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HERE’S A THOUGHT

Brief Briefs

10/06/15

One can argue that best briefs (like the best design) are a case of ‘less is more’.

Horst Brandstätter, the man behind the Playmobil brand sadly passed away this week. His toy company focused on plastics (they introduced the Hoola Hoop to Europe in the late ‘50s). But the oil crisis of the early ‘70s created manufacturing cost pressure. And so his brief brief: design a toy that would allow “the maximum amount of play value for the minimum amount of plastic.” His design teams answer was the three-inch high Playmobil characters. There are now an estimated 2.8 billion of them on the planet.

There is much to applaud in the Playmobil story, but it is the pragmatism and succinctness of the brief that strikes me. It starts with a really challenging problem, and works backwards into a brilliant solution. No room here for the typically wordy and generic brief (the one which always seems to ask for a more premium and contemporary feel). The smartest answers always come from the smartest questions, and the Playmobil brief is a benchmark against which we might all aim to measure up.

I have read that the creative brief to Michelangelo for the Sistine Chapel was “Please paint our ceiling for the greater glory of God and as an inspiration and lesson to his people.” Pretty succinct, even when the full version adds all the stories the Pope wanted ‘covered’. The paint put on a ceiling can be rolled on emulsion or a masterpiece. The same goes for the creative vision and hard work that goes into a really inspiring brief. I guess if you expect the creative solution to be immediate and compelling, you should also be able to set out the question in a sentence or two.

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