How to Effectively Brief Design Professionals

Balancing the need to communicate aesthetic preferences and functional requirements with the benefits to be derived from the unconstrained output of architects and designers


We all know that the contribution of architects and designers to a finished house, garden or building extends beyond the aesthetics of the structure or outdoor environment. Good design can positively influence the way we live and work. A critical stage in the design process which directly influences the project’s outcome and how effective a designer can be is the formulation of the brief.


A thorough and articulate design brief is a vital part of the design process. It anchors a project and serves as an essential point of reference for all parties throughout the design and implementation process. It is the tool which best delivers the project as contemplated, on time and on budget.


A design brief should acknowledge and address the relationship of the three categories of architecture, interior and landscape.  Ideally, your project will involve all three but even if it is limited to just one, your architect or designer will benefit from your holistic vision. For example, do you want to maximize the outlook from the interior of the home to the garden? Will you have a swimming pool? Do you have a vast collection of artwork which you wish to display? Will you have a pivotal piece of furniture to showcase? Do you want the colour palate inside the home to extend outside?


A design brief should cater for both short and long term requirements. To what use will the internal spaces be put in the short term and will that change in the future? Will furnishings need to be child friendly in the future? Will there be any additions to the building in the long term which will influence the layout of the garden in the short term? 


Many people are daunted by the prospect of compiling a brief because of a misconception that they need to address matters about which they know very little – they don’t. All you need to do is address the personal elements of the project which deal with form and function, identify your project expectations and arrive at a budget.




Form addresses your style and the things which you like, for example –

  • Do you like contemporary architecture and design or a more traditional style best represented by a particular period?
  • Do you like minimalist interiors or is there another style which best describes your personal taste?
  • Do you like colourful interiors or do you prefer more muted palates?
  • What surfaces do you like – timber, stone, glass, steel?
  • What fabrics do you like – textured, patterned, plain?
  • What finish do like in furniture – leather, wool, suede?
  • What types of window furnishing do you like – curtains, blinds, shutters?
  • Do you like gardens with areas of paving or do you prefer areas that are grassed or pebbled?
  • What types of plants do you like – trees, shrubs, grasses, succulents, flowers?


It is important to remember that you do not need, and should avoid, making actual design decisions and selections. Leave that to your architect or designer because they have the knowledge and access to products which are simply not available to you. By all means show your architect or designer a photo, a tile or a swatch of fabric but only as an example of what you like. Then let them design the spaces and suggest selections in keeping with your style.




Function addresses the use to which the spaces will be put, for example –

·         How many living spaces, bedrooms and bathrooms do you need?

·         Do you need a guest room with an ensuite?

·         Do you need a study?

·         Will any rooms be multifunctional, used most of the time for one use, say a home office, but occasionally used for another, say the guest room?

·         Will the use of a room change over time, say the home office becoming the baby’s room?

·         Do you entertain extensively?

·         Whether an external office or a home office, for which tasks which need the office cater?

·         What technical requirements do you have for computers, phones, faxes, presentations and entertainment?

·         Do you require large storage spaces?


Again, it is important to remember that you do not need, and should avoid, making actual design decisions. Let your architect or designer create an outcome which addresses your functional requirements.


Project Expectations


This is an expression of what matters most to you, for example –

  • While all projects should be sustainable and all architects and designers should incorporate sustainable practices into their designs, it may be very important to you that your project achieves maximum sustainability even if that impacts on the aesthetics and the budget.
  • Do you operate your business from home so need extensive cabinetry to hide both household appliances and business equipment and documents?
  • Do you want your living environment to be warm and welcoming, child friendly, pet friendly?
  • How long do you plan to live in the house and, if only for a short time, do you need to ensure that you do not overcapitalize the asset?




Don’t be afraid to ask your architect or designer what things cost and then extrapolate back to arrive at a budget. Sometimes you only have so much money to spend so need to get an idea of what is achievable for that budget. Sometimes the outcome is paramount so you may need to spend more than you thought. Either way there is no point in spending too much time on a brief before you know what things cost. Your architect or designer has the benefit of costings on previous projects so will be able to give you a very good indication of what your project is likely to cost. When they tell you – believe them! We all harbor the hope that we can achieve monumental outcomes for very little but we can’t. A realistic assessment of what is achievable from inception will contribute to a successful and stress free outcome.


Finalizing the brief


Never be afraid to seek the help of your architect or designer in formulating the final brief. By working closely with them you will help to establish a valuable dialogue and ensure that you have a clear understanding about creative references, functional needs, roles and responsibilities.


And never be afraid to change your mind at this formative stage of the project. Design briefs often evolve so that the final brief is quite different to the original brief. The important thing is to get it right because design changes later in the project have the potential to undermine the integrity of the overall design, delay the project and add to the cost.


A good brief, like any good document, is the foundation of success. In formulating a good brief, you empower your architect or designer to do what they do best with the potential to deliver a project quite literally beyond your comprehension.