Dear Design Doctor: How to write a design brief and design quote?

Dear Design Doctor

I am a recent furniture design graduate and a client has approached me to work on a small design project designing and making an outdoor bench. I am really excited, but don’t really know how to go about this. Where do I start?

The Design Doctor for this challenge is Patricia van den Akker, Director of The Design Trust:

“This can be tricky indeed! A lot of predicting, costing and researching, and especially if you haven’t done it before it can be rather daunting. Every new design project for every individual client should be costed separately before pricing it, so that you know that you will make a profit on the work that you do. The design or project brief is a separate document from the quote, but obviously they are related.

Here are the various step-by-step action points that you need to do:

1. Create a clear design/project brief

Firstly develop a clear project or design brief that explains what you are going to design and for who. Be as clear as possible about:

  • what will be designed with clear descriptions of every product or design e.g. 1 external 3-seater bench, size: 140 x 45 x 80cm,
  • the materials, colours, and ‘feel’, e.g. in oak for a contemporary secluded garden in Japanese style
  • the type of end user and their needs and wants,
  • the current issue or challenge that your design will solve e.g. to be situated under oak tree facing towards the patio, with space for a book or drink
  • the costs or selling price e.g. total commissioning budget £1,800
  • the deadlines

It really is worthwhile to spending some time to get the design brief right. Work closely together with your client to co-create a design brief. Time spend now working out what the clients wants and doesn’t want will ensure that you will be able to create the right design solution and have a satisfied client at the end!

When I worked for a product design consultancy in London we often spend as much time finding out exactly what the client wanted, as that we worked on the design itself!

If the client finds it difficult to express themselves in visual terms what they want, then it is really good practice to show them various mood boards, or to work together on creating mood boards so that you really understand what your client is looking for. Show them images and let them respond to what they like and don’t like.

A good design or project brief ensures clear communication, improving the working relationship with your clients and is part of managing expectations on both sides. Don’t assume anything, write down and describe the requirements into great detail.

Clients often change their mind throughout a project, so a good design brief at the start should help you minimise any major issues later on, and can help with renegotiating the project or your fees if the project goes out of its original scope too much.

2. Costing your time spend on the project

When you have co-created the design brief, you will know in much more detail what your client wants. It will then be much easier to start forecasting the different actions you need to undertake and how long each of these will take you. We now will start working on the quote.

The next stage is to plan carefully how you will execute the project. There are normally 4 stages to a project:

1. Research: when you do your research and come up with various design solutions, of which the client can choose one. This is the main brainstorming stage and clients will identify what they really want. This stage finishes with a couple of sketches or product ideas from which the client will select one.

2. Development: this is the main design stage where you work out the selected design in more detail. This is when you design your oak bench in detail.

3. Production: this is the stage where you create your products or get them manufactured. This is when you will create your oak bench.

4. Delivery: this is when the product gets installed or delivered to the client, or goes to market.

You will need to predict your time spent in each of these 4 stages – on meetings, producing the work or dealing with subcontractors. If you have kept time records on past projects you should have a realistic overview of how long a comparative project should cost you in time.

Create an internal document stating these specific hours, and add 10 – 15% contingency just in case. You need to have a detailed overview to be able to monitor your time and costs throughout the project.

To the client you will give a project overview detailing all the jobs to be done at each stage, and totalling the hours or days predicted at each stage. Giving an insight into what you will be doing at each stage will really help your client understand what you will do, how your creative processes work, and how valuable you are!

Also if you have detailed actions like this than if the client changes there mind dramatically then you are able to refer back to this original document.

However, be a little vague of how many days it will take you, so rather than an hourly rate x total hours to be worked, talk about: Research: 2 working days, Development: 4 – 6 working days in May.

You will then add up all your hours/days and time this with your hourly or daily rate. See another blog post on how to calculate your hourly or daily rate here.

This will mean that you have a little bit of flexibility – if you work faster than you make more money! And it is none of your client’s business to know exactly how many hours and what your hourly rate is. The client is interested in the overall outcome, what you will do to get there, and total cost of project.

3. Calculate other project costs

Predict your costs for materials, transport, insurance, subcontractors etc. Add all these costs up and again have a 10-15% contingency. In your quote to your client you would separate each of these costs.

4. Calculate production costs

Research any manufacturing or subcontracting costs before committing and get their quotes and lead times in writing too. Check they are available and can work to your timescales.

Be aware that subcontractors might quote you excluding VAT and if you are not VAT registered you will have to add this on – which is a difference of 20%.

Do not share your exact costs with your client but give a total production cost price. Don’t be too optimistic in predicting your time involvement. Add on average 10% contingency for both time and materials.

5. Create your quote

You will then have a quote that will look like this

Stage 1: Research: 1 day initial designs, creating 5 mood boards to be discussed at meeting on xx, leading to a presentation meeting on xx date with 3 design proposals – total 1.5 days £ xxx

Stage 2: Development: to design in detail further the selected design from stage 1 into full detailed computerised designs plus a small scale model – presentation on xx date – total 2 days £ xxx

Stage 3: Production: creating the bench: 5 days £ xxx

Stage 4: Delivery: delivery and installation by external contractor

Additional costs:

materials: £ xxxx

insurance & transport: £ xxx

TOTAL: £ 1,800

Include a time limit to your quote e.g. valid till 6 weeks of postage date. This is especially important if you work with materials that fluctuate in price (for example gold) or if you are buying materials abroad.

6. Put your proposal together

You can now put together your design/project brief, with your quote and your terms and conditions.


Good luck! Please note that you might need to do many design briefs and quotes, so creating a template like this will help speed up responding to potential clients in the future.”


The Design Council has got some great video and top tips about design briefs for businesses who want to commission designers. They are also very useful for designers to view the process from your client’s point of view.


Did you found this blog post useful? What was specifically useful to you? How do you prepare a design brief or quote? Please leave your comments below:

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