My first reaction to receiving a creative brief was unpleasant to say the least. It was like putting on a really thick goat hair sweater. I felt tight around the collar. Itchy. The temperature in the room instantly rose 15 degrees. Then plummeted 30. Then rose again. My skin was blotchy. My throat was dry. I needed air. I was convinced the creative brief was somehow sucking all the air out of the room.

But more than anything, I thought the creative brief was sucking all the creativity out of the project before it ever started. I had been in design for over 4 years before receiving my first brief. In those 4 years, no ministry had to shut their doors because of any design I had created. What was the harm in flying a little closer to the sun?

Maybe you’re of the same mindset. God gifted you with creativity. He surely didn’t need a creative brief when forming the universe. Why do you need one while designing a flyer for a children’s Easter Egg Hunt? But take a step back and think about that one disaster project and how it might have come out differently had you had a creative brief. For me, I still have it. I’ve refused to delete it from my hard drive.

Married Life Live. That was the event name. The ministry had this iconic green couch that they used in their marketing and promotion. For this particular event, the night was shrouded in mystery. So we created this smoky image of a couch, backlit, where you could only see a hint of the outline. Kind of like the iconic images of Alfred Hitchcock. It was awesome. We presented it proudly, and were met with enthusiastic reviews. Actually, too enthusiastic. We were told that the promotion was better than the event was going to be. Before we knew it, it had been shown around, and people gave input. People not even involved in the event. Things were added. Things were taken away. In the end it was a mess. It made no sense. Too many cooks. Too little direction. What a difference a creative brief would have made! There. I said it. I needed a creative brief.

A creative brief is not there to hamper the creativity. It’s not the church saying, “We don’t trust the designer.” Simply put, creative briefs help keep projects running smoothly and prevent misunderstandings like the one I had. This brief is created through initial meetings with the client/ministry before any work begins. It’s there to help answer questions you, as the designer, might have throughout the process.

A creative brief is not there to hamper the creativity.

There’s no magic brief. Each church is different. Each ministry is different. Designers and creative teams are different. So your brief will look different than mine. But some key elements you might want to include in your brief can include:

  • What is the project?
  • Who is it for?
  • Why are we doing it?
  • What needs to be done? By whom? By when?
  • Where and how will it be used?

The important thing when creating a brief is to keep it as simple as you can. Don’t use meaningless descriptions. Leave out things like “innovative” or “out of the box” or “creative.” Push for examples. Show them how to pin things to Pinterest. As the designer, it is your responsibility to understand the brief, so mold it in a way that it will be a benefit to your process. If you’re unsure of anything, don’t make assumptions on behalf of anyone else. Go back and ask questions.

But what happens if the ministry doesn’t really see a need in having a creative brief? To them it might seem like more work. Or they don’t want to get in the way of the creative process. If this happens to you, don’t fret. Offer to write one yourself and supply it to them—to explain what you believe is being asked of you. Remember, your goal in this is to help the project run smoothly and prevent misunderstandings. Whatever you can do to avoid the green couch in the field scenario should be your mission.

Your goal in this is to help the project run smoothly and prevent misunderstandings.

In my job now, I have a creative brief for every design I create. And I’ve found that it’s less like a goat hair sweater, and more like a comforting blanket that I cling to. It protects me. It helps my time management when I have 3 or 4 briefs on my desk all at one time. Instead of hampering my creativity, it focuses my creativity in the right directions. I have more confidence when I can stand behind the brief. And I’ll always keep that Married Life Live event poster. But I know that I’ll never create another one.