As a graphic designer, it is great if we are able to come up with a few really great ideas from time to time. However, that means nothing to a paying client if they have to wait 5 years for you to have your eureka moment. We must find a way to consistently put out great results, and that is where the process comes in. There is no one size fits all method here, so you must find something that uniquely fits you, your work, and your work style. For instance, a web designer’s process is going to be different than an magazine ad designer’s process, as there are different requirements, limitations, deliverables, and so on that each must go through. However, with that being said, there is a set of stages that arise in almost all design processes when working on a design for a client. These can generally be broken down into the following stages:
Research, research, research! This stage in the design development is crucial and should not be overlooked if you want to deliver something that is great and worth your client’s money. This stage includes several elements to it to ensure that all the bases have been covered:
- Client Research
- Competitor Research
- Information Research
- Visual Research
Client research includes elements such as the creative brief, taking an in depth look at what they are currently doing (noting what does/doesn’t work), and immersing yourself in the user experience of their product or service (if possible). It could also include other research such as conducting primary and secondary research on the company or the users.
Competitor research is exactly what it sounds like, researching the competition. You must know what they are up to, what they specialize in, what they do well, and where they are leaving a gap. All of this information combined can help you paint a good picture of where the company you are designing for fits into the market place and possibly where you can exploit any weaknesses in the market. You should consider using a SWOT analysis for this stage, it serves as a guide to get this information.
Visual research is when you gather visuals elements or layouts that may come in handy. Personally, I usually make a folder called “reference images” and drop in any images that may come in use later such as visual textures, layouts, good and bad samples of what others have done, and so on. These can really come in handy when you are able to look at them all together and can even help create a mood board of sorts.
Information research is where you fill in the gaps to the rest of your research. Find definitions and synonyms for keywords or specific industry terminology. Find any missing pieces that may help you in the next stages of development.
Ideation is the process of generating ideas for your designs. This can be done in many various ways, and is largely up to the individual or company to decide what works best for them. Three main methods that I highly recommend are Brainstorming, Mind Mapping, and Conceptualizing. If you find that any of the following methods don’t work that well for you, don’t be afraid to mix and match the various techniques that fit into the way that you work best.
Brainstorming is the process of throwing out as many ideas that you can without judging the ideas as they happen. Let them all flow out on to the page or drawing board as they come, you will go back later and judge them to find the one great idea. This process can be hit or miss at times and it is rather controversial on how effective of a method it actually is. Still, it presents a good option to get the idea generating process going.
Mind Mapping is the process of creating ideas that come out in a semi-organized fashion. This method helps you flush out ideas on the page, as you break down each idea further and further. This also helps keep things related to one another, and can help you see the finer details of a problem or solution that you wouldn’t normally get from looking at the whole picture.
Conceptualizing is the process of writing down ideas or elements that may work well in your design or that your final design should reflect visually. These don’t have to be anything fancy, and in fact, I often have them scattered out all over the page simply because it helps me from getting distracted from anything else and allows me to focus on just the ideas.
Sketching can take many forms and is unique to the person who is doing the sketches. It is generally good advice to stick with creating minimal detail in your first round of sketching. This means that it may be to your benefit to drop the pencil and eraser and pick up a marker to do this phase of the design project. This will help you focus on the idea, layout, shapes, and elements of the design and not get hung up on the details yet, save that for later. You may come back and design more detailed sketches for use and reference when creating the digital designs later on, but you should avoid creating to much detail in the beginning stages of the process.
It is finally time to turn on that computer and open up your design program of choice! Generally digital drafts/mockups should fall somewhere between the sketching and the final design. They are a way for you to quickly build the layout, create hierarchy, show call to actions, and any other important elements. These should be something you can show your client so that you can explain how the design will work and where the important pieces will go. Some color can be used to highlight important elements, but focus on the structure of the design is paramount at this stage.
This is the stage where you start adding in all the fine details. The composition(s) should look like a finished or nearly finished design. Add in the text that will be used, the images, graphic styling, and other elements of your design that will bring it to life. Generally, most designers will create two versions at this stage, the version that they create and send to the client for feedback, and then another composition that reflects all of the client’s feedback and any tweaks that need to be made. The final composition only happens when the client approves everything on the design and is ready to finish the project.`
The final stage of the design is where you create all of the necessary design files that your client will need. This could include all the various sizes of an app icon for submission to the App Store or maybe it is preparing your design for print a digital use requiring you to export the file for the printer to use as well as the client to use on the web. You should always know ahead of time what files are expected for delivery at the end of the project to avoid any confusion at the end.
This concludes the basic stages of the design process. Where does your process vary from the one that we have listed here? What elements change when you find yourself working on different kinds of designs? Post your answers in the comments below!