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Not what you wanted? Here’s why your design work isn’t up to scratch

Getting what you want or expect from your design agency is a healthy objective. If you’ve ever commissioned some design work, perhaps for a new website, leaflet, or brochure, and felt a little disappointed, then we have some terrible news for you…

… it’s your fault.

Well, actually, it’s your design agency’s fault, but you chose them, and you gave them the information, so you have to own some of the responsibility.


There’s a really simple way to avoid this, but it’s not common knowledge, so we often need to explain this to clients.

Before any work can be carried out, the proper design process needs to happen.


Good grief, that’s not a brief!

It all starts with a good design brief. The design brief sets out everything: where you are now, what you want from the work, and ultimately how that looks at each stage.

The design brief is a partnership between you and your agency, and it should never be 100% from you. We’re sorry to say, but nearly all clients don’t actually know what they want. They think they do, but they soon realise they don’t.

We’re well known for pushing back when we’re given a brief. Don’t give us a brief and expect us to put it into action before we’re certain it’s actually right for you. This is probably the reason the majority of disappointment happens: the design agency just do as they’re told!

No, no, no!

We’re the experts in design, and you’re the experts in what you do. Although some direction and guidance from you is essential (and meetings will very much involve you and your ideas), you’re not the brief makers – we are.

Which is good for you, because we’ll listen rather than just sending you a bunch of paperwork to fill in.

If you’ve been disappointed in the past, it’s likely you created the brief and your design agency weren’t brave enough to push back. We’re brave because it’s for the right reasons. We get the best results when we work on a brief that will actually give your brand or project the results you want.


New branding – what to consider

When we work on a new branding project we have a more detailed branding questionnaire which we use pre-strategy session to give us background information we need before we meet up with you.

It’s completely normal to not be clear on exactly what you’re all about at this stage.

If you’re not clear on your vision, mission, values, purpose and reason for being, that’s when our branding head honcho gets down and dirty and helps you to explore it with a branding questionnaire and dig deep strategy session(s) to arrive at the answers that drive results.

We wouldn’t just accept any old brief for a new brand. It’s up to us as the branding experts to diagnose and weed out the problem to get to the ‘big idea’ that will set you apart.

You might have an idea as to what the problem is, like:

  1. Lack of growth
  2. You’ve been bought out or you’ve merged with another company
  3. Your look is dated
  4. You have trouble recruiting and retaining good staff
  5. You have negative connotations/PR with their brand

This is where our skill lies; in working with you strategically to define and craft this in words (yes, words not pictures!) before we even start the creative.

Once you have your branding in place, everything else flows.


A design briefing conversation

With a design project, we start this off with an exploration into the project with a briefing sheet. We’ll ask probing questions that give us the answers we need to create the right end product for you.

This briefing sheet will guide us down the right path and make sure that the project is geared towards your customers and end users. It’s not about your CEO and their favourite advert. (Yes, that does happen!)

Inspiration from other places is great. We love that. But a design from someone else was designed for theirend users, not yours.

We often find that the design process is approached like a new hair-do…

We’re sure you’ve been there, in the hair salon, waiting for your turn. On the table are loads of magazines showing famous people with amazing hair. These are often used for new style inspiration.

But unless you’re a model, those people are not like you. They have different heads, different hair, better styling products, and more.

Choosing a haircut from someone else and whacking it on your head is nonsense. It’s exactly the same as nicking ideas from Nike for your social enterprise ad. They’re worlds apart.

The new hairstyle (and design) should start with the end result:

What are you working with?
What’s the best look for that?
Will that style suit your customer?
Will it get across the right messages?
And will your beliefs and values match that new do?

You have to design from the ground up. Not doing so is where some big mistakes and poor results can creep in.


The briefing sheet – the design sat nav

Not arrived at your desired destination? Maybe you put in the wrong coordinates! Asking the right questions at the very beginning will give us the best understanding of what you want and why you want it.

Each project is different, but we find that these questions help every situation.

This is what we ask our new clients, and it drives the project forward as a key part of its success.

Let’s take a brief look to give you a better idea of how the briefing stage should work.

What do you do?: This might sound obvious, but your branding agency need to clearly understand what you do. Why are you here? Who do you help? What is it that you provide? What difference do you make?

Your purpose: Well? What is your purpose? This can be your “Why” or your beliefs and values. These are core parts of any brand that you create. Without this, your brief is soulless!

Your mission: On a mission? Tell us. We need to know if you’re going to change the way people look at concrete or tell them that white is the new black. Whatever your mission is, you need this to come through in your brand and all the marketing you do.

USP:We’re not one for clichés, but your USP (unique selling point) is important. These simple three letters can really get clients thinking about themselves. This is especially important if they’ve never created their USPs.

Competitors:Who are you up against? This isn’t so we can copy them. On the contrary, this is so we absolutely don’t copy them. We want your brand, design, or whatever your brief is for to be 100% unique. Otherwise, you’re going to go through all this to simply blend in or confuse your audience.

Your message: What message are you trying to get across? We’ll work this into everything you’ve supplied so far and make it resonate in the right way with your ideal client or customer.

Values:Your values are important. What do you and your brand stand for? The last thing you need are words, phrases, designs, and images that aren’t authentic. Your values can often help to stop these from entering the project.

Brief description of the project: Thisisn’t just what you’d like us to create but also what else is happening around it. If there are real-world events or online parts to this, we need to know so that we can create a brand and design that fit it all.

The objective of the project:What are you trying to do here? What’s the end goal? Tell us (or your design agency) and you’re more likely to get it!

Target audience:Who are we aiming this at? This information will help us to find them, research them, understand them, and create a brief and then a design to suit them.

Limitations and considerations: What can’t we do? If there are terms, situations, brand limitations, politics, or other reasons to avoid certain things, tell us now.

Essentials:What mustbe in your project? Getting these details in place at an early stage ensures there are no “Didn’t you include X?” questions during the final brand reveal!

Budget:How much have you put aside for the project? Obviously, you can’t have the world on a local budget. Knowing this will help you to set the expectations for the project and even give you the rationale to get more budget!

Timing:When do you need all this in place? Well, this one’s simple. Every project needs a deadline to work to, to keep everything on track.


And now you’re ready to get what you want

If you’re not giving your design agency the right information, then don’t expect the best results. A good brief – one created by you TOGETHER with the brand and design agency and one based on all the right information – is what you need.

We’re brief makers, not brief takers (more on that here) because we know we’re good at what we do, and you’re not a designer!

It makes no sense to give your agency the brief and get them to do it. And it makes no sense to get started on a project without first building a watertight brief and roadmap. And of course the brand creation comes before any design work.


Had poor results in the past? Want to avoid the same thing happening in the future?

Be smart and contact us now. We’ll grab a cuppa and chat about your plans.

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