The disputable brief is a term I’ve coined to describe the bits of the brief that make your project worthwhile and different. It is easy to write a really long brief for your project. But what is going to make the difference between your project and the next one? It’s the part that isn’t necessarily a given, the part you need to fight for, the part that’s disputable. 

Inspiration from the Art of Gathering

The inspiration comes from Priya Parker’s TED talk on her book, the Art of Gathering – how we meet and why it matters. She argues that the thing that makes a gathering not just another get-together is when it has a disputable purpose. It requires the host to think deeply about why you want people to gather and what you want them and you to get out of it. It moves a 40th birthday from a generic booze-up in a pub, say, to a chance to speak with friends about what you’ve enjoyed in life so far and your fears and hopes for the future. 

And so to design briefs. In engineering and in wider life I think we are conditioned to think about the must-haves: the requirements, the logistics, the budget. These things are what I call minimum necessary requirements, but they aren’t enough to make you want to get up and shout from the roof-tops about what you are doing. 

What you need alongside all these things is a disputable element to your brief. What is going to make yours different. It is more than a unique selling point. It is a point of purpose about which you can debate and then, when agreed, get behind. 

Of course we need all the must-haves. But in order to make your project  not just-another-project, either for user or the development team, you need a purpose that sets the story for the project. 

The disputable brief at a cocktail party

In Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive’ he offers ‘cocktail party summaries’ of his chapters. Enough to keep people interested long enough for you to get to your point before they wander off for more canapés. I think of the disputable brief as the thing you would tell someone about in this, or equivalent, social scenarios. 

Imagine the two of the following. 

What are you working on? Well, I’m working on a project that it is going to be delivered on time, on budget, with all the necessary precautions using well-vetted suppliers. Wait, of, you’ve gone to talk to someone else. 


“What are you working on?”

“Well, I’m working on this great project that is going to transform my community by doing [insert disputable element of the brief here]. It really excites me because it is a hard thing to do but we think we’ve got a good shot at it.”

“Really, that sounds great, tell me more. “

Work to develop the disputable purpose in your brief, create something wonderful that no one else has don before, and bring people with you on the journey. That’s a brief worth delivering. 

More on design briefs

I’ve written lots on this blog about setting design briefs for projects. Here are all the posts tagged with the word brief. I particularly recommend: