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research - 10 minute read

How to create a simple and precise brief

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By Sam Reid - 2nd Mar, 2021

This article is part of a series around how to simplify complicated thinking into a single-page view so that other people can easily understand you. Creating a good brief is the first step and arguably most important.


It all started with the Business Model Canvas

These tools are wholly inspired by the Business Model Canvas from Alex Osterwalder and his crew. We took their principles to create other canvases for our own work and found that clients really liked these formats. That’s why we want to make them available to anyone else to use. 

Why are canvases so helpful?

The simplicity of the ‘1-page model’ is its power. By having all the moving parts viewable as a whole and keeping the amount of information that can be applied to a minimum, it does two things:

Firstly, as each section is limited for space, it constrains the author to convey only the most necessary information. 

Secondly, it takes away the mental load from the author of knowing what must be covered because you complete it on rails. This means you don’t spend energy thinking about the thinking, you just get right to it.

The ThinkSprint Briefing Canvas

We created the ThinkSprint Briefing Canvas as a tool because writing a good brief is fundamentally important to a good outcome, but it’s never easy. If you’re a few degrees out at the start where you end up can be way off the mark.

Our briefing canvas has nine sections to ensure you’ve covered all the critical bases, and are leaving as little room for interpretation as possible. (If you want a copy of this canvas as a PowerPoint or Keynote file please request it at the bottom of this page.)

You’ll find that not all sections will be as relevant as each other, but that shouldn’t stop you from considering each prompt. Hopefully it will jog important things out of your mind that you may not have considered sharing.

Here are a few more details on each section to help guide your thinking...

Primary audience

This is essentially the persona of who the challenge is focused at. It has the typical areas such as demographics, relevant behaviours, goals, and frustrations which you fill in to give the viewer context on who you are targeting and their needs. We include a sense check here to help ensure that you’ve selected the right audience in the first place. In other words, do they have a need that can be solved? Is it the biggest market opportunity? 

The challenge

Here we need to communicate what the challenge is, and outline why it’s important to the business and/or specific stakeholders. Try to get this into a very tight articulation. The more precise the better, as it shows you know what needs to be done.

Existing alternatives

It’s always helpful to anchor your challenge to the current ways a problem is solved. As an example, before the Business Model Canvas the existing alternative was a 20-page business plan. Both achieve the same thing, but are significantly different in approach.

The status quo

More often than not there will be things in motion related to this challenge so it’s helpful to share what is working and what isn’t. This helps avoid covering old ground or, in the case of successful activities, prompts further questions on why success is happening and how it could be integrated into new thinking.

Internal resource

List out all the assets you have at your disposal to support the activity so that solutions can take these into account. For example you might have a killer analytics tool that could be worked into a digital product, so the sooner this is on the roadmap the better.

Success criteria

It’s always good to stick to one metric as the measure of success, as this creates focus. At the same time call out what failure might look like, that way you bookend expectations from winning to losing.


This is a catch-all for any known banana skins to be mindful of, helping to avoid them with prior warning.


It’s essential to spell out all the ‘no go’ areas so that no effort gets wasted on them. It’s worth spending a good amount of time racking your brain here because it’s easy to miss things such as regulatory issues, financial constraints or even any internal politics (which you would obviously want to be subtle about).

The quantified future

This is helpful because it gives the viewer tangible context of the ambition. You anchor what goals you hope to achieve over time.  


See the next part in this series The Concept Canvas

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