The Creative Design Process
The creative design process is more than the deliverables. If you’re a designer or if you’re hiring a designer, this post is for you.
Have you ever wondered why your logo cost $5000 when all you received was a simple vector file?
If you’re a designer and you’re having trouble charging higher amounts for your work. This post is a reminder of everything you do to arrive at your final design.
Some designers neglect the hours of thought, research and scrapped designs. A lot of work goes into arriving at the perfect place for your clients. To give your client the best of you, you have to be fair to yourself.
Starting with the end
When you look at a finished design, be it web design or framed surrealist graphic, it evokes emotions. Making a distinction between beauty and function is important.
Not all designs are the same or intended for the same purpose. A graphic created to evoke emotion is different than a graphic designed to help you take action. The creative design process should start with the end in mind.
In a web design, ease and simplicity make the best design. The less you think about what you’re looking at, the more effective it is.
When you look at a surrealist piece, you expect it to make you feel. It’s framed and hung on a wall, deliberately. The artist wants to get your emotions flowing. You’re supposed to get lost in it, think about it and appreciate the elements.
Art and design are all part of one group. Both are designed to inspire and evoke emotion. However, the type of inspiration and the kind of action, the end goal, is different.
Taking a trip through the mind of a designer
We’ve all heard stories of the creative muse who transfers ideas to the artist. There is a magical bond. It’s romanticized and made beautiful by our idealist love for a story. Art is romantic. A design is intentional.
There is a distinct creative design process all artist have. This design process is unique to them. A muse doesn’t inspire it, and it’s hardly romantic.
The creative design process is frustrating and arduous. Ideas are born from the agony of thought. The torture of discovering something for the first time, every time.
A designer is an artist with intention, we all have our subtle differences. However, for the most part, the creative design process goes like this.
- First, the designer talks and listens.
- Second, the designer thinks and explores
- Then creates and discards
- Then draws and erases
This process happens over and over again until you have art, design and a message. An idea that hopefully captures the attention of its intended audience. It sounds simple but it’s rarely ever that easy so let’s dissect this a little more.
The Creative Design Process Phase One: Listening and Talking
The beginning of the creative design process is crucial. The designer has to understand the client. Not just her version of what the client is saying. She needs to create an understanding and a rapport that will help them create clarity. In essence, the client is the muse.
Listening to Your Muse
For the designer, it’s all about understanding the clients’ needs. Asking questions both of the client and of themselves is critical.
- How will the client use the graphics?
- Who will see it?
- What is the intended message?
Every question asked in the listening and talking stage is purposeful. In the end, the client and the designer will have an understanding. Ideally, there will be clarity about the needs and requirements of the project.
You cannot give the client the best solution until you fully understand the problem. Creating empathy, putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. As a designer, this can help you better grasp the desired outcome.
Seeing Beyond a Pretty Picture
Often clients will come up with an idea and bring it to you for the sole purpose of making it real. That’s okay but is it really what they need? Is the intended outcome possible with the design you’ve been commissioned to make? It’s difficult to move a client once they’ve become emotionally attached to an idea. It’s the designers’ job to give them options.
Creative Design Process Phase Two: Research
When the designer reaches clarity on the client’s needs, the second phase of the design process starts. When the designer has a good idea of clients needs, the message and who they want to receive that message.
Phase two of the design process starts with questions about the market.
- How has this topic been covered before?
- How does the end user interact with the design?
- What symbols will evoke something in the intended user?
- How can it be conceived for better usability, stronger emotion, and a stronger desire for the product?
Research is a process of collecting information and ideas. Research is reading, observing, analyzing and taking note of relevant information. Then sorting through the elements that will help make the final design better. Create a richer and more meaningful experience for the intended audience.
Research brings valuable design insights that will carve out a direction for the project. This second phase of the creative design process will help facilitate difficult decisions. Possibly, it will create a seed of inspiration.
In this phase, a designer will develop an understanding of what graphics in the particular field should represent. The designer will look at what competitors are doing. To identify how they will separate your design from everything else to stand out in the market.
Most importantly, research gives meaning and understanding about the design solution. It will help the designer set project goals.
Creative Design Process Phase Three (A): Creating
Brainstorming designs and initial sketching are the next steps. Brainstorming is where the magic happens.
A sculptor starts with a slab of stone a designer starts with sketches. Creating sketches and idea dumping are necessary. The essence of the design will come together here.
Most often, the designer creates and discards several designs before they have an interesting idea. Brainstorming or idea dumping is the space where the designer gets lost in the project. The creating phase is the evolution of the project. From trash and junk (my design terms) to something that inspires.
A design rarely just happens, it evolves.
The creating process can be internal, meditative and focused for some artists. For others, it’s play and fun. Loud music, dancing to get the creative juices flowing. Everyone is different. Inspiration is different for everyone. This article from 99U has some more in depth ideas on boosting creativity if you find yourself stuck.
I typically find myself in a meditative state when I design. However, if I feel stuck, I go to the opposite side of this and blast music, move and get my creative juices flowing. There’s no one way to work through creativity.
As a designer, I find it necessary to push through the first phase of creative. It’s challenging and frustrating but set aside a few hours for uninterrupted brainstorming. Then take time away from the project to give the brain some time to process everything. Often an idea will spark when I’m doing something completely unrelated.
Creative Design Process Phase Three (B): Creating Checkpoints
Get your clients feedback
It may not feel comfortable to show your clients unfinished work. Showing them sketches of two or three rough ideas will give them the opportunity to critique your design. Giving the client insight of your direction for the project tells you you’ve gone in the right direction. Remember, this is a partnership. There’s no point creating the full graphic if the client hates the concept.
Fit in some check in points with the client. Make sure they understand what point you’re at, so they’re not expecting too much. The client knows more about their industry, target market than you ever will. They live it every day try as much as possible to get this knowledge into your designs.
Creative Design Process Phase Three (B): Creating Checkpoints
Once you have a design, you and your clients are happy with I typically start refining the design. I start working on details, technical issues and improve the overall layout. At this point, you will create a polished and cohesive final design.
When the design is complete, I typically present the final product to the client. I always include advice on proper use of the final work.
- logo, marks, sub-marks, and variations of the logo with examples
- Types and sizes of images for a particular web design.
- Aesthetic elements to keep the design cohesive
- Possible templates for various aspects of the site
This advice is necessary to maintain the design as close to the intended look as possible. I’ve seen people put up beautiful blog themes and use the wrong images. It ruins the whole aesthetic of the design. They look beautiful, but the aesthetic ‘s hard to maintain. It ends up looking chaotic.
It’s important to note that there is more to design than the final product. Your clients are not buying a website or a logo. They’re buying the complete process the designer went through to arrive at that final design. The client is investing in a symbol and representation of their company.
Your client pays for a design process, not only for the result. The money invested is for the creative design process as a whole. The deliverable is a simple representation of that. The best solution among many that will send the message the client wants to get across.
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