Design Briefs

I’ve authored, edited and reviewed several design briefs, which proved to be very useful for:

  • Establishing some boundaries to the design challenge we are trying to address;
  • Giving some high-level direction, so that Software Architects and the Development Team can start working on the implementation even without other design documents (like wireframes or Conceptual Design Documents);
Design Brief for AutoCAD Utility Design
Design Brief for AutoCAD Utility Design Configuration

The Deliverable

The Design Brief document can be one of the deliverables of a User Experience Team’s Discovery phase, in which we research and describe the problems and challenges that need to be solved by identifying who are the users we are designing for, what scenarios we need to address, and what tasks are necessary to carry out those scenarios.

The purpose of this document is not to propose design solutions to those problems. The issues described within this document may span multiple users/roles and even applications, and no particular user interface style should be assumed.

Here is the information I’m usually trying to consolidate on a Design Brief:

Business Goals

This section of Design Briefs captures the direction for this User Needs derived from a product road map. Include any information pertinent to readers of this document to show that it is meeting the business goal. Usually written collaboratively with Product Managers.


The personas here are not an exact copy of a Product Requirements Document’s personas, but rather a selection of the specific personas that will be used for the upcoming design. More specifically, we should look at the social interactions between personas for which the product is targeted.

Persona Profile: Stephanie Powers
While trying to create these archetypical users (or personas), the key is to — first — create empathy for that persona, but also to provide useful information for teams to make decisions (e.g., “what would Stephanie need?”)

Social Interaction of Personas

Workers’ Interrelations and Relationships often involve multiple categories of organizational roles and outside stakeholders. The cultural characteristics of our personas’ social worlds can pose key challenges and opportunities for product teams as they attempt to outline appropriate and compelling design strategies. The questions we’re trying to answer here are:

  • How could our insights into the connectivities and qualities of our targeted personas’ relationships shape our application concepts?
  • How might our product usefully and meaningfully reflect these social realities?
Data Visualization: SWIMLANE DIAGRAMS
Workers’ Interrelations and Relationships visualized in the form of a Swimlane Diagram

What Customers are Doing Today

In this part of the document, we discuss the current customer workflows or other activities that are being improved, adjusted, re-engineered, or generally impacted by the proposed feature. We describe findings from user research we conducted for a feature or product, as well as previous research or usability studies for related features or products that can inform the upcoming design.

User Experience Vision

Have we considered divergent approaches to defining the design challenge at hand? Are there unexpected and emergent uses of technology we should support? Are we anticipating ways to help users do things easier, faster, and smarter by proposing new mental models? This design vision responds to the design challenge, which does not depend on a design solution. This vision section of Design Briefs can result in multiple design solutions and does not derive from a single design option.

Design Challenge Description

This section of Design Briefs is the answer you would give when someone asks you what design challenges we are trying to solve. This is just like an elevator pitch. Use one or two sentences only.

Users Needs Addressed

Which user needs are we choosing to address and not address in this version, feature, product? This section of Design Briefs should describe the user goals that the solutions to upcoming design should address. For example, “Users need to feel confident that they will be able to complete an entire design with this tool.”

Innovation Opportunities and Drivers

Have we considered divergent approaches to defining the design challenge at hand? Are there unexpected and emergent uses of technology we should support? Are we anticipating ways to help users do things easier, faster, and smarter by proposing new mental models?

It is not for the lack of ideas that teams cannot innovate but because of all the friction or drag created by not having a shared vision and understanding of the problems they are trying to solve. Learn more about how to ensure teams are paddling in the same direction in Strategy and the Importance of Vision.

beach bench boardwalk bridge

Strategy and the Importance of Vision

Learn about the importance of vision for creating shared understanding of why are we bringing a product to market in the first place


This section of Design Briefs contains a list of use cases relevant to the design area of this brief and should be prioritized according to a Personas /Use Cases Pugh Matrix.

Scenario: Stephanie Powers
While describing scenarios, you’re trying to provide the team with an overview of what you’ve learned from research, synthesising key information needed for creating useful and delightful experiences (e.g., in which context the interactions will take place, what the personas need in those contexts, and what change in behavior we need to create to satisfy those needs.

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