How to Create an Effective Office Design Brief
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  • How to Create an Effective Office Design Brief

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Patrick Isitt
Content Manager
Content specialist in office design and build.
  • A design brief is essential to every successful office move or redesign.

    Without a proper design brief, an office may end up looking great aesthetically, but be wholly unsuited to the needs and objectives of a business and its employees. As a foundational phase of the design process, it encapsulates not just the what and the how, but also the why of the project, serving as a constant reference to align outcomes with original intentions.

    A good design brief will enable healthy, happy and productive office environments where employees share a strong sense of purpose and feel aligned with their company’s core values. It also, crucially, enables environments that are configured to get the most out of people, tools and technology in order to maximise efficiency and output. Executed well, an effective design brief is the contextual foundation on which high-performance workplaces are built.

  • The High-Performance Workplace Guide

    Understand how to create a high-performance workplace that aligns to your organisational needs with our 8 design tips.

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  • What is an office design brief?

    An office design brief is a document, which all key stakeholders are signed up to and aligned on, that outlines the core objectives and direction of a design project. A good brief provides a vision for what your new office should look like and what you want to achieve. It’s produced at the start of the design, redesign or renovation process, or before an office move. It defines timescales and budget, and can be referred back to at any point to ensure all work is in keeping with the original project scope and goals.

    A design brief should include an overview of your business and its critical needs in terms of physical space, facilities and resources. It may include instruction about how new processes and ways of working could be supported by design. It can also provide insight into a company’s identity, brand and values – information your fit out partners or design consultants can leverage to bring your project to life.

  • The good news is, the brief itself doesn’t have to be long or overly detailed. It’s far more important for a brief to get to the heart of the ‘why’, and to articulate the value a new environment will have for your business. It can always be revised as you go, so it’s better to start with something that considers your aspirations. And, it’s certainly worth getting right, as research shows that well-designed office environments have the potential to boost productivity by up to 12%. In this way, your design brief could hold the key to transforming workplace performance.

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  • How to create a brief

    There are three main components of an office design brief: the context, the challenge, and the deliverables.

    If you divide your brief into these three areas, you should cover every element required for a successful office move or redesign. And if you can pull out and describe the headlines for each component, you’ll have the overall thrust of your written brief – what you want to achieve, the problems you need to overcome, and the key things you need to deliver. If, on the other hand, you can’t commit to these elements in writing, it may be a sign there are bigger decisions to make, and wider issues to resolve, before you get started.

  • The context

    When it comes to a design brief, context is everything. By defining the contextual drivers for your project, you can ensure design interventions are relevant, informed and tailored to your identity and vision. This component of the brief is about who you are, what you want, and where you’re going as a company.

    To get things moving, look back at the history of your business, from its origins to where it is today. Think about the background to your evolution – about the ‘story so far’ and your strategy going forward. You’ll need to look holistically at your business, your industry and your competitors. How have other companies evolved, and what are they doing that you might want to emulate or avoid? Also look at your past successes and failures. Reflect on the key lessons you’ve taken from these events, and how these lessons might be incorporated into your new office design.

  • A good design brief should also account for future ambitions. You need to think whether you intend to shift or scale your operations in the mid-to-long term. Or whether you have plans to transform internal processes. Is your team growing? Are your ways of working likely to change? These considerations will help to futureproof your design and ensure it has the flexibility to evolve with your business.

    Key questions to ask yourself at this stage include:

    • What makes your company unique?
    • What’s your mission statement?
    • What are the key drivers for this project? (For example: setting standards for other locations, building a legacy or creating a place that feels like home for your employees)
    • What impression do you want your office to leave on visitors?
    • What kind of atmosphere do you want to evoke?

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  • Remember, a design brief is a great opportunity to drive increased brand engagement. How can your company’s vision and values be better reflected in the work environment? Would a vibrant colour scheme or sustainable materials help to reinforce your corporate identity? By including brand-oriented specifications in your brief, you can help to shape design solutions that accurately communicate the essence and ethos of your organisation.

  • The challenge

    This element of the brief is less about what you want, and more about what you need. It’s about the challenges you face as a company and the changes and interventions that will help you overcome them.

    At this point, it’s worth asking what you’re hoping your project will achieve from a practical point of view, and how you’ll know if it’s been successful. The answer will often involve the resolution of a problem or bottleneck within your existing office. Of course, problems differ from company to company, but they tend to include issues such as: a general lack of space; insufficient storage capacity; departmental siloes; restricted access to amenities; drab and uninspiring office décor; lack of natural light, ventilation and green space.

  • Your design consultants will ask you questions in an effort to understand your challenges, so you should consider the following in advance:

    • What are the key drivers for this project?
    • What are the big issues within your organisation?
    • Are there any problems with your existing space? If so, what?
    • What does the spectrum of work modes look like? (How do your teams like to work?)
    • What are the barriers to productivity?

    By working through these questions, you and your design team can begin to determine the main challenges that need to be addressed, and the critical requirements that need to be included in your brief. Think about things such as storage needs, desk size and type, space utilisation, workforce numbers, and AV/IT kit and networks.

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  • In fact, an internal audit of space, storage, tech and personnel can be a valuable process. Conduct management interviews to identify key departmental needs. Ask your employees what they want from their new office environment. What do they feel is lacking or not working? What works well? High-performance workplaces leverage employee involvement, because an office co-designed with its users encourages a deeper connection to that space. After all, in order to get the best out of your people, your people have to be able to get the best out of the spaces they occupy.

  • The deliverables

    Establishing your deliverables will enable you to set clear project milestones that need to be reached. They constitute a checklist, of sorts, against which you can assess project progress.

  • Your deliverables will include the critical requirements and specifications identified at stage two of the briefing process (‘the challenge’). They might comprise elements such as new desking, better storage or enhanced tech systems. Once you’ve established them, you should set a clear timeline against which each deliverable needs to be achieved.

    However, you need to accept that the precise scope of your design project may change further down the line. There could be unforeseen changes ahead that will require a rethink of office design features and spatial configurations. Evolutions in your operating model, new tech developments or external events may necessitate a reworking of core design components. The important thing is to remain flexible in your brief, scope and outlook to ensure your business can adapt and evolve over time.

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  • Get out what you put in

    In office design, you get out what you put in. Many design briefs are ineffective because they are vague – and because not enough work has gone into them at the early stages. A clear design brief needs to be inspiring but precise. If you can’t identify the problem you need to address, or the end-result you’re trying to achieve, your design brief and project will fail to deliver value.

    So rather than the push on regardless, if you sense a lack of clarity when putting pen to paper, you might need to engage in further research or workplace strategy consultation. These processes are often overlooked, but in many cases prove essential. For example, if there are complex and disparate dynamics at play, a workplace strategist can help to make sense of the individual pieces and translate them into a coherent design brief. Design can be a powerful tool, and a good brief will ensure an expert can get the most out of their time and your budget, paving the way for project success.

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