Weeknotes: 04.2014 – Brief Writing

On January 24th, 2014, posted in: new post, weeknotes by

Today’s missive is all about writing briefs, and it so happens that all four of the FG+W team have been helping to do just that for a number of digital projects this week. Whilst Lindsey and I have been drawing up a ‘pair of briefs’  for Lincoln Castle’s new mobile and tablet experiences, Laura has been working in parallel to imagine the Castle’s online presence and develop the brief for its new website.

Meanwhile,  Alyson has been workshopping on two fronts with the Imperial War Museum to help draw up a final set of requirements as HMS Belfast and the Churchill War Rooms set about re-tendering their respective audio guide services.

For readers who have been involved before either in writing, or in receiving and working to a brief (or, like us, in both), some of the potential frustrations and pitfalls that lurk in these processes will be familiar.

Some of you will have experienced searching for a provider and not getting the kind of responses that met your needs. Others will have will have received a brief that either falls short of providing the necessary information, or alternatively gives so much detail that it ends up describing a solution and product all by itself. The former leads to hopeless guess work, whilst the latter simply stops creatives creating.

For Alyson, working with the IWM this week, two important things have stood out. First, the Museum’s willingness to commit senior staff to the brief-development process. We’ve been able to meet with both the Site Director and the Exhibitions Manager for HMS Belfast and the Cabinet War Rooms, as well as with full learning and digital media teams, the appropriate historians, and a member of the Museum’s graphics team. Just 4 hours of this kind of senior, wide-ranging investment in a project has been tremendously valuable, ensuring depth, breadth and authority of perspective in the creative process, and demonstrating recognition of the importance not only of the end product but of a good, robust brief to bring out the best in potential partners.

Second, we’ve adopted a relatively light but focused approach to brief writing. We’ve worked together to draft precise and explicit principles for both products; we’ve outlined the objectives they should deliver on, as well as who they should deliver them for, and we’ve noted some creative opportunities, challenges and resources for potential bidders. Lastly, we’ve set clear boundaries for those bidders. In other words we’ve defined the problem not the solution – giving space to creative teams to develop their response. (For anyone interested, this is a great tool that we’ve found useful in structuring this kind of conversation.)

In talking to Alyson about her pair of teenagers – both nearing the point of leaving home for work or university and the wider world – a crude metaphor emerges. As a parent, too many rules, too much good advice, and you produce a cautious, predictable wallflower; too few and too little and you risk creating reckless tabloid-fodder.  With a light but firm touch in the brief, we hope we’ve given everyone the best possible chance of turning out a really cool, interesting kid with great teeth.

Too much, or too little guidance…

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