Note: This assignment is now due for Week 6 –11/2/2006.

About design/idea briefs

The goal of the assigment is to make a pitch for an idea, but in written form. I do not want you to simply transcribe your various pitches onto paper – that would be entirely lame. Instead I want you to consider how to use the medium of written language to your advantage.

Writen briefs are used to make written pitches – so instead of going into someones office to pitch them, you write it down and send it (or email/fax it in). If you consider e-mail, job applications, contest entries, or other situations where submissions are documents, its possible written idea pitches are more common than spoken ones.

Things to consider:

  • What points are easier to make in a two page document, than a 30 or 120 second pitch? Why?
  • What is easier to do in a written language compared to spoken? (One answer: You can revise a written document as many times as needed to make it great – unlike a spoken pitch, there’s no performance anxiety. There’s no excuse for a written brief not to be polished, typo free and sharp).
  • How do you intend to keep people’s attention in the brief, so that they read the whole thing?
  • What does it mean for a written document to “present well”? Style, structure and clarity are just as important in a written pitch, as in a spoken one.
  • Diagrams, pictures or photos, if used sparingly, can be more potent than paragraphs of hard to follow explanation.

Questions a brief should answer

  1. What is the core idea (stated as simply, and compellingly, as possible)?
  2. What problem are you trying to solve?
  3. Who are you solving it for?
  4. How will you solve it / How will it work?
  5. Why should I (as the reader) care? Why are you pitching me? What do you want?
  6. How might this go wrong? And what will you do to prevent, respond if that happens?

Brief Structure

There are many ways to structure a design/idea brief. Here’s one recommended structure. You may use others, but I will evaluate them based on how well they answer the above questions. As a hard requirement, your brief should be no longer than 2 printed pages:

  1. The goal. Identify the core nugget that explains what you’re pitch is trying to achieve. An example might be “Create a business that profits from people complaning about their lives”. Should be one short descriptive sentence. It doesn’t need to sizzle, but it does need to be tight.
  2. The idea. This is a version of your 5 second pitch. F or example: “A social website,, will empower peopel to submit complaints, with weekly prizes for the most entertaining and substantial ones.”
  3. The problem. This is a modified version of a pitch set-up: as it provides a framework for the idea. “Most people complain all the time: Clothes that don’t fit. Software that doesn’t work. Friends that don’t return phone calls or boring college courses taught by incompetent writers. But what if people had a forum to share their complaints and get prizes for venting their frustration in creative ways? ” Perhaps you can have a tight bulleted list of data points that identify the problem or short, realistic scenarios that expresses why these problems are important.
  4. The audience. Who will this idea appeal to? What is the profile of the potential customer? What is the profile of the non-customer? (Who would never ever be interested in this idea?) If you are pitching directly to your customer, either omit this section, or frame it in a way appropriate for their consumption. (E.g. “If you like to complain, or know someone who complains all the time, this website is for you”).
  5. The approach. How does the idea work? Explain, at a high level, the outline for how the idea will be implemented. This could be organizational (Fred will start a new team with a small budget, and report on progress in 4 weeks), technical (the website will be based on a wiki system, with custom additions to allow for…) or procedural (people will submit complaints and be rated, per complaint, by others for how entertaining or potent they are). There should be a logic and flow to the approach that makes the idea seem possible.
  6. Challenges & Unknowns. What are the big open issues that need to be resolved, or are questions a reasonable person would ask? If you were the pitchee what questions would you have? Identify them and demonstrate you’ve thought about those issues – ideally with a credible (if fuzzy) plan, or plan for a plan, for resolving.

Other idea/design brief resources:

There are many examples of what are called design briefs, although these are often pitches for design related projects (e.g. a architects design brief for a new skyscraper) rather than idea/conceptual briefs, which is what we’re interested in.

The advertising and marketing industries often use what are called creative briefs, or concept briefs, which are closer to what we need, but these types of briefs are typically about ideas for television/print ads, not about product or idea concepts.

So review existing briefs with these notes in mind – some will be better references than others.