Architectural Design Brief: How to use one to its full advantage

An architectural design brief is a crucial document that outlines the goals, requirements, and constraints of a design or building project...
Architecture Design Brief

An architecture design brief plays a vital role in documenting and managing a projects required outcomes and deliverable’s, and so here we discuss what this document is, why it is important, and how to use and write one yourself.

What is an architectural design brief

An architectural design brief is a crucial document that outlines the goals, requirements, and constraints of a design or building project. It serves as the starting point for the design process and provides an overall plan for the project. The brief is also a useful reference document for tracking progress and efficiency.

The document is no different to any other form of design brief or even just a brief, as they all essentially aim to provide the recipient (in this case the architect and/ or student) with a list of instructions, requirements and directions to fulfill the authors (clients) needs. It is relevant in both educational and professional settings, and is essential for all people involved in the design and implementation of the project.

(A design brief can also be referred to and more commonly known in the United States as a program, however they have and consist of the same purpose and information.)

Architectural Design Brief

Student projects often involve real-life projects, with an imaginary client included. Live projects are typically designed to fulfill the needs of a real client, which forms the basis for a project brief. The client’s requirements are usually outlined in a document called the Strategic Brief. The architect must then develop a response to this in the Project Brief, which typically includes information about the project, stakeholders, deliverables, and any constraints such as time and cost estimates.

Depending on the level of involvement the client wants the architect to have, the chosen architect may be responsible for creating either one or both of the client requirements and project briefs. It is important to have a thorough and informative design brief to ensure the success of the project.

With regards to the document containing the design brief, this can be as detailed or as limiting as the author decides, and can be anything from a single piece paper or a fully-fledged bound document. 

Generally speaking the more detailed the design brief is, the clearer the instruction and direction will be, however too much information can sometimes hinder the design process by being too directive and limiting.

Equally a short design brief, may initially appear to offer a lot more creative freedom but later can hinder a projects development, when the design direction presented is not to the clients requirements due to the failed communication of the brief.


Have confidence in your design process.

Discover the core components, principles, and processes to form the foundations of award winning work.

Why is it important?

Architectural design briefs are the very beginning of a project, and without one it is incredibly hard for a project to exist.

They provide a vital tool for communication, that enables the client or clients to describe the desired outcomes of the end product (the building) to the architect or designer, helping them to understand what is exactly required of them to meet their needs.

Without a design brief, there is no clear direction and more importantly no record of the projects components.

The design brief also plays a very important role and point of reference for both the client and architect during the projects development. Where particular emphasis is put onto it during the conceptual and design stages, that often see’s the brief developing alongside the architect and past the client’s initial submission.

The briefing document also essentially provides an informal contract between the client and architect. By specifying the desired end product, it enables the architect to design within the client’s limitations and expectations, that will hopefully procure a building that both parties will be happy with.

This is exactly the same for a project given to a student in architecture school, except the client is often fictional. However the brief still outlines what is required and failure to meet it will result in an unsuccessful project followed by a low result or mark.

Where does the architectural design brief come from?

Design briefs can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and at the beginning you may only have notes taken from a meeting or a jumbled email from the client, and so if this is the case then these should be formalized.

Some firms will a have their own briefing document that they provide to their clients at the beginning of a project to ensure that the correct information is provided from the outset, that would then be formulated into a briefing document.

For architecture students, it is common for the design brief to have been prepared by the year group tutors, and this will provide all the necessary information required to meet the projects required outcomes.

Final year students may be required to produce their own brief, in which case they will be responsible for creating their own client and finding a site relative to their chosen building type. This must all be researched and analysed prior to formalizing.

Architectural Design Brief

How to use a design brief

In short, once issued with a design brief the document should be used as a check list and point reference throughout the whole design and construction process to ensure that the end product (the building) meets the clients requirements.

However to do this, the briefing document firstly needs to be broken down and analysed to ensure that you fully understand what is being asked of you. 

So go through paragraph by paragraph and create subcategories for the site, program, client, and building typology, highlighting the areas that can be used to help develop the project, areas of importance, areas that need clarity, and the general deliverable’s for the project.

As architecture students, there will also be a list of what the project outcomes should be, and what you will be required to present in order to demonstrate you have grasped the project and successfully passed.

Special attention should be made to the number and type of drawings and documents required … the design brief is there to help and guide you through the project, and should always be by your side.

Scope of services vs scope of works

An architectural brief can sometimes consist of two parts:

  1. Project Brief / Scope of Services: This section outlines the requirements and process for delivering the project, including the activities and tasks that need to be completed by the design team.
  2. Design Brief / Scope of Works: This section outlines the parameters and final outcome of the project. It typically sits within the overall project brief and describes the physical aspects of the project.

Project brief

The project brief is a document that outlines the extent of work and activities expected to be completed by designers and consultants during the course of a project. This document is important because it helps to guide the project team and ensure that all tasks are completed in a timely and effective manner.

In the project brief, you will typically find information about the client or sponsor (who will pay for the project and make final decisions), the schedule (the overall time allowed for the project and any major stages or phases), milestones (key targets or goals that occur during the project process), the project budget (including the amount of money available for the project and any costs associated with it), and deliverables (the packages that will be prepared, completed, and delivered during the course of the project).

It is important to note that the project brief may differ in practice compared to university projects, but it is still useful to see the parallels between the two. University projects can act as mini-projects and do reflect reality to some extent.

In university projects, you may be given a fixed amount of time within the semester to complete your work, and it is important to note the overall time allocated for each project. You may also be expected to treat your tutor or teacher as a client and consider their expectations in terms of the work you complete each week for them to review.

Finally, you may be expected to prepare and deliver various packages, such as final submissions and interim submissions, as well as weekly work for feedback and review.

Architectural Design Brief

Design brief

The scope of works is a document that outlines the parameters and final outcome of a building project. It includes important information about the location and site, the typology of the building, the users, the scope of the building or structure, the architectural program, the materials to be used, and the givens, assumptions, opportunities, and constraints associated with the project.

It also includes the aspirations, goals, and visions for the project, which describe the more intangible desires of the client or end-users.

The scope of works is an important document because it helps to define the overall scope of the project and provides guidance to the project team as they work to design and construct the building. It includes information about the location and site, including the physical boundaries of the site and any existing conditions or structures that may be relevant to the project.

It also includes information about the typology of the building, such as whether it is a school, hospital, office building, or some other type of structure, and may include references to precedents or examples of similar buildings.

The scope of works also includes information about the users of the building and the functional spaces required for the building to operate. It describes the estimated size of the final structure and any associated works, such as new construction, refurbishment, or demolition, and provides a high-level summary of the overall project.

Additionally, it includes information about the materials to be used in the construction of the building and any special considerations or technologies that may be relevant. The scope of works includes a list of givens, assumptions, opportunities, and constraints that need to be taken into account as the project progresses.

Design brief development

It is important to remember that the design brief is not a static document that is completed at the beginning of the project and then set aside. Instead, it should be seen as a living document that evolves as the project progresses.

To ensure that the brief remains relevant and effective, it should be developed in consultation with the client and end users, taking into account any changes or challenges that may arise during the course of the project. Regular evaluations of the brief at key stages of the project can help to ensure that all stakeholders are aligned and working towards the same goals.

In addition to fulfilling the aesthetic aspirations of the client, the design brief should also address the functional requirements and needs of the project. This is particularly important for student projects that may not have a specific client focus. In these cases, it may be helpful to consider the site or location as the “client,” and to consider the needs of the site and how the design can meet those needs.

Architectural Design Brief

How do you create a design brief in architecture?

Much like the analysis of a design brief, when writing one it must consist of a narrative, a site, a building typology and a program.

Before any physical writing can take place however, the site must first be selected and this may involve visiting a number of potential locations before one can be chosen. 

The building typology may have an influence on this if it has already been selected prior to the site, as you will need to select a site relevant to the building type. There is little point in selecting a site for say a theater building, if there is already one within close proximity.

But assuming that the building typology is yet to be selected, then following a successfully selected site, you must then research into what the close and surrounding area needs and will benefit from. i.e more housing, a school or maybe a visitors center.

The narrative should then follow and provide the background information to the project, it is here that the client and the buildings end users are created, and you must provide information on who they are and why they require such a building. 

Lastly, the buildings accommodation and program should be researched to identify the spaces required and the sizes they need to be. You need to put yourself into the clients shoes, and for this exercise become the client.

Design brief checklist – What should an architecture brief include?

Here is an architectural design brief checklist that you can use to ensure that you have included all the necessary information in your design brief:

  1. Client and end user information: Make sure you have included information about the client, who will be paying for the project and making final decisions, and the end users, who will be using the final project or outcome.
  2. Location and site information: Include details about the location of the project and the physical site boundaries, as well as any existing conditions or structures that may be relevant to the project.
  3. Typology: Specify the type of building or structure that is to be designed and constructed, such as a school, house, hospital, shop, or office building.
  4. Building or structure scope: Describe the difference between the existing conditions and the final building, including the estimated size of the final structure and any associated works.
  5. Architectural program: Provide a detailed breakdown of the spaces within the project, based on client requirements, user activities and needs, and functional spaces required for the building to operate.
  6. Materials: Consider any particular materials or technologies that may need to be considered for the building typology or location.
  7. Givens, assumptions, opportunities, and constraints: List everything that is known about the project as well as the unknown and things that need to be considered and questioned further.
  8. Aspirations, goals, and visions: Describe the more intangible desires for the project, including what the client or end-users will want to experience and obtain from the final project.
  9. Schedule and milestones: Include the overall time allowed for the project and any major stages or phases, as well as key targets or goals that should be achieved during the project process.
  10. Project budget: Specify the amount of money available for the overall project, including the construction allowance, consultant and design fees, and other costs such as reports, town planning fees, and utilities fees.
  11. Deliverables: Outline the packages that will be prepared, completed, and delivered during the course of the project, including the number of drawings, models, and other specific documents and records of your work, process, and progress.
Architectural Design Brief

Architecture design brief example

Here is an example of an architectural design brief:

  • Client: ABC Company
  • End users: Employees and visitors of ABC Company
  • Location: Downtown Los Angeles
  • Site: A vacant lot located on the corner of Main Street and 1st Avenue
  • Typology: A 10-story office building
  • Building/structure scope: The project involves the construction of a new 10-story office building with a total area of 100,000 square feet. The building will have two basement levels for parking and mechanical systems and eight above-ground levels for offices and other functional spaces.
  • Architectural program: The building will include a ground floor lobby, a cafeteria, meeting rooms, and a gym. The upper floors will consist of open plan office spaces, conference rooms, and private offices.
  • Materials: The exterior of the building will be clad in glass and aluminum panels, and the interior will feature a mix of carpet and concrete flooring. The building will be equipped with energy-efficient systems and technologies, such as LED lighting and a green roof.
  • Givens/assumptions/opportunities/constraints: The site is located in a downtown area with good access to public transportation and amenities. The zoning regulations allow for a building of up to 10 stories in height. There are no known environmental or geological issues on the site.
  • Aspirations, goals, and visions: The client desires a modern and efficient office building that will attract top talent and enhance the company’s image. They also want the building to be environmentally sustainable and to contribute to the revitalization of the downtown area.
  • Schedule: The project is expected to take 24 months from design to completion, with major milestones including the completion of design documentation, the issuance of building permits, and the start of construction.
  • Project budget: The project budget is $25 million, including construction costs, consultant and design fees, and other costs such as reports, town planning fees, and utilities fees.
  • Deliverables: The design team will prepare a set of design documents including floor plans, elevations, sections, and 3D renderings. The team will also prepare a construction documents package, including detailed drawings and specifications, and will provide support during the construction phase.


Have confidence in your design process.

Discover the core components, principles, and processes to form the foundations of award winning work.

FAQ’s about architectural design brief’s

How do you write an architectural design brief?

To further add to the above, here are the key steps to follow when writing an architectural design brief:

  1. Identify the client’s needs and goals: The first step is to understand what the client wants to achieve with the building project. This includes their functional requirements, budget, timeline, and any specific design preferences.
  2. Define the scope of the project: This involves defining the project’s size, location, and other relevant details such as zoning restrictions, building codes, and other regulatory requirements.
  3. Identify the users and their needs: Identify who will be using the building and what their needs and preferences are. This includes understanding the building’s context and environment, the cultural and social requirements of the users, and any other relevant information.
  4. Establish the design parameters: Based on the client’s goals, scope, and user requirements, establish the key design parameters for the project. This includes the building’s layout, form, materials, systems, and other technical details.
  5. Develop the design concept: Based on the design parameters, develop a preliminary design concept that captures the essence of the project. This should include sketches, drawings, or 3D models that illustrate the design intent.
  6. Outline the project schedule: Develop a detailed project schedule that outlines the key milestones and deadlines for the project.
  7. Specify the budget: Develop a budget that outlines the estimated costs for the project, including design fees, construction costs, and other expenses.
  8. Identify the project team: Identify the key stakeholders involved in the project, including the architect, engineers, contractors, and any other relevant parties.
  9. Review and revise the brief: Review the design brief with the client and other stakeholders to ensure that it accurately reflects their needs and goals. Make revisions as necessary.

What is the difference between a project brief and a design brief?

A project brief and a design brief are two distinct documents used in different stages of a project’s life cycle. While they share some similarities, there are several key differences between them. Here are the main differences between a project brief and a design brief:

  1. Purpose: A project brief outlines the overall scope, objectives, and constraints of a project, while a design brief focuses on the specific design requirements and goals.
  2. Audience: A project brief is typically written for the project’s stakeholders, including clients, sponsors, and project managers, while a design brief is written for the design team, including architects, engineers, and other specialists involved in the design process.
  3. Content: A project brief includes high-level information such as the project’s purpose, goals, scope, timelines, budgets, and risks, while a design brief includes more detailed information such as user requirements, functional specifications, design parameters, technical requirements, and other design-related details.
  4. Timing: A project brief is typically developed at the beginning of a project to provide a strategic direction for the project, while a design brief is developed after the project brief, once the project’s goals, scope, and constraints have been defined, to provide specific design guidance.

In summary, while both project briefs and design briefs are essential documents in the project life cycle, a project brief outlines the overall scope of the project, while a design brief focuses on the specific design requirements and goals.


Free Site Analysis Checklist

Site analysis forms the foundation to a project’s conceptual evolution …start it with confidence.

Sign up to our mailing list to receive a free Site Analysis and Site Visit Checklist.

Leave a Reply

As seen on:

The Architecture Portfolio Kit

Featured Posts:

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

No spam, just notifications about our new articles, products and updates.

Learn how to build an online portfolio