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Industry titans explore the art of the brief in new documentary
Sep 26, 2014

Every project starts with a brief, but only some projects become exceptional. Briefly, a newly released, free online short-form documentary, explores the reasons why. Documenting the evolution of the innovation process, the film isolates the brief as the creative starting point and reveals its many characteristics through candid interviews with some of the globe’s most influential design visionaries including John Boiler, CEO of 72andSunny; John C. Jay, Global Co-Executive Director of Wieden+Kennedy, and head of W+K’s new venture, W+K Garage; architect Frank Gehry; architect David Rockwell, founder of The Rockwell Group; industrial designer Yves Behar, founder of Fuseproject; and illustrator and author Maira Kalman.

The brainchild of brand strategist, producer and director Tom Bassett, Briefly is the culmination of Bassett’s fascination with what the role of the brief plays in shaping, or failing to shape, creative ideas. By sharing these creative luminaries’ experiences, from Gehry’s struggles with the Eisenhower Memorial to the limitations Rockwell faced with the Cosmopolitan Hotel design, the goal is to inspire the public to produce better and think differently.
According to Bassett, despite their abstract nature, briefs act as the backbone of every design project in all possible mediums. Editor at Large had the chance to preview the documentary, and some highlights are below.

The documentary begins by asking each of the design influencers how they define a creative brief, and their responses were varied..
“I think it is a short form communication tool from a client or you develop with a client to sort of set out the mission,” said Rockwell. “The fact that the word is called brief is interesting because briefs can often be very long.”
“It’s a clarity of purpose,” said Gehry.
“A brief is nothing more than an open statement of ambition for a brand or a client,” said Boiler. “That’s all it is. That can be put into any words you care so long as it communicates your passion and conviction of your aim. It’s a great starting point and after that the brief keeps changing through the conversation.”
“A big fat document that is the history of the company,” said Jay. “We have this phrase amongst all of us in the business: your briefs are showing. The most important thing of the creative brief would be that it has to inspire the people who are given the task of solving the problem. The brief has to leave a lot of room…a lot of runway. A lot of runway so you can take off.”
“So right off the bat I have to start with the notion, without being too flip, that I don’t believe in briefs,” said Behar. “I believe in relationships. The difference between a brief and a relationship is that a brief can be anonymous.”
The six designers were then asked to share some of their most important briefs that turned into some of their most significant projects. This included everything from a 1996 Olympic design for Nike, to the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas, to the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington D.C., all the way to the Gustavo Dudamel Concert Hall in Venezuela.
“You have to trust yourself,” said Gehry. “You have to look at your signature and realize that for better or worse that’s you and that you bring a persona to the table."
“Use the projects that you are given as a way to start to define how you think; how you differentiate yourself; what it is that you are going to bring to each project,” said Rockwell. “There is a kind of more typical idea of what the brief is which is a communication that, at its best, is a kind of provocation. I’ve learned about the brief whether it is verbal or written, that it is our job to challenge it. I think what makes a great project is a brief and a response that resonate, but don’t agree."
The documentary, which will screen for the public starting Tuesday, September 30, concludes with each visionary’s final advice on what a brief should be. The consensus is that no one should overthink it and stress about it, because often times it does not dictate what the final project will be, but rather challenges it.
To view the documentary, click here.

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