Give Brett Golliff a brief moment of your time to learn how the footwear design process actually begins.
I am always asked where does a design come from? It is a good question because there are multiple answers. Simply put, a design comes from a group of people that are looking to solve a need. There is much more that goes into finding the solution and it all starts with the brief. This week I am going to break down how a brief works and what it should entail.
A design brief is a vital part of the process for me; in fact you could say it is the lifeline. Without it I cannot do my job. I have received briefs that are both long and short, they both have their advantages. The long tends to be more focused and clearly outlines exactly what the product is to be and defines how we are going to accomplish producing the product. The short brief is usually a sign of uncertainty (but not in a bad way), it basically features a loose definition of what the product should be and knows what the competition is but does not have a clear view of what it will end up being thus making the project more open-ended. It’s funny because a short brief basically equates a long project, because there is a lot more discovery to accomplish and long brief equates a shorter project because the outcome is created within the brief.
Once you receive your brief it is important to review every piece of information in it. Get to know it because it will become your best friend for the next few months. It gives you guidance when you have questions. The best briefs are collaborative. There is nothing more frustrating to me than to be told what to do, not that I cannot handle direction but to have no allowed input hinders my creativity. There are some design companies that function by telling the designer to use this color, use this material, use these shapes and don’t stray away from them. That works for some places but it really limits the creativity of the project. That is why a collaborative effort between marketing (often times they create the brief) and the design team is essential.
Marketing is something that I was not taught in design school and is something that I have really tried to get to know. They know the industry better than any designer I have ever met, but they know it in a different way. They know it by numbers. As designers we tend to know the industry we are working on in color, aesthetics, process, history and brand. In my opinion designer’s knowledge is more based off of emotion of what the product they are working with has. Marketing’s knowledge is dollars and cents, which makes sense. Marketing knows the industry, amongst many other things; by how much money a product is selling, how long the product has been on the shelf, what the consumers think of the product and how much advertising money is being spent on the product. I am sure I am only touching the surface of what else goes into marketing but these are some of the topics that have really interested me and have made me realize how vital those elements are to a successful brief and the product.
Once your marketing member has a good idea of numbers then they create their brief. Their process, while being much more concrete, is still very similar to how a designer creates. They provide background information on the project, for instance why is it being created? They provide important research on the target consumer (more on this later), the objectives of the project, which is essentially a mission statement for the product and they create a timeline that features deliverables. All of this is very similar to how a lot of designers attack projects. On the other side of things they also add things that most designers like to ignore, such as cost, required elements the project must have and who gives the final sign off on the project.
Earlier I said it is vital for me to have a brief, the reason it is necessary for me as a designer to have a brief is because there is nothing more frustrating than wasting time. I used to love the idea of an open-ended project, no time lines, no cost worries; it was just me and my endless creativity on a blank piece of paper having fun, but that is all it was. For me the open-ended briefs rarely went anywhere and never got past the sketching or early prototype phase because they had no reason for being. Therefore I was just wasting my time and the companies’ resources simply because of a lack of direction. Then I received the direction of a marketing team and really learned to value the importance of their job because they provided me direction. No longer did I have to worry about a project not going anywhere because I now had a brief that provided clarity for what consumer I should be designing for.
The most important part of a brief is the target consumer. Like I said a couple of weeks ago knowing more about them than they know about themselves is the most important part of our jobs. It is not creating a beautiful rendering or even designing the best product ever, the most important part is knowing your target. Think about successful brands, brands that last are brands that are focused and provide a clear and determined path to their consumer. Their products are self-confident, meaning that it knows what it does and where it belongs. Your brief should lay all of that information out for you. This is also the area where it becomes most collaborative. Marketing brings the yin: the dollars and sense about the consumer and design brings the yang: the emotion as to why the consumer connects with the objects they purchase. It is a beautiful marriage that creates a beautiful product if done correctly.
Brett Golliff is a Designer 1 at New Balance.