The Creative Brief :: Part 2

Hey there. In the last article we discussed the role of receiving and understanding the creative brief — a vital part of the designer's job.
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Once the document has been digested and the nettle grasped, one of the most fun parts of the creative process may begin — research and mind mapping. This is the stage where, empowered by a belief that anything is possible, the designer can delve fully into his subject, unleash his imagination and give full rein to his creativity without fear of being pulled up short by the client (—that might occur later!).

Checking against the brief

It’s not a totally unrestrained part of the creative process though; throughout you’ll have to check your progress against the original brief. Not doing so can result in a wrong turn and the possibility of that cardinal sin: not meeting the needs of the brief! Working on a project in the early stages of my career, I took a pretty erratic divergence from what was discussed in the early meetings and, predictably, was pulled up short by the client. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the work I had submitted, it just didn’t answer the brief.


Let’s return to the brief I provided as an example last time. In it, it is stated that the desired aim was for the new entity to look fresh and crisp, though in a sense established. Some sort of visual link to the existing (and already very well established) accountancy entity would also have to be provided. Reconciling these two demands was the unique question I was being called upon to answer.

Establishing a link between the new company and old was easy; the existing corporate burgundy, when modified, was a strong and appropriate colour choice, so I carried it over into the new identity and introduced a secondary pallet of autumnal colours to be used alongside it.

But back to research…

Indeed, which as I described above is one of the most fun parts of the job. My particular client was based oop north in Manchester, a city famous for its bygone docks and textiles industries, and more recently its newly redeveloped Salford Keys district. I thought these aspects of the city offered enormous graphical potential, and put it to the client that any new identity conceived should have at its core something uniquely Manchester about it. This accepted, I threw myself into finding out everything about England’s second city I could, and quickly found my mind swimming in imagery of iron girders, spinning wheels, cranes, looms of silk, rainy cobbles and steel rivets; more than enough material to make a start with.

And make a start I did, experimenting with every possible shape, type treatment, colour combination and these elements’ juxtaposition as I thought might work. It’s unlikely you’ll do quite as much sketching and brainstorming as during this stage of the creative process.

The key to my particular project lay in the personality of the city in which the company was born, so my research largely sprung from this starting point. But factors will vary project to project. Other good areas to consider and questions to ask are:

  • The sector your client belongs to. Research how your client’s competitors have handled their branding and identity — then look for a way of treating yours differently and creatively.
  • The themes and messages your client wants to project. Try to obtain keywords and qualities off them and look for ways of exploring these. If solidity and straightforwardness are important to them, you might explore building/masonry type shapes and concentrate on producing concepts shorn of superfluous ornament. If tradition and establishedness is a must, then heraldry might be a good place to start, and so on.
  • It’s best not to bombard your client with too many concepts —even at an initial stage— so I chose from my dozens of vector sketches six or eight marks which I thought had the strongest potential for development. ‘Pearls’ to paraphrase Alexander Dumas. ‘Rough, shapeless pearls, of no value, waiting for their jeweller’.

Mind Mapping

It’s a good idea to discuss mind mapping here, as it can be an invaluable asset at this early stage of throwing ideas onto the page. Mind mapping is a graphical variant on brainstorming. The method was developed by the Englishman Tony Buzan in 1974, and is based on insights from research on the human brain. He used his research to create a presentation method that addressed both the right and left-hand cerebral hemispheres equally by combining linguistic and logical thinking with intuitive and pictorial thinking. The typical structure of a mind map resembles a tree structure, where the subject is written in the middle of a sheet of paper. It’s best if a succinct, slogan-like word or caption is used here; lengthy sentences aren’t as effective at this stage. These keywords should trigger associations and chains of association by linking impressions, feelings and ideas. The keywords which spring from your central theme are written on lines which form the maind branches, and which can then branch further for subsequent sub-concepts.

If further variations on these ideas come to mind, an additional branch is added to the appropriate main branch. This then produces further little branches on the existing main branches. The resultant mind map can be re-organised and re-structured at any stage, as it may not be clear at the outset how the map will develop, and in what direction. Use this highly effective technique when embarking on your research!

For a more in depth look at mind mapping see our fantastic mind mapping blog article.

In sum…

In carrying out exhaustive, though tightly-focused research and using mind mapping to help you conceive your ideas —not forgetting to check your progress against the original brief— you’ll maximise your chances of presenting something your client will see potential in and want to see developed — and help you to avoid getting told off for bouncing off on a tangent!

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