On the Importance of the Creative Brief: Frank Gehry, Maira Kalman & Others Explain its Essential Role

Every project starts with a brief. 

From the layman’s perspective, the project above starts with a bit of self-mythologizing.

Bassett & Partners, the “award-winning, disruptive brand and design strategy firm” and maker of the video above, seems not to subscribe to TED-Ed’s practice of educating viewers from the get-go.

A couple of minutes in, I hit pause in order to do a little research on the word “brief.”

I’m familiar with male underpants (though technically those are plural, even if the garment is singular).

I have the average moviegoers handle on the meaning of legal briefs.

And now I know what the noted architects, illustrator, designer, and ad execs are talking about above! If only they’d referred to it as an elevator pitch, I’d have been on board from the start. Of course, why would they? Only those of us who want to sound all Hollywood call it that.

Whatever you call it, it’s a concise statement that gets right to the heart of what you—or your project—are about. No history. No campaign plans or citations. Just a whole lot of passion and truth tightly packed into a small vessel.

Architect David Rockwell defines a brief as a short-form communication tool from a client.

Art Director John Jay says its purpose is to inspire the creatives…

…without (as per ad exec John Boiler) dictating creative terms. Of all the interviewees, the trucker hatted Boiler exudes the schmooziest, most off-putting Hollywood vibe. I’d rather do lunch with Frank Gehry. Does this make me guilty of comparing apples to oranges, when director (and “disruptive brand and design” strategist) Tom Bassett leveled the playing field by giving them equal time?

Perhaps if Boiler had humbled himself by sharing an experience as heartbreaking as Gehry’s ill-fated Eisenhower Memorial. (Skip ahead to the 16:16 mark if you want to hear how outside opinion can pound context, research, poetry, and many months of thoughtful work to a heap of rubble.)

I love Maira Kalman, but remain unclear as to whether she’s fielding or submitting briefs. If the latter, how do those differ from book proposals?

What if the emotion, creativity, and enthusiastic research that went into Nike’s 1996 Olympics ads resulted in an equally fierce campaign to end hunger in a country with no Olympic teams?

What if the client’s problem was cancer? Could the brief demand a cure? That sounds simple.

Let us acknowledge that most grand scale visions require a fleet of underlings to come to fruition. I wonder what plumbers and electricians would make of seeing their contributions described in such poetic terms.  Never underestimate the power of a soundtrack.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, homeschooler, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

 


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