Any agency worth its salt will ask you for a design brief before they start a project. Every project, from evolutionary packaging refresh to revolutionary redesign, requires nuanced foundational information. Agencies know that it’s their job to translate your business needs into visual language that performs, but they can’t do that without a good brief.
There’s only one problem: You’ve provided your agency with a design brief before and still didn’t get the results you were after.
Sure, your design brief detailed your budget, timeline, and deliverables. But beyond these basics, what else should you give your agency partner?
Articulating your needs in a way that sets your design agency up to deliver with excellence can be tricky business. We’ve seen it all, and have a few tips! Here’s what you need to know, including what a design brief should actually highlight, why it matters, and what agencies are looking for you to provide.
What Is a Design Brief’s Role in an Efficient Project?
A design brief is the document brand directors like you give an agency to kick off a design project. The design brief (when it’s effective) gives your agency all of the information they need about your brand and goals to start their creative work and ultimately design what you envisioned.
At a minimum, your design brief needs to include:
- Information about the design project, such as budget, timeline, and deliverables
- Brand history, like your brand house or positioning statement
- Objectives for the design project
- Background on the business drivers behind the project
- Suggested communication hierarchy
- Visual/aesthetic references
We’ll delve into why these elements matter below. For now, hear us when we say that a comprehensive design brief is a powerful tool. It ensures you and your agency partner are aligned about the current design project. And because you’re in alignment, the design process is faster and requires fewer rounds of revisions. Plus, the final design meets — or, dare we say, exceeds — your expectations.
Sounds like a dream, right?
Why You Can’t Get Your CPG Design Briefs Quite Right
You probably have a lot of the information for a quality design brief on-hand. So why is it often a challenge to put together an effective document? For one, you honestly might not know what a creative team needs to do their best work. In fact, lots of brands just throw together their brand colors and sizing requirements, then forge ahead. That’s why we created this packaging design brief template.
More often, you don’t produce an optimal design brief because you’re taking your own brand expertise and institutional knowledge for granted.
You work for your CPG brand day in and day out. You could list off your biggest competitors in your sleep! But your agency partner isn’t inside your company, let alone inside your head. You have to make even the most obvious-seeming details evident to outsiders.
A legit agency will absorb everything about your brand and combine it with their larger industry knowledge to give you the most epic design possible. The more information you divulge in your design brief, the more they’ll have to work with.
The Often Missed Elements of a Legendary Design Brief
You want the dream scenario, of course. Your agency partner intuitively understands your brand from your amazing design brief, gets on the same page as you quickly, and creates the perfect design.
But to realize this dream, there are elements beyond the basics you must include in your design brief.
What Is Your CPG’s Overall Brand Strategy?
Your agency partner has to know everything about your brand to design packaging or creative that, well, connects with your objective. If you have brand strategy that is performing well then your agency needs the deets. If you don’t, you should consider doing a strategy refresh.
More often than not, if you need a packaging refresh your brand strategy could also use some tweaking. If you engage your design agency to fine tune your brand positioning, then they’ll provide the brief. But if you are ready to jump into design with your existing strategy, share it.
- Brand voice and personality
- Brand essence
- Target audience
- Consumer need state
What Are the Objectives of A Packaging Design Project?
Once you’ve detailed your brand strategy in your design brief, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of why you’re completing this packaging design project. After all, your agency partner can’t create a packaging solution for your brand if they don’t know the problem — the reason you want a packaging refresh in the first place.
In most cases, companies seek a packaging redesign to:
- Expand their brands and attract different audiences
- Differentiate their packaging from encroaching competitors
- Solve shopability issues
- Pivot in changing categories
- Reflect a product reformulation
- Refresh outdated packaging and modernize
Do any of these objectives hit home? Once you nail down what you want your project to do for your CPG brand, articulate it clearly in your design brief. That way, the end design works toward the proper solution.
Evaluate Your Visual Communication Hierarchy
Your brand’s visual communication hierarchy — the order in which shoppers visually consume the essential details of your product or brand — is one of the most important aspects of your design brief. If you and your agency partner aren’t on the same page about the hierarchy, your design just won’t perform well.
You’ve hopefully distilled your top communication and subsequent claims in the strategy phase of your packaging design project. Spell that out in your design brief as well. Perhaps you’d like a claim such as gluten-free to be noticed first, followed by appetite appeal, then brand, and so on.
Despite its importance, your visual communication hierarchy does not have to be set in stone or perfect in your design brief. Just writing something down might reveal that you need to cut some claims, which is time saved before the design work even starts. Heck, give a few possible hierarchies for the agency to play with! The key is drawing attention to your most important claims so the design eventually comes out right.
Communicate Your Aesthetic Preferences
Your design agency will want an idea of your general likes and dislikes, from an aesthetic perspective. To help, pull visuals you like (or loathe) into your design brief. These could be screenshots of other brands, photographs, art, illustrations — anything that piques your interest and might work for the packaging design at-hand. Think of it like a mood board!
One caveat: Be specific about what you like or dislike when it comes to the imagery you share. Otherwise, you might send your agency team down the wrong path. Note that you like the colors but not the typography, for example.
Of course, your agency partner will also want images of your current packaging (if you’re not a new brand) as well as your closest competition’s packaging. Most agencies can help you complete a competitive audit as a part of this process. An expert agency will also create a digital or physical shelf set of your competition’s packaging to see how your new and old design stacks up.
Don’t Worry, Your Agency Can Help with Your Design Brief
Creating the perfect design brief might seem like a lot of work, but once we have one in hand, we always have a meeting to walk through it together. In other words, you’re not on your own! We’ll give recommendations and fill in any gaps with our own industry knowledge before getting started.
And remember, the more effort you put into your design brief upfront, the more any agency will understand what you need out of your new packaging design. This will save you from reviewing endless drafts or feeling dissatisfied with the final product.