The hardest part of a creative project? Creating something from nothing.

The best way to help your designer is to get a clear understanding of what you need them to do. Having a clearly-defined need makes the design process easier, less stressful and yes, even more fun. One of the most efficient ways to do this is with a creative brief.

What is a Creative Brief?

The creative brief is a shared list of specific actionable tasks, specs, roles, projects and final deliverables for a creative team and those working with them. The guidelines in your brief set expectations, and they get everyone on the same page. It’s a huge mistake to assume your design team will implicitly understand the vision you have for a project.

Putting your project specifications down in writing will save you time, confusion, annoyance and especially money. That being said, there isn’t one “right” document or format for a creative brief; it’s best to work with your designers to develop a simple outline and details that will work for everyone. This way, everyone involved can work smarter and have a clear understanding of the project and the creative assets. This is especially helpful for bigger projects with multiple elements, like a magazine or a book.

Keep in mind that your creative brief might change throughout the process. This is completely normal, so don’t stress it! Work with your creative team to update the brief throughout the process and keep everyone on track.

Related: Why You Should Ask Your Printer About Their Creative Time

What Should Be In a Creative Brief?

Project Title

Name the project. Establish some consistency for how you refer to this project internally. Having multiple names for a project gets confusing fast, and it happens way too often. Make sure to avoid this issue from the beginning.

Points of Contact

Who approves the final product? Who else needs to be involved, and what is their role? Knowing this at the beginning will help prevent any confusion later on.

Project Goals

What is the purpose of this project? What are you hoping to accomplish? Big corporations often want to humanize themselves, take chances and deliver a message. A small business might want a design that helps build credibility, shows why they’re a good fit and is still more budget conscious.

Intended Audience

Who is this project’s target audience? If you’re pinpointing other businesses at a trade show, you’ll have a very different message than if you’re targeting consumers glancing at products on a store shelf.

And more than that, what do you want your audience to do? Call your number? RSVP to an event? Visit your website? Be informed of important information? Direct them to a physical location? Decide what your design is asking for, and let your creative team know. Be as specific as possible: What do you need, and why?

Creative Brief | Ironmark, Annapolis Junction, MD
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List each specific final product you’ll need. Need an image as a .png and .jpeg? List both file types. Need a mailed invitation? Remember to say you need an envelope, too. The idea is to give your designers a complete checklist of all the items you need. Leaving something off the list only leads to frustration on both sides.

Project Specs

Give asset measurements and use cases that help the creative team figure out the final size for each piece. Essentially, how are you planning to use it, and how big should it be?

For example, if you’re asking for social media post graphics, let your designer know the dimensions for Facebook and Twitter – they’re different! Or if you’re planning to send a direct mail piece, but you’re undecided on the exact size, let your designer know. They’ll be able to recommend a size based on the use case you present.

Background & Context

You know your business best. If you’re using an outsourced designer, tell them some information about your company, what you do, and how this project fits in with your other marketing goals. If you’re using an internal creative team, tell them about the motivations for the project, especially if it’s part of a new campaign or other initiative.

Related: What Your Graphic Designers Need to Hit the Mark


Do you have exact wording in mind? Are you open to new ideas for headline text? What needs specific placement? What is most important to the design? Is there anything that needs to be avoided? If you absolutely need your logo and a large headline, but you would also like a minor element featuring your address, then be sure to make that clear.

Create specific lists of content that need to be included, and update the original list whenever things change. For example, a magazine needs an editorial lineup, including the articles, feature story and related artwork. You might also include some general direction or inspiration for the art style and visual messaging.


Don’t underestimate the importance of a schedule – even a tentative one. Remember that draft versions of the final assets may have blank spaces waiting for information to be filled in. You will also need time to review in-progress pieces, and the creative team will need time to make any revisions. Build this review and editing period into your schedule, as rush fees and change fees can cost you. (Not to mention, the risk of errors increases when you have less time.)

Your schedule should also be realistic. Setting smaller deadlines and check-in points helps keep you on track. Many projects will get pushed off forever – with costs and stress involved – without setting clear timing and reasons for that timing. Get specific about when you have scheduling flexibility and when you have firm dates you need to stick with.

Oh, and schedules aren’t just for the creative team! Include deadlines for tasks you are responsible for, such as sending copy or giving final approval.



A project never starts with perfect information. It’s a process. There will be more questions, so leave room on your brief for creative to ask them. If there are questions at the beginning that need to be explored, let your design team know; they may be able to help provide guidance.

The important thing to remember is to decide who is responsible for finding the answers and incorporate a revision process, as needed.


In Brief…

The creative brief is a vital tool to help align goals and expectations with your creative team. The idea is to set them up with all the information they need to be successful. If you think through the design direction early on and work with your designers through any problem points, you will be well on your way to getting quality creative assets.

Don’t have your own internal creative staff? Ours can help! Reach out to the creative experts at Ironmark to get started on your next design project.

Written by Brian Young

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