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What is a Creative Brief?

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Landing a new project is exciting, but it can also be overwhelming - luckily, the creative brief provides the key to organizing the project and ensuring success!

Congratulations! You have a new project to work on! Along with the excitement of landing a project, you might have thoughts such as: Where do I start? What are the steps? What is expected of me? How? And by when? The creative brief is the key to organizing the project so you have confidence in the decisions you will be making to complete the project successfully.

According to the AIGA* (the professional association for design, changed to an acronym in 2005 to welcome all design disciplines) a creative brief (also called a design brief or client brief) “is a written explanation given by the client to the designer at the outset of a project. As the client, you are spelling out your objectives and expectations and defining a scope of work when you issue one. You’re also committing to a concrete expression that can be revisited as a project moves forward”. Additionally, “The purpose of the brief is to get everyone started with a common understanding of what’s to be accomplished.” The creative brief is a document that outlines the goals, objectives, and parameters of a project. It serves as a roadmap for the design team, project managers, and stakeholders to follow and helps ensure that everyone is on the same page. Consider it an essential step toward your project’s success.

One item to consider: a creative brief is not only written for designers, it is often written by and for project managers and senior-level stakeholders as well. Expect a document that addresses a diverse range of topics critical to the project’s success.

Before we get too deep into what is a creative brief, know that many project managers and clients actually do not write one in the formal sense. A lot depends on who your client is, how big or small their organization is, whether the project manager works for the same organization you do (or are they an external client), and how they are used to working. Also, the format and content — what items and issues are mentioned — vary widely. It is entirely possible you may never have to read one during the length of your career. In either case, you will need to know the relevant details of your project before you get started.

Ok, So What is a Creative Brief?

Here are the key qualities of a well-written creative brief:

  • Clearly and Specifically Defines the Project Goals: this includes identifying the target audience, project scope, and desired outcome. When creating the brief, it's important to make sure everyone is on the same page and understands the purpose of the project.
  • Sets a Timeline: the timeline should be realistic and allow for any unforeseen delays or changes. It's important to communicate the timeline with the team and ensure everyone understands the expectations and deadlines.
  • Establishes a Budget: this will help guide the design team and ensure that the project is feasible within the available resources. It's important to allocate funds for any necessary materials, equipment, or additional team members.
  • Confirms Key Messaging: this includes any branding guidelines, messaging, tone of voice, and audience sensibilities that need to be maintained throughout the project.
  • Articulates the Design Direction: including branded color pallets, typography, imagery, and layout guidelines. It's important to provide enough direction to ensure the design team is on the same page and also allows for creative freedom.

Working for a large organization

If you work for a large organization, such as a corporation’s design department, you probably have access to a work management tool (such as Adobe Workfront) that helps organize and manage the team working on the project. There will probably be a kick-off meeting, where the stakeholders and participants (including you) review and collaborate on a variety of project parameters and requirements.

Work management tools allow project team members to communicate via notifications, they may be emails, but from the tool’s site rather than directly from a project manager. This allows for capturing all relevant information in one place – a single source of truth.

In the work management tool, there may be a section dedicated to the creative brief. Or, during the kickoff meeting, a summary notification may be sent by the project manager including all the relevant details. If you have questions, a good place to start is to contact the project manager.

Working for a small organization

Things are usually less formal and automated in a small organization, like a design studio or small business. In the case of a design studio owner, they will probably work with you directly, explaining their take on the creative brief they have already reviewed. Most assets will probably be provided to you. It’s usually a very hands-on, organic process.

Some Creatives Write their Own Brief

Some creative directors believe briefs are written by and for project managers and their senior managers. This approach facilitates stakeholder buy-in. In this case, writing your own brief is a great way to make sure you have all the information you need in order to deliver on expectations.

What You Need to Know

Formal creative brief or not, before you start working, be clear about:

  • Final file specifications: file format, codec presets, composition dimensions, video file duration, minimum and maximum file sizes, desired bit rate(s), distribution channels, etc.
  • Project manager: this is the person who will answer any questions that arise, will review the rough drafts, and assist with any issues that may occur. This also helps resolve “too many cooks in the kitchen.”
  • Art Director or Creative Director: this may be a middle step between you and the project manager, an additional resource to maximize the design quality and ensure the creative direction is being followed.
  • Timeline: what is due by when and to whom. Pro tip: put these dates in your calendar, and even set alarms or notifications. Also, make a project-specific to-do list.
  • Assets: while working on your project, you may need to use music files, voice-over files, images, vector files, and maybe even presets, plug-ins, and third-party renderers. It’s a good idea to establish upfront who will source and pay for or provide these assets before you start work.
  • Subcontracting: will you need to team up with other designers or developers? Again, a good idea to sort this out before you start work.

There are a few criteria to discuss and establish regarding your role:

  • Designing the storyboard and style frames: your role may be specified as a motion designer, or they may expect you to develop the storyboard and/or illustrate the style frames.
  • Marketing strategy and messaging: are you expected to know about and help navigate questions such as: What are the project’s marketing goals or key performance indicators (KPIs)? Determining who is the project’s audience? What is the client’s competitive landscape?

Issues that may present themselves

Too Much Content for the Time Allotted

There may be times when you receive more style frames than works for the video’s pacing and legibility. Motion design must flow, without feeling rushed. The audience must have adequate time to read any on-screen text (a good test: read the text out loud while it is on-screen at a comfortable pace). How to support your supervisors with this issue is the use of an animatic. An animatic is a series of static style frames set to the video’s music and/or voice-over. This establishes how long a style frame will be visible during an animation. Animatics are a great way to start the discussion that resolves what content will be included and how long the style frame will be visible, without spending the time to animate content that may not be included in the final version.

Voice Over Recording Isn’t Available Yet

Speed to market is a prominent workstyle. You may have to start animating before the final voice-over track is ready. Yet, the voice-over is key to timing and pacing your animation. Recording your own “scratch track” or demo will allow you to finalize your rough draft and keep the project moving forward while the professional version is being recorded.

Quickly Previewing Music for Your Video

Music is very subjective, maybe even more subjective than stock images (which creatives already think is very subjective). It takes time to find the right track: so many styles, moods, tempos, and instrumentation. A great way to make sure the track you are considering works for your motion design project is to view your animation (or at least your style frames) while the music sample is playing in the background.


A well-written creative brief is essential for organizing and executing a successful project. By following these tips, you will ensure that the creative brief effectively communicates the project goals, establishes clear timelines and budgets, provides design direction, and fosters collaboration within the team. Best of luck with your new project!

*AIGA’s website

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