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Demystifying the Process: How I Decode Client Briefs

Unpacking a pitch document for designers

As a ‘long-in-the-tooth’ designer with expertise in 3D design, event, experiential, and exhibition projects, and a previous life as a production manager/producer in agencies, I know that understanding the client's brief is paramount to the success of any project.

A well-defined brief provides a solid foundation for a fruitful collaboration, but not all briefs are equally informative!

In this blog post, I'll delve into my (ideal) process for dissecting and interpreting client briefs, and offer insights into how I tackle the instructions for projects in these specific areas

Step 1: Analyse

The first step in my process is to read the brief thoroughly, ensuring I understand the project's objectives, target audience, and any unique requirements the client has. This step is vital, as it lays the groundwork for the entire project. Here are some aspects I consider while analysing the brief:

Objectives: I focus on identifying the primary goals of the project. What does the client want to achieve with the design? Understanding the objectives helps me align my creative vision with the client's expectations and set a clear direction for the project.

Target audience: I pay close attention to the target audience, as it influences the design's overall tone and style. It's essential to know who the design is intended for and what will resonate with that demographic. This information allows me to tailor my design approach to effectively communicate with the audience.

Unique requirements: Each project comes with its set of unique requirements, and it's essential to pinpoint these early on. Examples may include specific colour schemes, typography, materials, or technology requirements. Recognizing these elements helps me ensure that my design meets the client's needs and adheres to any constraints.

Brand identity: When working on a project, it's crucial to understand the client's brand identity. This knowledge ensures that my design aligns with the client's existing brand elements, reinforcing their brand message and maintaining consistency across all touchpoints.

Key deliverables: I make sure to identify the key deliverables required for the project. This information helps me plan my workflow and allocate resources efficiently, ensuring that I deliver the project on time and within budget.

Reference materials: I always check for any reference materials provided by the client, such as mood boards, existing designs, or competitor analysis. These materials can offer valuable insights into the client's preferences and the overall direction they wish to take with the project.

By focusing on these aspects and maintaining a detail-oriented mindset, I can thoroughly analyse the brief and avoid making assumptions. This in-depth analysis sets the stage for a successful design process, ensuring that my creative vision aligns with the client's expectations and achieves the desired outcome.

Step 2: Ask

After analysing the brief, the next step is to prepare a list of questions to ask the client. These questions serve several purposes: they help clarify ambiguities, fill in any gaps in the brief, and provide an opportunity to build rapport with the client. Here are some guidelines for asking effective questions:

Seek clarification: If any aspect of the brief is unclear or seems contradictory, don't hesitate to ask the client for clarification. It's better to clear up any confusion early on rather than risk misinterpreting the brief and wasting valuable time and resources.

Fill in the gaps: When the brief lacks crucial information, use targeted questions to gather the missing details. For example, if the brief doesn't mention the target audience, ask the client to provide a detailed description of their typical customer or user.

Understand the client's preferences: Sometimes, clients may have specific preferences that they haven't included in the brief. By asking about their likes and dislikes, you can gain a deeper understanding of their tastes and ensure your design aligns with their expectations.

Explore the project's context: Understanding the broader context of the project can provide valuable insights and help you create a more effective design. Ask questions about the client's industry, competitors, and any trends or challenges they face.

Assess feasibility: When the brief doesn't provide clear information about the project's scope, timeline, or budget, it's essential to ask the client about these constraints. This information will help you determine the project's feasibility and manage expectations from the outset.

Encourage open dialogue: Create an atmosphere where the client feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions. By fostering open communication, you can better understand the client's vision and make informed design decisions.

Prioritise questions: While it's important to gather as much information as possible, be mindful of the client's time. Prioritise your questions, focusing on those that will have the most significant impact on the project's success.

By asking the right questions and maintaining an open line of communication, you can ensure that your design is well-informed and accurately reflects the client's vision. This proactive approach not only helps you create a successful design but also fosters a strong working relationship with the client, paving the way for future collaborations.

Step 3: Extents

Identifying the project's scope and constraints is a crucial step in decoding the brief. A clear understanding of these factors helps you manage expectations, allocate resources efficiently, and ensure the project's overall success. Here are some key aspects to consider when determining the scope and constraints:

Project scope: Clearly define the project's scope by outlining the specific tasks and responsibilities you'll undertake. This might include concept development, design iterations, material selection, production, or installation. Establishing the scope from the beginning helps prevent misunderstandings and scope creep as the project progresses.

Timeline: Determine the project's timeline, including milestones and deadlines for key deliverables. If the client has not provided this information in the brief, ask them for a desired completion date and work backwards to create a realistic schedule. Make sure to account for potential delays and allocate time for client feedback and revisions.

Budget: Establish the project's budget, including design fees, materials, production costs, and any additional expenses. If the client has not specified a budget, discuss their expectations and provide a cost estimate based on your experience with similar projects. Ensure that your design approach aligns with the budgetary constraints to avoid financial surprises down the road.

Technical requirements: Identify any technical requirements or constraints that may impact the design process. This could include limitations in fabrication techniques, technology integrations, or regulatory compliance. Understanding these constraints allows you to adapt your design approach and ensure the final result is both functional and feasible.

Client expectations: Gauge the client's expectations regarding the design's complexity, quality, and overall impact. Strive to balance their expectations with the available resources, timeline, and budget to ensure a successful outcome. Be prepared to manage expectations and openly communicate any potential challenges or limitations that may arise.

Stakeholder input: Identify any additional stakeholders who may have input on the design, such as internal teams, partners, or regulatory bodies. Understanding their roles and expectations helps you navigate the decision-making process and ensure that all relevant parties are satisfied with the final design.

Risk assessment: Evaluate potential risks and challenges that may impact the project's success, such as tight deadlines, limited resources, or unforeseen obstacles. Develop contingency plans to address these risks and maintain open communication with the client to keep them informed of any issues that may arise.

By identifying the scope and constraints of the project, you can develop a realistic plan, manage expectations, and ensure the project runs smoothly from start to finish. This proactive approach helps you maintain a strong working relationship with the client and sets the stage for a successful design outcome.

Step 4: Communicate

Effective communication and collaboration with the client are integral to the success of any design project. By fostering an open dialogue, you can address issues as they arise, gather valuable feedback, and ensure that the project remains on track. Here are some guidelines to help you maintain effective communication and collaboration throughout the project:

Establish communication channels: Determine the preferred method of communication with the client, whether it's email, phone calls, video conferences, or in-person meetings. Clarify how often you'll communicate and set up regular check-ins to discuss project updates and address any concerns.

Provide progress updates: Keep the client informed about the project's progress by sharing updates, sketches, drafts, or prototypes at key milestones. This transparency allows the client to see the evolution of the design and provide feedback, ensuring that their vision is accurately represented in the final product.

Be receptive to feedback: Encourage the client to share their thoughts and opinions on your work. Be open to constructive criticism and use their feedback to refine your design. By creating a collaborative environment, you can develop a design solution that meets the client's needs and exceeds their expectations.

Address challenges proactively: If you encounter challenges or obstacles during the design process, communicate these issues with the client promptly. Be honest about the situation and work together to find solutions that align with the project's goals, timeline, and budget.

Manage expectations: Throughout the project, make sure to manage the client's expectations regarding the design's complexity, quality, and overall impact. If you foresee any limitations or potential compromises, discuss these with the client and explore alternative solutions to ensure a successful outcome.

Foster a collaborative atmosphere: Encourage open dialogue and collaboration, not only with the client but also with other stakeholders, such as internal teams or external partners. By engaging all relevant parties in the design process, you can gather diverse perspectives and develop a well-rounded solution that meets everyone's needs.

Document communication: Keep a record of all communications, including emails, meeting notes, and decisions made throughout the project. This documentation can serve as a valuable reference, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and helping to prevent misunderstandings or miscommunications.

By maintaining open communication and fostering collaboration with the client, you can ensure that the design process runs smoothly and that the final product accurately reflects the client's vision. This approach not only leads to a successful design outcome but also builds trust and strengthens the working relationship with the client, paving the way for future collaborations.

Decoding a client's brief is a critical skill for any designer, particularly when working on 3D design, event, experiential, and exhibition projects. By thoroughly analysing the brief, asking the right questions, identifying the scope and constraints, and maintaining open communication, I can navigate even the most poorly constructed briefs.

Approaching each project with curiosity and a collaborative spirit ensures that both the client and I are satisfied with the final result, regardless of the initial brief's quality.



Mike Bell [ ] is a freelance 3D designer based in the UK who specializes in creating high-quality 3D models, animations, and visualizations for a wide range of clients across various industries. With over 40 years of experience in the field, from making the shows happen on-site to winning the pitches in offices, Mike has developed a reputation for delivering exceptional quality work and providing excellent customer service to his clients. He is highly skilled in using a range of software programs to create visually stunning and engaging content for live events, exhibitions, and experiential projects. In addition to his technical skills, Mike is also adept at working collaboratively with clients to understand their needs and create customized solutions that meet their unique requirements.

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