A psychological framework in three steps

Do you wish you could keep running smoothly and also be the leader of successful ( and keep your boss/customers happy )?

This article will cover three levels that are required for an ideal creative brief. It also challenges the perception that documents, however thorough can serve as a complete starting point.

It starts with a creative brief — but what is that?

Running the gamut from practical to visionary, a creative brief clarifies the requirements and inspires the team.

As a thought starter, the brief motivates and forms a jump board of ambition. On the other hand it also lays out the practicals; facts, content, budget, timing and constraints — a problem to be solved. It keeps everyone on the same page.

How do you inspire?

Creatives seek to bring different kinds of beauty into the world: that Keats line about beauty and truth. While the appearances and notions of what these are differ wildly, on deeper universal levels these drives are fundamental.

Beauty, in whatever format, is expressed through the interplay of craft and concept: a synthesis of materials, symbols, metaphors, words, stories, feelings, sounds, colours, shapes, code, sequences, processes and dreams. The solutions that operate well for mass audiences are ones that combine the primal level with contemporary applications.

Much creativity is unabashedly stylistic, while others relate to human connections and engagement … and others again to universal questions of meaning and the bigger “Why?”.

Inspiration comes from interesting truths

Your truth

As an entrepreneur, leader or manager, ask yourself what is important to you personally, and what is important to this project. Is it ROI, sales, asset creation, a campaign, the delivery of tangibles on schedule… on a deeper level, is it reputation, long term brand equity, a sense of pride in your business’s appearance or a world-changing initiative?

These are all reasonable. The trick is knowing what is important so that when you choose the creatives, you won’t have to justify your values, you will be on the same page and you can short-list using this lens along with the project parameters.

What kind of creative output do you seek — and what do you need?

Introducing the Hidden Humanity creative briefing framework. Use this model to work through your briefing and choose the elements and expectations that are appropriate to your context.

Level 1 — Comprehension & information — ‘What’

This covers all the practicals of deadlines, budgets, deliverables required, content provided and definables.

Do this through: a structured outline document, preferably approved edited content, a real deadline, budgets, line of communication both with you and with the decision-maker.

Could sound like: “ Information on our utility bills will be beautiful and clear to reduce enquiries to the phone lines”

Just like the brief itself, the tangibles often look like something to read or absorb, a utility bill / map / infographic / data visualisation / report / newspaper, functional object.

Level 2 — emotions & engagement — ‘Who’

Documents don’t fulfil the level of emotion and meaning — they can seem logistical, dry, uninspiring. To go beyond a purely information level, there will be questions and dialogue with an end goal in mind. After that, requirements may be tweaked and additional insights added. The creative will want to know what the overall feeling will be, or how the humans will experience an internal change in some way.

Do this through: a coffee, conversations, workshop, meeting customers, a focus group,

Could sound like: “ Shift perception of our brand from traditional to cutting-edge”

As with the development of resources around a human-centered approach, tangibles often look like a presentation / story / sensory experience / illustration / interactions / music / human to human experience

Level 3 — motivation & meaning — ‘Why’

Many projects don’t come to this level. The conversation develops into a trusting relationship with the investment of time and money being respected on both sides. The dialogue connects your why with a bigger truth… Why you do what you do? This why resonates with the creative team, with a shared core understanding. That is where the creative comes from leading to memorable creative outputs.

For the creative, the stage is set for deep emotional labour to be done. For the client, there is bravery to face unexpected proposals.

Do this through: deep dives, hang outs, banter, long dinners. The deeper the work, the shorter and sharper the brief statement looks, eventually it could be as simple as Samsung’s: “Be no. 2 smartphone in the market”, or Nike‘s Olympic campaign “Sport is war without violence” (Check out this documentary)

Could sound like: “ Inspire a mass culture change to reduce use of plastics use”

Finding the ‘Why’ or the north star is a depth endeavour, with the boat as an obvious metaphor. Resulting creative work can span anything but often suits a service, a film, a piece of art, a social brand event, interactive online campaign, a fundraiser/kickstarter.

To create a creative brief that both delivers and inspires:

  • Get honest about the real results required and your motivation ( altruistic, financial, r&d, status )
  • Ask “What are the constraints, reality and specifics of ‘this’ right now?”
  • Keep generic terms like ‘professional’ ‘innovative’ ‘disruptive’ to a minimal
  • Tease out the differences and uniques to this project / business
  • When hiring or commissioning a new creative, listen to the ‘vibe’ you get when talking to the creatives — it is not woo woo, it is a signal of how your values and worldview interact.
  • Consider what the emotional journey will be when experiencing the end result
  • For an unexpected or market disruptive output… allow some margin of time and budget for movement and change,
  • For projects requiring safety and assurance, be especially detailed and prescriptive; show examples and precedents; define outputs, budgets and timelines.
  • Describe your idea of success — vividly, personally, even visually with a cheesy mood board
  • Be bold and ask “What is the change we are creating in the world?”
  • Check the trust levels before commencing the work

The ultimate creative brief

  • is a simple question or a statement of why,
  • has a ‘why’ which comes from a fundamental truth,
  • is developed through minds, hearts, feet and hands of people in conversation.
  • requires courage and deep engagement from all sides
  • is based on mutual trust

To have creatives jumping out of their seats to work with you, give them a concise, truthful and ambitious statement with a core why.


In this article — “Humans” refers to the receivers of your creative project ; the end users, customers, target audiences, suppliers, employees, tribe etc

Briefly — a documentary by Tom Bassett, CEO of Bassett & Partners

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs — the renowned psychological framework

Mastering the Creative Brief — article on AIGA

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