Mon · Aug 22

Practical Design: Design Brief

Dominika Blackappl is a designer and Part-Time Partner at Y Combinator.

Design doesn’t have to be complicated, intimidating, or expensive. In an early stage startup design serves one purpose: helping startup founders understand their users. To that end, design encompasses more than formal product execution, logos and layouts, it also means user observation, clear messaging, MVP specs, concise pitches, and more.

I’ve set out to create a set of free tools to demystify design and help founders materially improve their user understanding. This is the fourth tool in the series. The first three were User Observation, Messaging, and Pitching. Coming up: MVP Spec.

These tools are all designed to drive action. I hope they can lower the barrier to entry around thoughtful design by helping you learn by doing. Interactive versions of each tool are available on my site as they're released.


Design Brief Tool
This an excerpt. The full, interactive version is available here.

Good design briefs provide a clear context for a product. Whether or not you’re hiring a designer, writing a design brief is a useful exercise because you’ll expose gaps in your understanding of the product’s context.

This tool will allow you to create a design brief in less than ten minutes. It will guide you toward providing concrete language around your product’s context and away from forcing a solution onto a designer or yourself. If you force a solution you risk creating a product that doesn’t solve your problem – and maybe solves no problem at all.

Answer the questions below to create a design brief or try the interactive version on my site.

About Use Case
Playing with our User Observation Tool will help with answering these questions.
1. What problem does your business solve?
2. How did you discover this problem? What is the user pain that inspired you?
3. What is the user need that inspired your business idea?
4. How do people currently solve this problem?
5. Who is the user of your product?
6. Is your user and your customer the same person or entity?
7. Describe briefly how your customer uses your product.
8. Where and when is your customer experiencing the value of your product most?
9. Where and when is your customer experiencing the value of your product least?

About Market
1. In what markets will your product be sold?
2. How many customers do you anticipate in each market?
3. What is your sales channel?
4. How will your customer learn about the product besides the sales channel?
5. Is this your first product? If not, what were your past products?
6. What is your next product going to be?
7. What other products already on the market solve the same problem?
8. What is your price in comparison to similar solutions on the market?
9. What is your direct competition?
10. What is the main barrier of entry for others wanting to solve the same problem?
11. Do you own IP? If yes, what is the practical application of your IP?
12. Will your product require certification? If yes, describe your strategy for overcoming the certification related delays for market introduction.

About Company
Playing with our Messaging Tool will help with answering these questions.
1. What is the value proposition of your company?
2. How do you deliver your company's value? How do you deliver what you promise?
3. How does your business make money?
4. What are the core values of your company?
5. Does anyone on your team have any product development expertise?
6. In what stage is your business?
7. How big is your company?
8. What is your current runway?

About Engagement with Designer
1. When do you need the design?
2. Preferred form of engagement. (Contract, full-time, etc.)
3. Have you done any user observations? If yes, will you be able to share the process and the findings?

You can find an interactive version of this tool on my site.