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Writing a Design Brief

If you are a member of an apparel team or company, you may not be doing all of the design work on your own. Most apparel companies will separate out the responsibilities for a design team and a development team. Bigger companies will even have materials and trim management teams, production management teams, color trend teams and product line management (or merchandising) teams, too. In these scenarios, each person is dedicated to a specific portion of the apparel manufacturing process, unlike smaller startup companies who are learning how to take on those same roles among much fewer people.

Within mid-sized and larger companies, a key document that is created at the design stage is called the Design Brief. This document is typically the responsibility of the Product Line Manager for the category. It is within their job scope to research competitors, price points and features that they feel are important for the product. The Design Brief then helps them to communicate those details to the rest of the teams around them.

Here are the top 5 items that every Design Brief should include:

Target Consumer

  • Giving the designers an idea of who will be purchasing and wearing the garment will help them to visualize its potential. By defining your customer, this should indicate trends that the designers can use in their creative process, so that the end user finds it to be relevant within the product’s eventual selling season.

Target Product Cost

  • A talented and knowledgeable designer will know how to work backwards from a target cost to create their vision for the product. Using trims, sewing features and construction techniques that are less expensive at the factory level can help to keep costs low. On the other hand, a Product Line Manager may want the garment to be top of the line on latest sewing techniques, high-end trims and fabrics. They will be able to relay this to the team through this portion of the brief.

Target Fabric Cost

  • Once a product cost is determined, a target fabric cost can be estimated for the product. A general ratio I use is: Total garment cost at the factory divided by three will equal the target total fabric cost of your garment. From here, the Product Line Manager should work with a Pattern Engineer or Technical Designer to estimate the garment’s fabric yield. That will give the team a good idea of what their fabric’s price per yard should be.

Key Details or Features

  • Does the garment need to include a zippered pocket that will fit the latest smartphone with ease? Or maybe the center front zipper needs to have a guard at the top to protect the wearer’s neck from touching the zipper during use. Any features and construction details that the Product Line Manager requires to be on the garment like this need to be included in the Brief. Designers can then make sure to include these must-have features in their initial designs.

Intention for Fit

  • The Product Line Manager (PLM) should indicate whether they want the garment to fit similarly to another product within the Design Brief. This can be done one of three ways: 1) They can refer to a previous product in the company’s garment line for the designers and developers to start from. This is one of the most common ways that fit is started at larger companies. 2) The PLM can purchase a competitor sample that they like for fit. If they don’t believe the current apparel line at the company has something that can work for this new product, then finding a similar piece out in the market that has a comfortable fit on the body can be the next best place to start. 3) They can refer to a “block” pattern that the company has set in place for initial garment creation. This method can work well for companies that have massive teams managing patterns and fittings, but a block pattern system is often scrapped by smaller or mid-sized companies quickly, as they evolve much too quickly to truly serve their purpose long-term. (More to come on block pattern systems in the coming months - we’ll get into this more!)

While there are many other factors that can go into a Design Brief, these are the most essential details to include for companies of every size. Some designers want to see more information on a design brief. If they’re versed in these areas, they want to see projected sales volumes, previous revenue of like-styles or planned marketing assets. Other designers can become distracted by too much information and would prefer to just know the basics so that they can put more of their own perspective into the design. Knowing the level and preferences of your design team is also important to creating your Design Brief. If you understand what information they do and do not want to have at this stage, you’ll be a great partner to this key team and help to grow that relationship as you work through the design phases.

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