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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Byrne: How Archi­tec­ture Helped Music Evolve

Bauhaus, Mod­ernism & Oth­er Design Move­ments Explained by New Ani­mat­ed Video Series

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


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