During lunch today with some fellow designers, the subject came up of client and designer expectations. One of the designers asked "Who's in charge?". My response?
The Brief is The Boss.
This cute and short little phrase says it all.
The relationship of client and designer is a collaborative one. You could say that the client is the boss, because they initiate the project and are responsible for the final decisions. You could also say that the designer is the boss because they're the creative professional and the ones bringing the project to life.
In reality, The Brief is The Boss. What is the brief? The Design Brief of course! The Design Brief is the pin to the whole project. It's a contract for the client, that details exactly what the designer will be doing to complete the project, let's the client know exactly what to expect and when to expect it, and also shows how the designer plans to stay on track and hopefully within budget.
It is also a contract for the designer. It lets the designer know that they will be given all the assets that they need to complete the project, it removes any ambiguity about how they will be compensated for their work, and it also allows the designer to clearly spell out their terms.
Design briefs are important for everyone involved. If at any point in the project things become unclear or if there are any discrepancies (scope of the project, terms and conditions, delivery date and method, etc.) the brief can help you get back on track. As a designer you should always prepare a design brief (even a short one), and as a client you should always expect one. Always protect yourself, and your client and you'll have a very rewarding path in your professional life.