A good brief is half success with an identity project. If you have all the information and an in depth understanding of your client’s brand you will have the basis for a great logo and striking identity. Without it you’re just shooting in the dark and can only rely on your luck to find the right solution. A good brief also simplifies your work by giving numerous seeds of ideas to work with.
If you’re working in a branding or design agency you’re lucky because client servicing and planning will write the brief for you. But if you’re freelancing you need to do the interview with the client yourself. It may take well over an hour, but believe me it’s worth every minute of it.
Sometimes clients are not very talkative and without a clear structure the briefing session will take less than five minutes and all you get from client is that you have to be ready with at least 10 different options for the new logo by next Saturday and that he wants something “WOW”! Obviously this is not much useful information and will be virtually impossible to do any good work.
This is why I developed and fine tuned over the years a client questionnaire to use as a guideline to interview the client and now I’m giving it to you hoping you can make a good use of it for the next identity project you will work on.
Of course, not all questions will be relevant for every project. Also this questionnaire doesn’t include any practical questions regarding the working relationship with the client. It’s all about the brand and what it should stand for.
1. What is your business?
Example: We make shoes. / We teach Kung-Fu.
Why ask: Understand what a company does officially, later on in the questionnaire it will be interesting to see what the real product/service is.
2. How old is your company?
Example: More than 50 years old. / Started up just 9 month ago.
Why ask: It’s for general orientation. The answer may also give you an idea.
3. Size of your company?
Example: 200 employees in 4 countries. / Just me and my brother.
Why ask: The answer may give you an idea and gives a general understanding for the weight of the brand.
4. Your business in one sentence?
Example: We make great hiking shoes for families and professional hikers. / We will teach you how to defend yourself with anything that you find.
Why ask: We are getting closer to the nature of the business, but we’re not done.
5. Your business in two words?
Example: Hiking shoes / Self defence
Why ask: That’s more like it.
6. Your business in one word?
Example: Hiking / Defence
Why ask: See how different the real nature of the business from the official one in question 1.
7. Your business in one letter?
In depth interview
8. How did you start the company?
Example: My granddad was a scout in WW2 in the Austrian alps and he had to go up hill 5 kilometers every day. He perfected the army shoes for 3 years and after the war he founded our company. / We were always skinny when we were young and everybody made fun of us. Then my brother started to learn Kung Fu from a Singapore master and we became suddenly well respected and popular. A year later my little sister was mugged and beaten and ended up in wheel chair for 2 month because she couldn’t defend herself when she walked home from school. I felt horrible not being able to protect her, so I decided we gonna teach her and others self defense, so that such things never happen again.
Why ask: Such stories will give you amazing insight to the company and may give you an idea.
9. Is there a story that is unique to your company?
Example: Actually Edmund Hillary wore a shoe my granddad made in 1953 when conquering the Mount Everest. / One of our students became a police officer after she managed to kick a burglar out of a friends house on a sleep over.
Why ask: It tells you what the company is proud of, therefore you can build on this in your logo.
10. If you company/brand was a person who would it be?
Example: Columbus, because he was an adventurer always looking for new ways of doing the same thing. / Bride from Kill Bill.
Why ask: A brand is perceived by consumers like a person. You trust them, you communicate with them through advertising and purchase, you get disappointed by them, etc. The identity you’re designing is the face of that person.
11. If your company/brand was an object what would it be?
Example: I don’t know, maybe a compass… / Hmm, that egg protecting carton.
Why ask: Ideas, ideas, ideas, you can’t have enough of them. You can get it from the client directly or his answer may trigger one in your head.
12. If your company/brand was an animal which one would it be?
Example: Camel / Tiger
Why ask: This is a conversation starter. If he says elephant, you may ask why to find out more that might give you an idea. You get the idea.
13. Is there an important object, building or person for your business?
Example: Our original factory in Graz is painted bright pink and people always joke about it. / We have Bruce Lee’s nunchaku displayed at our training hall.
Why ask: You are looking for existing imagery that the brand is already known for, you may just need to make an icon out of it.
14. What do your wear to work?
Example: Jeans and t-shirt / Traditional black dress with a wide red belt.
Why ask: The answer sets the style for the identity.
15. Do you have plans for tonight?
16. How does the market see your company today?
Example: They think we’re a well established company with good products. / They think it’s a small family business.
Why ask: Must know what the current perception is to make sure the new identity doesn’t depart too much from it, so that the brands keeps the trust of existing customers.
17. What aspect of your image needs improvement?
Example: People think we are old school. / We are seen to be semi professional.
Why ask: This is the bad perception, that keeps the business from growing. This is what you have to fight with the new identity.
18. How do you want your image to be seen in 2 years?
Example: We want to be seen as a company with traditional values but using the latest technology and materials. / We need to be perceived as a professional organization you can trust with self defense training.
Why ask: This is what you have to portray in your new identity to serve your client.
19. Who are your competitors?
Example: CAT, Timberland and other smaller companies. / There is one Jiujitsu training center nearby.
Why ask: The identity has to be easily identifiable and it has to be unique. It’s essential to research the competition.
20. How are they better/worse than your product/service?
Example: CAT and Timberland has strong brands. We are less well known. CAT is masculine, we are not, but want to be. Timberland has a very natural feel to it. We want to have that too. We have a bigger history and we are more serious about our product than these two brands. / The Jiujitsu training center has been operating for almost 10 years, they have a well established name and they are seen as professionals, we want that too. We are much more self defense oriented, unlike our competitor who is more involved in competitions and show off stuff.
Why ask: You have to identify your clients brand’s strength and weaknesses and build on them.
21. Shaken or stirred?
22. Who is your customer?
Example: Mainly hobby hikers and a few professionals as well. / All kinds of people between the ages of 18-35.
Why ask: You need to know who are you talking to. If you’re talking to kids you need to speak a different visual language than if you’re talking to bankers.
23. If your customer was a cartoon character who would it be?
(not a joke)
Example: Ha ha, I would say Nemo / Courage the Cowardly Dog
Why ask: Cartoon characters have exaggerated characteristics. Identifying the stereotype of your consumer is easier through this exercise.
24. Do you have an identity?
Example: Yes / No
Why ask: You have to create a visual continuity, unless a sudden change is required because of a strong negative association with the old identity.
25. What do you like about it and what do you not like about it?
Example: I like the colors, but the boy scout around the fire is not serious or trendy. / N/A
Why ask: Obviously you may consider to keep what client likes and stay away from what he doesn’t like, unless you have strong reasoning for doing otherwise.
You can download the questionnaire in txt format below to prepare a branded document with spaces to write the answers.
Now, you must have a very clear understanding of what the company/brand is all about. You must have several ideas already for different directions. But before you would even open a new document in Illustrator you may want to consider going through this exercise.