Writing a visual identity brief

Guest blog from Sebastien Powell, from telephone answering service company Messagebase.

In the same way that most people will pay close attention to the way they dress, how you ‘dress up’ your business deserves just as much attention. The visual identity you apply to your business will shape external perceptions and attitudes, playing a key role in the long-term success of your business.  

Having worked with many designers over the last few years, I find it interesting to hear about the various difficulties frequently encountered by both designers and their clients when working together (the kind of difficulties I am referring to are very well exemplified in this amazing comic strip by The Oatmeal). In my view, such difficulties are more often likely stem from a failure to develop a detailed brief, which leads to miscommunication and ultimately to the project taking longer and costing more than it should.  Writing a solid, well-rounded brief provides the common ground from which you and the designer will work from, clarifying objectives and ensuring that everyone is, so to speak ‘on the same page’.

At MessageBase, a telephone answering service company, based in London, we recently developed a new visual identity, which was then applied to the website and other company collateral. As part of the project, we prepared a detailed brief which worked out well for us. Based on this, here are some ideas for the areas you should think about covering in your next creative brief:

1.) Some background information: a logical first step is to provide the designer with a solid understanding of your organisation and what it does. This should include information about the history and values, a description of its products and services, industry peers and the like. Essentially, the aim is to provide the designer with as much information about the company as possible.

2.) The average customer: here, you should describe your typical customer(s) in terms of demographics (age, industry type, company size and so forth), but also psychographics (e.g. how do they behave? What are they interested in?). For those who are operating in a B2C market, you might find this website helpful.

3.) Your message: what message do you want the visuals to communicate? What do you want people to feel when they interact with your brand? If writing good copy isn’t your forte, I recommend jotting down a list of adjectives you feel are most relevant in describing your business and its ethos. 

Also relevant to this exercise is Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why, which I would recommend reading to anyone engaging in this kind of project. If you don’t want to read the book, you can also watch his presentation on How great leaders inspire action.

4.) Look & feel: once you have clarified your message, it’s worth thinking about the general ‘look and feel’ of the visual. If you have difficulty defining this in artistic terms, think about providing the designer with examples of visuals you like and feel have relevance to your organisation, along with notes on what you like and don’t like for each visual.

To find examples, you might want to look at some of the many design showcases that one can find online today, such as those provided by the good folks over at http://www.smashingmagazine.com.

5.) The content: what kind of information should the visuals include? For instance, if part of the project involves developing collateral such as business cards and the like, what information should be included on this? In most cases, it’s a good idea to have the content ready before you begin developing the visuals as it makes the designers’ job far easier and also reduces the risk of having to carry out costly changes at a later stage.

Clearly this list isn’t exhaustive and will not apply to anyone, but I hope it will at least provide some food for thought next time you’re working on a design-related project (and hopefully you won’t become like one of the people mentioned here!

If you have any suggestions or would like to discuss any of the points I have made in more detail, do feel free to email me at seb@messagebase.com.

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