1. Design brief and mood board

Welcome to the first design exercise. These activities will help reinforce what you learn in each Lesson, or can be completed independently.

If you are following along with the lessons, What is Design? and Design Ethics are great lessons to review prior to creating a design brief and mood board.

These exercises can also be used to build upon one another. In this exercise, you'll be writing a design brief and gathering some inspiration on a mood board. In later lessons, as you design a product, you can refer back to this brief and mood board for concepts and ideas.

Creating a design brief

One of the first steps to designing is determining what problem(s) you intend to solve and for who. Starting with a design brief document helps to get these intentions on paper. This helps as it can be a north star to you while designing, and also will aid in effectively communicating your goals to your team, clients, or customers.

You don’t yet have to know if you are creating a product that will become a web page, an app, or a graphic. It may be helpful to have an idea in mind, but more importantly, the product you intend to create should be in a format that best serves your customers. As you think about, and even talk to, your potential customers, you may gain insight into what the best format for them will be.

Before starting to visually design, it's helpful to write. Or at least answer a few clarifying questions first: Who is your audience, what are their problems, and how will you describe your solution? From there, consider the more tactical writing:

Include your intended audience, their needs, your proposed solution, links to any research that you’ve done or intend to do, and any text that you think will be in your app or on your web page.

Once you’ve finished writing, hold onto this text, you may want to use it for future Design Exercises. Feel free to write on paper, but it may be helpful to write somewhere digitally like a word processing app or service, or even in a Figma file.

Don’t allow this writing process to be a barrier, but dedicate time to trying to write. Once you hit a wall, stop, and designate a time to come back. Like with all disciplines, writing well is a craft that is learned with time — and your first version need not be set in stone.

What is a design brief?

A design brief is a document used to outline the key elements and deliverables for creative work. It is a helpful document to reference throughout the design process and helps to focus and clarify the project as it evolves.

The brief contains: a problem statement that should be resolved by the completed design, the audience that you are targeting with your product, constraints—limitations—to work around and with, format of the final design or designs, timeline, research, and any other details that will help you start working on a project.

Often, a brief comes from a client or stakeholder within your company.

In this activity, you will be creating a design brief for yourself that could inform the design work you do in future exercises. Below is an example design brief for you to look at, and a second design brief for you to fill in.

Mood board

A mood board is a collection of sample imagery, colors, and other products to help express the desired aesthetic of a planned project. A mood board maker can be helpful in conveying visual ideas using other visual elements. Often the elements complement each other in some way, such as color or style.

Use the large, blank frame in this Figma file to collect some images or other visual concepts that you would like to use to influence the work that might solve the problem(s) you describe in your design brief.

Getting feedback

Finished the exercise and looking for a little feedback? There are a lot of communities online to get design work critiqued, like Behance, Dribbble, and Figma Africa. There is also a Figma user community, spectrum.chat/figma, which includes a channel dedicated to giving and getting feedback on design work, spectrum.chat/figma/critique.

It's helpful to tell a story when submitting design work for critique. If you submit an image or Figma file to a community for review, it will be missing the context around the work. Instead, they will only see the visual design, which often leads to unhelpful comments, such as, "I like the colors."

Tell your critiquing audience what you are showing them, who is it for, what the constraints were. Anything that would be helpful in providing context for them to base their understanding of your work. For example, "Here is a landing page of a marketing website I created for a blueberry farm, targeted at bodega owners in the New York City area. The client needed a desktop and mobile version of the website."

You will want to request specifically what you want feedback on: "I am looking for feedback on spacing, type size, readability, background color, and would love any references you could point me towards in regards to comments you have."

Part of design is exposing yourself to criticism and failure on a daily basis. This is crucial to our work, as it lets us improve it and better serve our customers. You should expect and even welcome critique of your design work--invited or otherwise. Be prepared to defend your work, explain the decisions you made, and welcome improvements.

Don’t take it personally. Criticism should be constructive. That ensures that the person is trying to help you improve as a designer, and help you serve your customers better. That’s why we give constructive criticism too.

Great feedback doesn't just come from other designers. Find someone in your company, friend group, or an existing or potential customer to ask for feedback.

Giving feedback

“I don’t like orange” is not quality feedback.

A designer is looking for feedback that is actionable, that they can use to improve their work. Getting to the stage of sharing design work and receiving constructive criticism is the most pivotal part of the design process.

Tell the designer if something isn't clear, and present it to them as a problem, not your solution to it. For example, say, "I have a hard time reading that text." Instead of, "Please make the text bigger."

The designer may have a better solution to the problem, as they have spent more time with the design. The text might need higher contrast from its background instead of an increase in size. If the designer makes it larger, the problem may persist. But if they understand you are having trouble reading the text, they have a whole toolbox full of options to resolve legibility issues.

It's helpful to develop a further understanding of the work and context too. Ask clarifying questions to help understand the designer's goals — in both the work and the feedback they're hoping to receive — and to draw out more of their story.

During a critique, it's important to remember that the designer or designers are likely looking for a different kind of feedback. Hopeful for an emotional response, a connection, an understanding nod. Sympathy. Something that validates that the ideas being discussed are worth discussing. Design critiques are stilted when the participants are detached.

We're all people. Remember to be kind and courteous when asking for or providing feedback.