Why open design briefs are not always the easiest

Posted · Add Comment

There are many different design brief scenarios. And by brief I mean ‘a short statement, summary or instructions given about a specific task or job’ (in this case designing something) – to put it a bit dictionary like. For example: you could have been given an assignment to design something. Depending on who gave you the assignment it’s probably more or less open, or it could be completely free. Or maybe you want to design something new for your portfolio or an exhibition, and there are no restrictions.

As a starting point you’d think that designing is a free creative process, and the fact that you can do anything you like opens up the opportunities to explore and really create something innovative. You’d expect that restrictions just limits, and maybe even freezes, creativity.

But often times, the exact opposite happens.

If all the possibilities in the world are open to you, where do you start? If you can do anything you want, it can be hard to make decisions. As the possibilities are endless, it can be quite daunting to start and difficult to keep the focus. When a brief is open, you need twice the energy to consider form, function, material and all the other stuff you need to make decisions about during the process – and it’s easy to get off track.

Define the goal

I’ve experienced that, in most cases creativity flows freely if you have a set of guidelines and a defined goal. If you know where you’re heading, it becomes easier to stay focused, and decisions are a lot easier to make.

I’ve discovered that when I apply quite strict guidelines to my own projects, especially if I’m making something new, my brain always find a creative solution – and usually it’s more challenging and fun to try to come up with solutions within the guidelines. I have my own set of rules I apply every time I design something new. It’s the underlying theme in all my work, and it helps me define my own artistic identity. It’s not necessarily something I say out loud, but it helps me make my designs authentic.

One of my restrictions is about technical limitations. I have to find and use the simplest technical solution to form, function and construction. Because I define the rule, I can redefine it so it fits a project, but it’s like a safety net for when I start new projects or pieces.


In most cases we already have a feeling for what the finished result is going to be like – we just rarely put it into words. By writing it down and making a statement about it, we make a conscious choice and that automatically makes us accountable.

Here’s a few things for you to consider before you start a new project:

  • Are there any elements in your project that you know you want to rule out or you know it shouldn’t contain?
  • Can you put limitations on form, size, function, material, making or anything else?
  • Make some artistic guidelines you can follow (this could be a style or a technique that is unique to you)
  • Do you know of any elements that have to be part of the project?

If you have any experiences of what it’s like being caught up in the universe of infinite possibilities, and you’ve gotten out on the other side – I’d love to know what you did, so please report your insights in the comments below.


Please share this article