The necessity of drafting a project brief and a technical specification (TS) often meets with resistance from clients. Some potential clients vanish as soon as they’re asked to articulate their requirements for the project outcome. To many, terms like “brief” and “TS” evoke a vague discomfort, coupled with a dreary uncertainty related to writing or filling out an important document they know little about. Typically, clients are not versed in technical nuances, standards, and terminology, hence their fear that they cannot accurately describe their desired outcome, preferring to minimize or altogether skip this step.
At the requirements clarification stage, not just the client, but also the designer, if they don’t fully grasp the purpose of the TS, may find it challenging. Some designers don’t see the need for a TS, believing that creative solutions require no bounds and formalized documents only hinder the process. They’d rather dive into the project head-first, letting the battle shape the plan.
As a result, negotiations between parties, equally averse to the hassle of a TS, are overly simplified:
Client: “Just make it look good/professional/effective—and that’s it! I’m even okay with one version, but it has to be brilliant.”
Designer: “Of course, no problem. We’ll do our best!”
The negotiations seem to go great, with mutual understanding, smiles, and handshakes all around. The only issue is that the client’s and the designer’s notions of a “brilliant version” are as far apart as Picasso’s late works are from Rubens’. But this discrepancy won’t emerge until the designer has done most of the work and presents the preliminary result. The client reacts in shock, horror, and frustration:
“This is not what we’re paying for! If the designer thought THIS was appropriate, they clearly didn’t understand the idea and definitely won’t be able to deliver what’s needed. Why did we even engage with this incompetent designer, and what do we do now… Deadlines are looming, money’s wasted, it’s a disaster!”
If, at this point, both parties don’t tear each other apart, can manage their emotions, and don’t abandon further cooperation, then real requirement clarification begins. The client explains why the work is unsatisfactory, and the battle-scarred designer starts asking the right questions to make the necessary adjustments and edge closer to that “brilliant” version. However, sometimes even here, miracles don’t happen. The designer, in fear, rushes to make changes blindly, to avoid further enraging the client, and misses the mark again.
Productive communication breakdown means iterations could last forever, leaving both parties dissatisfied.
But it could’ve been handled with minor sacrifices.
The process and outcome can be much more pleasant and effective if both parties don’t try too hard to demonstrate wordless understanding, but instead act a bit foolish—clarifying and re-clarifying, incessantly asking to point to “that exact shade of red,” to show which images are liked and why, and which aren’t—and why. References are extremely helpful; they can be selected and sent to the client for feedback. The client’s written responses to questions, “likes” and “dislikes,” primarily make up the technical specification. To achieve the goal, it’s crucial to clearly understand where this goal is, what it entails, and what it looks like, hence the importance of involving the client in the TS creation. It’s needed by the designer to understand the client’s expectations and ultimately provide the result that meets them. It’s also needed by the designer to have the means to prove that all of the client’s requirements have been met in case of disputes. But first and foremost, it’s needed by the client themselves so that, during the process of filling out the brief (which follows contemplation, brainstorming, and discussions with colleagues), they can form a clear vision of the result.
Allow the client to understand what they truly want—help them write the technical specification or do it together.
Some design studios limit the number of iterations (revisions/editing), charging for additional changes to avoid losses. But in most cases, there’s no need to shield oneself from potentially endless demands for revisions. The key is in detailed clarification of the result vision before beginning the work. If the client knows exactly what they want, compiling a TS together won’t be difficult. If not, drafting the TS will help them decide their preferences.
A consciously formulated TS or thoughtfully filled-out brief is the first step toward the successful outcome of any project.