The Design Process
I have been thinking a bit recently about how I can do posts on this blog that are more helpful to people and inspiring and that actually help people learn. I guess design is what I know most about so maybe I will start a series about design with advice and tips etc. Today I want to share something with you that I remember being taught at University while studying graphic design and it was something that was really drilled into us regularly > the design process.
At uni we had to show really clear evidence of each stage in all of our projects. I think now I use it slightly differently as I don't necessarily have that intense accountability (and assessment!) over my process and I probably spend different amounts of time on the various sections than I used to.
I still think it is a really great way to structure the way you work if you are a designer (and to make sure you don't miss out any of the important stages) and so I thought it would be worth sharing here for a reminder to myself as much as anything. I think this process isn't really limited to graphic designers either and would be useful to people working in any creative role. I hope you find it helpful!
This is the bit where you really get into the nitty gritty of what is needed for a project. In a commercial project this is where you work out exactly what the client wants and needs. Sometimes what the client wants and what they need can be quite different. It can be your job to be an investigator to get to the bottom of it all. You need to ask the right questions, give your opinion and use your expertise and then come to a decision with the client about what the brief should be. Some people have a questionnaire that they get clients to fill in to help them think about all the various aspects of the job they are commissioning. This can be a great idea and save you work later on if everything is clear from the beginning, sometimes though I am not sure a 'fit all' questionnaire will do the trick and a bit more hand holding on your part is needed.
This is the time to get busy researching. To start off with you will need to find out and learn as much as possible about your client and the industry that they are in. Depending on what that is you will probably need to find out who their competitors are and what they are doing. The internet seriously makes doing research so easy and it is usually pretty easy to find out what other companies are up to when it comes to their design and campaigns.
This is the point where you take stock of everything you have found so far. You can start refining your brief. Often clients will want to do something similar to their competitors and stay safe but sometimes it is your job to push them and challenge them and encourage them to break out of the mould and do something new and fresh that will stand out from the pack. This is usually a scary prospect for a client so it is great to really develop their trust in you as the whole process goes on.
This is the time to just let loose and come up with loads of ideas. At the beginning of this phase I just like to get down as many ideas as possible however crazy and unlikely they may seem. Part of being a creative is making connections and so often ideas can spark other ideas. After I have got everything down and out of my head and pushed it as far as I feel I can, it is good to take a break and come back to it again a day or so later. I think people (and me too) don't often totally realise the value of letting a problem percolate in your brain. It sort of hangs out there in the back of your mind while you do other things and often new ideas and connections hit you when you least expect it. When I am working on ideas for a client I usually want to present them with a few different routes to get their feedback on the initial ideas stage. The number can vary from client to client and project to project but I would say about 3 or 4 initial ideas are a good place to start. These don't have to be final designs, just enough for the client to get a good feel for what you are proposing. Getting feedback from these initial concepts can really help your client and you understand better what they like/don't like and what they are looking for.
This is where you refine your ideas and narrow down your final designs. This will often involve a bit of to-ing and fro-ing between you and the clients and it might involve quite a few iterations before the design can be finalised. It is quite likely that you and your client will have different opinions about elements of the design and it is helpful to think through which things you think are important to fight for and which are not. It is good to remember that you are the professional and the expert and you do have expertise to bring to the table that can help your client get the best solution possible. If you are fighting for some part of your design it is good to be respectful and explain your thoughts with good reasons that are backed up with research and your experience. Clients will often really respect that and take on board what you have to offer. I think sometimes as designers it is easy to give up and just make every change and suggestion that the client gives but this can sometimes be a bit soul destroying especially if you feel like it really detracts from the integrity of the design.
Now it is time to look back on all the work you have done and evaluate whether it has been successful. Have you achieved what you set out to? Did you fulfil all the 'needs' that were identified in the first stage? The evaluation can look different depending on the client and the project, but maybe you were creating a campaign to encourage more sign ups to a newsletter - in that instance the evaluation could take place over a period of time and would be assessed on how much sign up numbers increase. Maybe you created an infographic to help people understand some statistics better. In this situation it might be possible to ask for feedback from the audience. Either way it is good not to just walk away from a project and wash your hands of it immediately after it is delivered. Find out how things are working, learn from things that could be done better in the future, the evaluation stage is a great place to make sure you are gaining experience and learning lessons that will make you a better designer in the future.
I think often as a designer client work can be frustrating because you don't have the freedom to just design everything exactly how you would like and you have to take into consideration the clients opinions and ideas. Though I think when the design/client relationship works really well, the working together and compromising element of the process can often create even better results than you could have created working all by yourself. I think when that happens I know that this is definitely a client that I could work with again.
Anyway I hope reading through this process has been helpful and even if you are not a graphic designer actually thinking through these steps can be helpful whatever creative problem you are tackling. It is all problem solving after all. I would love to know if you found this post useful and if you would like me to do more design related/educational style posts.