01. The Brief

A successful brief is a comprehensive yet succinct document which outlines the theme for your report, the aims, objectives and milestones. It is used at the beginning of the project to define the key message you want communicated, request cost estimates, and then as a reference during the production process.

Best practice

Key points:
  1. Always, always, always insist on obtaining a written brief from your internal client. And once you've got it, ensure it is signed off by all key decision-makers before it is circulated to designers.
  2. During the production process, if internal clients submit material that varies from the key message, the brief can be used to re-state the aims and avoid conflict.
  3. Any changes to the brief that arise throughout the process may lead to additional production costs. These should be costed as they arise and budgets approved before the work is commenced. This will avoid surprises at the end of the process.
  4. Request that designers sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement if confidential information is to be supplied.

Write the brief as clearly as possible. A good brief is critical to avoiding conflict, because conflict usually arises from mis-communication. The more clarity in the brief the better everyone understands their role/responsibilities.


Three main reasons:
  1. The act of actually sitting down and writing a brief makes the client clarify their thoughts. Distributing the brief to all key decision-makers is one way of ensuring that everyone understands the aim for the report and shares the same view.
  2. A brief documents specifications. Accurate specifications means all suppliers are estimating to produce the same product. The more detailed the specifications, the more accurate the estimate, and that means no billing surprises at the end of the project.
  3. The brief can be used to check the objectives during the production process.

Download a sample of a creative brief fact sheet.

What should be in a brief?

Three main objectives need to be communicated:
1. Expectations
Your internal client’s expectations should be documented at the beginning so designers understand your needs and submissions can include the relevant information. Winning an award at the Australasian Reporting Awards is an example of an 'expectation'.

Expectations – roles and responsibilities

It is not industry-practice to ask for free designs (a free-pitch), so designers need to be able to show their creativity as part of a written submission – the brief should give designers enough information to do that well.

State the key message you want communicated: the aim of the report. This will help designers to prepare their response.

List your expectations – the more clarity at the beginning, the less confusion/conflict during the process. Possible inclusions are:
  • how much design you want to see/approve before proceeding to artwork: for example how many cover concepts? Text designs? Financials?
  • any set criteria you expect the designer to meet: for example do you expect that they have prior experience in annual reports?
  • whether you expect to see previous work as part of the submission
  • if you have any pre-existing relationships with suppliers (for examples printers or writers) that you expect will be included in the production process
  • what – if any – your expectations are in relation to use of photography or illustrations
  • whether after-hours work is expected
  • whether you expect copyright to be assigned.

Also list what the designer can expect from you:
  • when you will supply files
  • roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders (for example, will the finance department check the financial pages directly or through the project manager?)
  • what your approval process includes.

Addressing these expectations at the beginning will be helpful in the long run.

2. Specifications
Specifications are the objective part of the brief, the hard facts and figures like physical size and quantity. These may change as the project progresses, but documenting them at the beginning ensures all suppliers are estimating to produce the same product.

The print and digital specifications are a vital part of a briefing because the production cost is often a major component of the budget. We’ve prepared a glossary to de-mystify the print language.

Download the glossary fact sheet.

Specifications – the facts

The brief should state:
  • the scope of the project. Outline clearly the areas you expect the designer to manage – for instance, will you be supplying copy or will the services of a writer be needed?
  • the physical shape of the project, digital or print or both. Specify the number of pages (including the cover), the quantity you need, the finished flat size, the number of colours to be printed and the type of paper stock
  • the budget (even if it is in a range)
  • whether you expect itemised charges (for example additional hourly rates for author’s corrections)
  • any additional work that may be needed  (for example, extensive tables, charts or graphs)
  • photographs of board members and senior executives.

In 2010 the Victorian Government documented specifications for their reports – we don't think it has been updated yet. Download it here.

Your criteria may change once the project is underway, but it is important to start with one set of specifications on which everyone bases their estimate.

Don't know how many pages the report may be?
It is difficult to judge how many pages will be needed to report on your year, but one way to start is to draw a flat plan of the document and allocate information to each page, or each spread. Don't know what a flat plan is?

Download a sample of a flat plan fact sheet.

Getting accurate print costs
Some clients handle their own print, others prefer designers to manage the print as part of the design management of a project. Either way it's important clients understand what detail is needed to get accurate print costs because print is often the largest item of the budget, so the more accurate the print cost, the more accurate the budget.

Download a sample of a print specifications fact sheet.

3. Deliverables
Clearly stating expected deliverables early in the process is one way to avoid future conflict and misunderstandings.

As a part of your deliverables it is advisable to discuss the scheduling at an early stage and book in your report for production.

Download a sample Annual Report production timeline fact sheet.

Deliverables should include:

  • the schedule showing what is required from the creative and production team, and when
  • key dates that must be met by each member of the creative and production team
  • how you expect the production team to deliver – are you expecting PDF's or colour laser printouts?
  • the type of response you will give to drafts submitted by the creative team
  • when the project can be billed.

Download a sample of a creative brief fact sheet.

How many designers should you ask to quote?
Aim for three submissions – four at the maximum.

Preparing an estimate and/or submission takes time, so it’s unfair to ask a plethora of studios to submit. And it's important to make sure each of the invitees is appropriate for the job. Ask around for referrals (or find work that you like and track down the designers) to refine your list of candidates.

A brief phone call to each to confirm that they are available/interested will ensure submissions will be returned.

Deliver the brief via email re-stating the submission deadline in the covering email.