Write a proper brief. Or you may not get back what you expect.

February 8, 2016

This is one of the funniest things I’ve come across for a quite some time. It concerns a designer called David Thorne. He’s an amazingly humorous designer, satirist and man you don’t want to start having an email discussion with.

His website is outrageously amusing. He documents email discussions with people. Which sounds fairly normal. But his emails are always slightly off-kilter. You’re often not sure if he’s serious or messing with you.

He tried to pay an overdue bill (for $233.95) by sending a picture of a spider that he had drawn. He notes in his email “I value the drawing at $233.95 so trust that this settles the matter.” Needless to say it wasn’t the end of the matter. It was just the start of a beautifully bizarre exchange with a lady called Jane Gilles. It’s very much worth a read.

One of my favourite exchanges on his site is with a secretary in his office. She asks him to make her a poster to help her find her missing cat. On the surface it’s just him messing around after a secretary in his office asks him to make a poster to help her find her missing cat. This is known online as the ‘Missing Missy’ case.

If you read a wee bit deeper into it, I think it’s a great example of what can go wrong if the person briefing you doesn’t think enough about what they actually want. I see it as a searing indictment of people’s inability to think things through properly and write a proper brief.

The best way I think to show you how the conversation progresses (and how David uses exaggeration to make his point) is to just show you the conversation.

So here goes. Buckle up.

Missing Missy 1

Missing Missy 2

To be fair, his tone and heavy use of sarcasm should alert us to the fact that this isn’t going to be the normal polite email chit chat.

Missing Missy 3

Shannon, the secretary, comes back with a couple of questions. And David answers them. I love his negative space comment.

Missing Missy 4

As a small aside here, if you’re asking someone to do you a favour saying “That’s just stupid.” is unlikely to aid your request.

Missing Missy 5

Again, he’s followed her instructions to the letter. Which starts to show why writing a loose, poorly-though-out brief is asking for all sorts of trouble. Guess what? Shannon’s not happy with his amends either. I, however, am loving his work. Especially when he points out that “I don’t come downstairs and tell you how to send text messages, log onto Facebook and look out of the window.”

And so it continues. (I defy anyone not to laugh at the next image.)

Missing Missy 6

Again, he’s followed her brief to the letter. (Granted he’s not followed the spirit of her request, but he has answered her brief.)

Missing Missy 7

Shannon’s patience seems to be beginning to wear thin.

Missing Missy 8

Hands up who spotted that’s not Shannon’s cat?

Missing Missy 9

Surely he’ll send her what she wants this time?

Missing Missy 10

Shannon thinks she’s finally got across to David all that she wants in the poster. But we know better.

Missing Missy 11

Again, he’s followed her instructions. And she’s still not got what she wants.

Missing Missy 12

I love that he’s deliberately messing with her to prove his point – unless you think about what you’re asking someone to do it’s unlikely to end well.

Using the creative work to refine the brief is a crazy way to work. It’s lazy, disrespectful and shows you don’t actually care about the work your project will ultimately produce. You’re pretty much the nightmare client.

If only we were all as brave as David, then perhaps the people who write really terrible briefs would get their just desserts. Unfortunately, most of us are far too polite to actually point out the lack of clarity in other people’s thinking. Certainly more than once or twice on any single brief.

If you’re on the secretary’s side you’re most likely someone who writes terrible, terrible briefs.

There’s an old saying that people get the work they deserve.

So when you’re writing a brief, think hard.

Always try to communicate one single idea.

I promise you’ll get better work if you write a better brief.

If you don’t, give me a call and I’ll answer the brief for you.

And a final salute to David. Hats off to you sir. Your whimsical response to a shabby brief should be an inspiration to us all.


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