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Give me a job not a creative brief

Designers and innovators need to look at the world differently so that they can innovate and improve. We look at why designers need to see beyond a brief, making things satisfying beyond a functional requirement. Enriching an experience or reframing ‘value’ for people.

I’ve stopped asking for a brief. Instead I ask: “What’s the job to be done?” This attitude is known by product designers and engineers as Jobs To Be Done theory.

Jobs aren’t about a function or task. Jobs demonstrate the social and emotional impact for users. They consider the context of a situation rather than just the features. Product or service attributes, the use of technology or relative cost are less important than the result for people. How does someone really benefit?

Upgrade your user, not your product. Value is less about the stuff and more about the stuff the stuff enables. Don’t build better cameras – build better photographers. Kathy Sierra

The example I like most is about a fictional lawnmower company. They have a new brief to develop the next generation of lawnmower. If we step back from that brief and evaluate what lawnmowers do, it isn’t cutting grass. Seriously. The real job to be done is to keep the grass short. So, should the lawnmower company invest in bioengineering? What if the next generation of lawn maintenance is a type of grass that is stunted so that it remains short? What if a competitor gets there first and the lawnmower business is no more?

Look at what happened to Hoovers when Dyson changed the perceived value of vacuum cleaners.

Designers and innovators need to look at the world differently so that they can innovate and improve. Seeing beyond a brief, making things satisfying beyond a functional requirement. Enriching an experience or reframing value for people.

Designers are able to spot the gaps between the value producers think consumers want out of their products and the real reasons we have for using those products and services.

Marketing that only focuses on what a product is, is less effective than letting people know what it does.

Let’s take a few examples…


What it is: Snickers, a chocolate bar loaded with whole peanuts.

What it does: Snickers satisfies hunger.

The “You’re not you when you’re hungry” campaign helped increase global sales of Snickers by 15.9% and grew market share in 56 of the 58 markets in which it ran – not bad for an 80-year-old, billion-dollar brand.


What it is: GWR, a British train operating company, which manages 208 stations throughout England and Wales.

What it does: GWR puts pride back into the sector.

Celebrating GWR’s past and present, a modern engineering company with a rich heritage. Originally engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the new brand is expressed as the ‘renaissance of rail’.


What it is: Rightmove, the UK’s largest online real estate portal and property website.

What it does: Rightmove, helping people “find their happy”. Inspired by the well-known proverb “home is where the heart is”.

In today’s society, a successful brand must be built on human emotions. A home is central to our happiness; it should be filled with meaningful moments and happy memories. By injecting warmth, the Rightmove brand stands out within the risk-averse property sector.

And if you’re finding writing a brief difficult, this is something else I’ve been thinking about…

Creative briefs can be hard to write, they take time to think through and asking the wrong question will ultimately deliver the wrong answer.

Write a problem statement instead. It will help you clarify the job to be done and identify the severity, location, and impact of the problem.

Write with an audience in mind. Who will need to be convinced and can allocate resources? Will they need to get further buy-in from others? Will someone less familiar with the project understand the context and consequences of doing nothing?

Here’s a structure to help write a convincing problem statement:

  1. Describe the “ideal” state of affairs. What does ‘good’ look like?
  2. Explain the problem. What is going wrong or getting in the way? Try to remove any bias or factors which have no evidence.
  3. Explain the problem’s financial costs. Ultimately there is a bottom line.
  4. Back up your assertions. Share the evidence and set some metrics.
  5. Propose a solution. What approach will you take? What is involved and what investment is needed. Don’t propose a sledgehammer to crack a nut, be reasonable.
  6. Explain the benefits of the solution. Qualify the return on investment. Suggest ways to trial or scale a solution that will gain further buy-in from others.
  7. Conclude by summarising the problem and solution. Tell a simple story.

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