What is the Design Process?
The Design Process is the practice of breaking down any design project into small phases. This process can be used to approach any design project. The number of phases (think fluid) and steps (more concrete) can vary slightly depending on the designer's approach, project, and client needs. Phases of the design process may be repeated multiple times during the completion of a single design project.
The FIVE (5) phases of the Design Process:
Remember a successful design takes time!
- 50% of your time is utilized to complete 95% of a design.
- 50% of your time is utilized to complete the last, crucial 5% of the design, which tweaks like spacing, color, typesetting.
Phase 1 – Design Brief
A Design Brief (aka Creative Brief) sets the tone of a design project by defining the project's scope including the creative strategy, design concept, technical strategy, deliverables, project assets, client information, budget, and deadline(s). The Design Brief uses keywords that clue the client in to project specifications like industry information, aesthetics, form, style, tone, and voice. While moving through the Design Process, it is important to regularly refer back to the Design Brief in order to ensure that the evolving design meets all project guidelines.
- Creative strategy drives the design concept. It defines what product should be developed based on the industry, market and client needs. Creative strategy starts to outline the components of the design, the story being told, and the target market. When developing a creative strategy be sure to use SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound).
- Design concept is the core idea, underlying logic, and reasoning driving how the designer will solve a design problem. In order to develop an appropriate design concept, the designer must have a clear understanding of the design problem being solved. The design concept is a framework in which the design is built, outlines the visual aspects of a design, and defines how visuals clarify messaging that resonates with the target audience. It outlines design aesthetic considerations such as color, font, grid structure, tone, image and illustration usage, composition, and format. These guiding principles drive the development of design project assets / content.
- Technical strategy is how the designer will leverage technology in the production of the design; technology decisions can range from software needs, to printing process(es), to paper choice, and beyond.
- Deliverables are the components of the project that will belong to the client at its completion. Deliverables can be a single item or a series of items. They can be digital products such as an app or specific file types like a printer spread PDF or physical products like printed brochures, pens, or t-shirts.
- Project assets are all components of a project including research, mood boards, databases, text, graphics, (illustrations, icons, photographs), media (video, animation, audio), color palettes, fonts, design development (sketches, comps, design iterations), and physical products. Asset management, which includes archiving work and file organization, is an essential skill for every designer.
- Client information could include company details, brand / style guidelines, target market, budget, and statistics about major competitors.
- Deadlines are the timetable (specific dates/times) that project phases will be completed and final design delivered. A large project might have multiple deadlines that are completed by different members of the design team.
PHase 2 – Discovery
Discovery is a crucial step in the Design Process that involves research, collection, and analysis of information that will inform the understanding of the design problem, in turn shaping the direction of the design solution. Completing proper research will allow the designer to more effectively fulfill the Design Brief and solve the design problem.
- Gather reference information keeping track of all sources including web URLs. Information can be in many forms: observation, surveys, interviews, focus / user groups, visual, data, statistics, historical, or reports. One way to stay organized is to keep a text-based document, spreadsheet, or database with information and reference images.
- Learn about the client's business, industry, target market, and main competitors.
- Dive into the history, brand value, vision, mission and culture of the company. Do they have a style guide the design is rquired to adhere, or are there particular systems or structures they have in place the design must follow?
- Discover the target audience and what resonates with them.
- Empathize to understand the problem more deeply.
- Begin to write about and visualize concepts. More on this below.
PHase 3 – Develop
Step 1: Brainstorming—Analyze the research and conceptualize possible design solutions that will fulfill the Design Brief.
- What is the design strategy and design concept?
- What is the message in writing?
- What design elements will visually communicate the design concept and message?
- Which design style / aesthetic will best showcase the project goal?
- Who is the target audience? After viewing the design, what is the take away and action they should take?
- Consider how the project will be output—print or digital (for a screen) or both?
- Continue to write about and visualize concepts. More on this below.
It is key to talk to a printing bureau and the client, early in any project in order to understand the possibilities and cost involved.
Print and Digital Cross Over
Step 2: Produce Preliminaries—Begin visual exploration and concept refinement through the production process.
- Jot down all design ideas through writing.
- Visualize concepts by using any of the following techniques:
- Write out concepts in words.
- Produce thumbnail sketches: small drawings, completed quickly in rapid succession, each one should take between twenty seconds to one minute.
- Create a mood board.
- Complete more detailed, rough sketches based on the most appropriate Design Concept. Develop these enough to be able to determine if the direction fulfills the Design brief. Consider the Principles of Design and Elements of Art.
- Generate comprehensive drawing(s): a detailed drawing that more completely showcases how the final design will look and feel.
Step 3: Design Production—Produce the design based on the comprehensive drawings and Design Brief specs.
- Compose the visual solution that uses sound design principles based on a clear understanding of the Principles of Design and Elements of Art.
- Reflect on how the design principles are being used to visually support clear messaging. This means choosing colors, fonts, composition, grid, layout, etc. that resonate with the audience.
- Use the correct tool(s), technique(s) and craftsmanship as they are key to successful completion of design.
Phase 4 – Discuss (Critique)
- Success is determined by how well a design visually expresses the design concept and clear messaging through the use of the Principles of Design and Elements of Art. Personal feelings (like or dislike) have no place in critique.
- Seek out feedback at every stage of the Design Process. Minimally, review should happen at the 10%, 50%, and 95% milestone markers.
- 10% complete: The discovery, outline, and wireframe or thumbnails should be complete.
- 50% complete: The core components of the design have started to come together, giving a very clear understanding of the direction of the project.
- 95% to 98% complete: The design is almost complete, only fine-tuning remains.
- Feedback can begin with friends, family, peers, and colleagues.
- Present the project to the client. Listen carefully to their feedback, consider their point-of-view and perspective. Take notes.
- After critique, reflect on and analyze the feedback received, make notes. Then, make decisions on how to refine and improve the design and implement appropriate changes.
Repeat the phases of the Design Process as many times as necessary in order to create a design that successfully fulfills the Design Brief.
Phase 5 – Deliver DESIGN
- Complete the final design along with the design rationale statement.
- Deliver the final design to the client according to the timetable and guidelines outlined in the Design Brief / Contract. Be sure to send the invoice, receive payment, and include all agreed upon documentation and assets.