Imagine trying to build a product that you know nothing about. Who is the user? What features do those users need? What’s the budget and deadline? What should the interface and color scheme look like?
A product’s creative brief — also known as the “product overview” or “project brief” — provides developers and designers with answers to those essential questions. Without it, they’re forced to hunt for basic project information, opening the door to costly errors and missed timelines.
With a creative brief in hand, however, product developers and designers can confidently and quickly jump in. On a recent healthcare product, for instance, a client brought us a very comprehensive creative product brief — complete with product flows, a timeline, and a description of success. The brief allowed us to quickly understand client needs, fashion a product roadmap, and hit the ground running.
What Does Your Brief Need?
A quality creative product brief, like the one our healthcare client shared with us, contains the following 10 elements:
1. A clear background
Without context, designers and developers don’t know what they’re looking at. Describe the landscape you’ll launch into. What solutions have been tried before? What are hallmarks of the brand — which typefaces, which textures? What’s unique about your product? Only by starting with a common background can your team stay on the same page.
2. A description of your user
Never build a product without a clear picture of the target user. Try our empathy-mapping technique to get inside user’s heads and, as we did with Paradata, interview key stakeholders to find out their needs.
3. Technical requirements
What are product’s technical specifications? Is the team building on top of pre-existing infrastructure? What platform will the product be built on? Creating a VR product for Cardboard is very different from building one for Oculus Rift. Ensure that developers, whether in-house or third-party, have a say so they can identify potential snags. At this stage, technical details needn’t be perfect, but they should address major features and platforms.
4. Stakeholder details
Accurate stakeholder information saves your team time and headaches during review and approval steps. Who will give final sign-off to the project? Who makes decisions when issues arise? Which decision makers are involved at each step of the process? Sketch an organization chart for easy reference. Add your current contacts, and use LinkedIn to fill in others. Remember, titles matter, so don’t neglect them. Because online resources fall out-of-date, ask a company contact to double-check the chart.
5. Product flows
What one to three fundamental tasks does your product perform? Don’t fall prey to blue-sky thinking: Just describe the essential experience and desired result. More will come later in product development. For instance, a banking app’s core functions might be to display the user’s balance, facilitate transfers, and list transactions. Stay focused on the product’s most important flows.
6. A definition of success
It’s hard to reach your destination if you don’t know where you’re headed. Does success look like attracting an investor with a proof of concept? Onboarding 10,000 users? Creating a demo for salespeople? Whatever it is, make sure to communicate it in your brief. This is so important that Yeti has highlighted it in nearly all of our portfolio case studies.
7. A strategic launch date
Launch date matters. Zune flopped at least partially because it was released so closely to Apple’s iPhone, which destroyed the MP3 player market. A good technique is synching the launch date with some other relevant event, such as an industry trade show. Just be sure the timeline is reasonable for the product’s needed features — or at least the first iteration of them. You don’t want to run out of time on an essential feature or completely forget about marketing.
The shorter and more to the point your creative brief is, the better. Aim for three pages with simpler products, and keep it below 10 for more complex ones.
9. Realistic expectations
Too often, briefs include unrealistic expectations. Stakeholders want the product to be everything for everyone. In reality, product development is an iterative process where it’s important to put one foot in front of the other and walk before you run. Stay conservative. That way, the product team can add magic rather than take things away.
Product development is complex, and you may not have all the answers until you’re in the thick of the project. That’s OK. What’s more important is that you recognize where the creative product brief is missing information. Some things, such as launch dates and success definitions, require collaboration with developers, designers, marketers, or salespeople to define. Don’t guess: Filling information simply for the sake of filling it in leads to misdirection. Highlight unknown areas to be addressed later.
Product development tempts creators to waste time and money imagining every possibility for their products. But creative briefs provide the necessary rigidity to keep development on track and lock out distractions. At Yeti, we know the value of focus. Download our free creative brief template and guide to sharpen your dreams into a concrete product development plan. Then, if you’re still stuck, reach out. With a quick call, you’ll be on your way to writing better briefs and building a great product.
Tony Scherba is a CEO + Founding Partner at Yeti. Tony has been developing software since high school and has worked on digital products for global brands such as Google, MIT, Qualcomm, Hershey’s, Britney Spears and Harmon/Kardon. Tony’s writing about innovation and technology has been featured in Forbes, Huffington Post and Inc. At Yeti, Tony works on strategy, product design and day to day operations, hopping in and working with the development teams when needed. Follow Tony on Twitter.