot of room, a lot of runway so you can take off.
— John C. Jay

Documentary Synopsis: Every project starts with a brief. But very few projects end up with exceptional results. Why? As a disruptive brand and design strategy firm that creates briefs across multiple creative disciplines including Advertising, Design, and Innovation, Tom Bassett, CEO of Bassett & Partners (and founder of MindSwarms), was curious to understand how some of the world’s most consistently exceptional creative talents thought about – and used – the brief. Through a series of one-on-one interviews with Frank Gehry (Founder Gehry Partner), Yves Béhar (CEO fuseproject), Maira Kalman (Illustrator), John C Jay (President @ GX, Partner @ Wieden + Kennedy), David Rockwell (CEO Rockwell Group), and John Boiler (CEO 72andSunny), we asked them to elaborate on how they define – and use – the brief to deliver exceptional creative results. The end goal of Briefly is to help inform and inspire future generations of collaborators to write better briefs and manage the briefing process differently in order to help lead to exceptional creative results. So while every project will still start with a brief, the dream is that more projects end up exceptional because of how these creative titans inspire (or re-inspire) the way we all think about briefs.

So, back to the question... what makes a good creative brief?

I believe a good creative brief should be succinct, clear, and brief. It should be custom made for the project at hand. A brief for a marketing email campaign series will be much different than a brief for a cutting-edge music video. It should properly define the creative challenge. The creative brief should have room to evolve. The agency or designer will usually present the client with a series of questions (based off of the project's needs) and the client will fill in their answers. The brief shouldn't stop there; an open dialog and collaboration is necessary to make sure both sides know the vision and the steps to the dance. This usually happens at the "kickoff" meeting. A good creative brief should address the 3 Ws.

  1. WHY:  Why are we partnering?  Why did you choose me?  Why is this important?  Why are we doing this?  Why does it matter?
  2. WHAT:  What is the main goal?  What is the secondary goal?  What is the deadline?  What is the timeline/schedule?  What is your vision?  What does your ideal outcome look like?  What does the audience/user need or want?  What will help, inspire, motivate, excite, and compel them to act?  What is the purpose of this?
  3. WHO:  Who are we speaking to, designing for, entertaining, delighting, or motivating?  Who is the audience/user/customer?  Who are the stakeholders or decision-makers for the project?  Who is the point of contact or project lead? Who can help us dig deeper to discover hidden insights that will lead to better connections?


Your turn

Do you agree or disagree with me? Did I miss anything? What do you think makes for a good creative brief?