How to Brief a Creative [Video]

Courtney Wotherspoon, freelance illustrator, shares the key components of an amazing creative brief and how to build a strong working relationship with clients.

Wotherspoon’s clients include the New York Times, Air Canada’s enRoute, Nylon magazine and the LCBO. Her artwork has been exhibited in shows around the world, including New York, Toronto and the Philippines.

From the importance of sharing your backstory to keeping open communication, Wotherspoon offers tips on how to write a solid creative brief. Watch the video and read the complete transcription below!

No matter what industry you’re in, chances are at some point you’re going to have to hire a creative. Here’s how to work with that creative while establishing a great working relationship.

Step 1: Say Something About Yourself

Tell me a little bit about yourself. You never know what little detail or background story is going to spark something good in a creative. If it’s had an influence on your company and your brand, odds are it’s going to have an influence on your visual language as well.

Step 2: Give a Clear Brief

A good brief is clear, descriptive, succinct. It’s going to lay out everything you know that you need for the project so far: a timeline, a budget and usage rights. You may or may not know these things yet but whatever you know already, put it in the brief. It’s going to help us establish the work that we have ahead of us. It’s going to help me draft an estimate and figure out if we can work together.

For example, here’s one from an art director at the New York Times: “I need concept sketches by Wednesday, final the following Wednesday. It’s a piece about plants and how they support wildlife. Any angle of gardening and landscaping.”

So right away, I know that I’m going to be painting wildlife, some gardening. Size is still negotiable – they’re still laying out their page – but it’s going to be somewhere in the world of 8 x 4. It needs to be black and white, and the fee is yada yada yada.

So, from that brief, I’m able to work out different ideas; feedback, banter. Once the sketch is approved, I move on to my final piece. And our finished, printed piece is all thanks to a really clear, great creative brief.

A good brief is clear, descriptive, succinct.

Step 3: Share References of Your Vision

As much as it may seem flattering to approach a creative person with, “I love your work – just do your thing,” it’s not an ideal set-up. Feel free to pull references from my own site of past work, from other people’s work, from art books, magazines, from anywhere. It’s all going to help guide us in the right direction. Even if we don’t land in that same spot where we started off, it’s going to give us a jumping-off point.

Step 4: Be Candid with Budget

If you do have a set budget in mind or a maximum that you’re willing to spend, go ahead and share that with us. It’s going to save a lot of time. We need to look at all the different factors playing into your project: the usage rights, the timeline. Are you looking at developing a logo that you need to splash everywhere for an unlimited amount of time? Or are you looking at printing a holiday card just once? These are all going to factor into your estimate.

Step 5: Understand Rights & Usage

With some creative work, such as illustration or photography, you’re not paying to own the actual artwork. What you’re paying for is the right to use the artwork and that’s going to vary from project to project.

Are we looking at developing a logo? You’re probably going to want to buy that out in perpetuity because you don’t want limitations on your usage for that. You want to be able to put it on everything from a business card to a T-shirt to a hat. Whereas if we’re talking about a holiday card for this season, you only need to print that once.

Another thing to consider is the context: Is it going to be online only, is it print only, print and online? So, it’s something we have to lay out very clearly in the brief because it’s all going to affect our end contract.

Step 6: Keep Open Communication

If you’re happy with the way something has turned out, don’t be afraid to tell us. We appreciate that feedback. In my opinion, a great working relationship is one that starts with a solid creative brief, open lines of communication and ends with some really thoughtful, great creative work that both parties can be proud of.

about the author

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