Walking Through the Design Process

Two coworkers looking at multi-colored sticky notes

Posted by Alyssa Scarpato on June 15, 2018

Graphic design is rightfully seen as a creative pursuit, but successful designers know there are certain steps to take to end up with a solid design. The design process is all about combining structure, efficiency and creativity to come up with a final piece that you can be proud of.

Establish a Clear Process

The first step to creating a great design is establishing a well-organized process for you and your team to follow. Your piece will likely go through multiple stages of design and revision before it’s finished. It’s important to have those steps clearly outlined and keep edits neatly organized.

For one content-heavy project (hundreds of pages) with a quick turnaround, we didn’t have a lot of time in between drafts to make revisions. We broke the content up into different sections and kept them all in Google Drive. When someone reviewed a section, it would go into one folder if it was approved, or another folder if it still needed edits.

This system kept our entire team organized every step of the way, so we didn’t lose track of any sections or important revisions. If you ever have to handle a project with a tight turnaround, having a process for your team to follow will help speed things along without getting disorganized.

Conceptualize Your Design

Now that you have your process laid out and work delegated, it’s time to start with the actual design. Be sure to incorporate approved branding elements into the design and gather the right assets before you begin, such as logos and color swatches. You might come up with a really good look or cool design, but if it’s not in line with your company’s brand, it’s not going to work. From the beginning, your concept should match your brand identity.

With your brand identity established, you might find it really useful to work off of templates that have already been approved, that way you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for similar projects. The look and feel of all of your designs should be in line with the brand anyway, and using templates can help maintain that brand consistency. If you’re going to deviate from approved designs, it should be with clear intention and reasoning, such as creating a piece for a special event or for a new audience.

There will still undoubtedly be many times when something completely new is needed, however, and you’ll have to start from scratch. When I do this, I like to try three or four different layouts and just be creative in trying new ideas before settling on one. It can be a lot of trial and error, but don’t get frustrated; every new idea gets you closer to the “ah-ha” moment.

What’s in Your Toolbox?

As most design teams do, we use Adobe Creative Cloud to produce almost every design. Each program in the Creative Suite is suited to different pieces:

  • Photoshop: A bitmap/pixel-based program that is great for different digital designs, such as banner ads or website images
  • InDesign: A good option if there’s a lot of text to be laid out or for a print layout, for things like eBooks, white papers or data sheets
  • Illustrator: Really similar to InDesign, but more vector-based; you can use both programs for illustrations and logos, but go with Illustrator for vector-based assets like web icons

The Revision Process

Revisions are an extremely important part of finalizing any design work. The goal is to take the piece from a passable first draft to a rock-solid design that will truly make an impression. The purpose of this step is to build up, not tear down, so don’t be discouraged by constructive criticism; even the most talented designers can use feedback from another eye to improve upon their initial work.

When Rick, our Studio Manager, reviews one of our projects, the first thing he looks for is the overall feel of the design when it’s first opened. Then, he’ll start to weigh what he does and doesn’t like about it. It’s a two-step process: what needs improvements or adjustments, and how can we get it there? That’s where revisions are made.

Some important elements to focus on during the review process:

  • Kerning, alignment and spacing
  • Does the text (and the overall design) “flow”?
  • Does the look and feel of the design convey the brand and messaging?
  • Is central message being called out?
  • Will the audience be able to absorb the message quickly?

And before you share your design with the person or team who requested it, it’s a good idea to have someone proof it against the original content, and do a check for grammar and spelling.

Consider the time it’ll take to revise the design when you’re establishing a deadline, this way you have time to make whatever edits are needed. It might take a couple rounds of revisions before the design really starts to come together, and that’s OK.

As with any other project or collaborative effort, good communication is the key to a successful design. All revisions and edits should be communicated clearly, and everyone on the team should be able to openly express their ideas about how to make a design better. As a designer, don’t be afraid to push back about why you included a certain element, but make sure you’re also being receptive to feedback.

If you’re lacking the bandwidth for a design process to work for you, AAC can help shoulder the load. Contact us today to assess your design needs.

Alyssa Scarpato
Graphic Designer