How to handle a creative brief

Having originally studied architecture in Edinburgh, Jason Little’s CV includes several years as a creative director with Landor Associates in Sydney and Paris, and numerous accolades from the likes of D&AD, New York Type Directors Club and AGDA. Last year he returned to Sydney to lead the creatives at M&C Saatchi’s Re: Brand agency. We asked Little for his expert advice on how to get the most from a client brief...

Computer Arts: Tell us about some really good briefs that you’ve worked with – what made them so inspiring?
Jason Little:
It’s always great to be part of the initial conversations with the client because that’s where their creative appetite can be gauged. It’s also where the smallest comment or insignificant detail can seed a thought or idea and then be built into the brief.

This recently occurred on an identity project for our client, Flux Consultants. The creative team was able to build some great work from the combination of the written brief and information distilled from a conversation. It tipped the scales beyond the expected.

CA: In what way might a brief be problematic for you?
Lack of information and clarity is a problem. One of the major issues with a brief is the optimism and appetite expressed in the brief versus the reality and expectations of the client. Often, how we interpret an exciting brief can lead to work that is far from what the client was anticipating. This can obviously be both a blessing and curse.

Illustration by Rick Berkelmans, as featured in issue 212 of Computer Arts

Illustration by Rick Berkelmans,, as featured in issue 212 of Computer Arts

CA: What can be added to a mediocre brief to inspire the most creative and effective work from your team?
I firmly believe that the briefing to the creative team is the most critical stage in the process of achieving great design or groundbreaking work. If a brief is given to a creative team by someone who sees it as a process, rather than an opportunity, then nine times out of 10 they’ll get exactly what they asked for. Have someone inspiring give the brief, and the end solutions will usually go way beyond the limitations set down in it. Briefing through a memorable experience that’s connected to the task at hand can really help kickstart a project.

Are you designing FMCG [fast-moving consumer goods] packaging? Get the team to a supermarket to understand how it will sit in context. Designing for a telecoms company or a bank? Go have the brief at a coffee shop near to a store or branch and then have a wander inside. Get the team away from the desks and computers, and into the real world, where they can understand the real challenges rather than finding inspiration on a blog.

CA: How can you safely tell a client that a brief is unsatisfactory?
Every brief can be challenged and built upon. Creative agencies are there to not only solve our clients’ problems, but educate them and take them on a journey to avenues they could never have imagined at the beginning. They may like what they’ve seen before, but uncertainty breeds fear and ultimately restricts the creative output. Great work comes from a great relationship between agency and client, so being open and honest about any issues early on will help prevent some major issues later when it’s all a little too late.

For more expert tips on how to handle client briefs, see our feature 10 client-winning ways to beat the brief.

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