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Graphic design creative process

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To be a creative graphic designer or developer has its ups and downs. You might be a god with Photoshop and Illustrator or possess mad skills with CSS and JavaScript but, without the ability to harness your creativity and imagination your talent will go to waste and lesser - but more organized - creative mortals will get more visibility and consequently more jobs.

Having a concise, clear creative process will save you time and money allowing hard work, experience and intelligence to get you through the job.

The need of a process

Many of you probably already have a creative process that you follow but you might never have formalized it in detail. By deconstructing the way you do things and modifying your technique where necessary you will not only be able to improve your consistency but also you'll be able to time plan your work more effectively and maybe even raise the quality of your work.

Ensuring that your work is not only artistically great but also commercially viable is crucial nowadays and it can be archived through a more effective and sophisticated communication. By focusing on your process you have the chance to analyze what works and what doesn’t emphasizing the best of you.


Developing your own process

First of all you need to examine what it is that you do or what it is that you’re expected to do on a particular job.
Were you hired to be a creative able to think out of the classic concepts or, on the other hand, you are needed to be more of a craftsman in order to build something conservative and simple? These two extremes, and everything in between, have different creative needs and therefore different creative approaches.

A good flexible process will allow you to work with varying levels of creative freedom, in almost any medium, with almost any style and within a myriad of other situations that might be placed upon you.

Focusing on one aspect or another of your process, from research to planning to execution, can guide your own thinking toward your creative goals without having to significantly modify your overall approach.

Creative process: A sample

Here’s my process; sometimes it takes months, sometimes minutes, but I always stick to the same basic guidelines.

I need to create a proposal for a hypothetical client who wants to open a pizza shop. He needs a range of designs that are able to convey his messages about his products through different media.


Briefing the Project with Your Client

This is the initiation stage and will help you understand what it is that your client needs.

A graphic designer is therefore expected to begin by gathering as much information as possible directly from their client regarding their expectations, their company's mission, vision, and goals, as well as their products or services.

Thereafter, the designer needs to go beyond the surface level of what the company does and dive into the benefit for their customers so that this critical component can be translated in the resulting designs.

Research before Design


There are plenty of ways to research for your design project. Personally I love to collect as much general information as I can on the subject, be it product or service, through Wikipedia. This allows me to come up with ideas that I can categorize depending on both the client’s and my needs.

Normally there are three specific questions about the client’s business that are always the same.

What are the client’s business goals, values and brand equity?
Who are the competing brands?
Who is the intended audience?

It may seem that all of this does not apply to you, or your project, but it does. This introductory research is vital for every designer to make the project a success.

Example of a Specific Project

Let’s say that the client makes and sells pizzas directly from the oven to his clients, aims at expanding the business and uses only organic and farm fresh products.

To begin with it is possible to verbally describe the design direction you think is most appropriate to represent the business, by choosing precise adjectives and phrases.

AIn this case this could be: "Only Wood Oven Pizza" ; "Only Organic Ingredients from Sustainable Agriculture" or again "Artisan Pizza with Premium Products". Is up to you to come up with as many descriptions as possible.

When a pizza business is small and local, the main competitors will other private businesses that offer the same or a similar product within the same area but that does not mean that, indirectly, they are also competing with huge franchisers such as Pizza Hut, Papa John's or Dominos Pizza.

Some research into the different ways different size companies do business, could already help you come up with some great ideas. For example, the following are two very interesting articles to read:

Italy's pride genuine food.
The pizza industry annual report.

Knowing the kind of consumer one want’s to appeal to is the key to turning a mediocre marketing campaign into a ROI driving machine.

To understand this, you need to ask yourself three questions:

Who are the potential consumers?
What do they want?
What would motivate them to buy from my client?

Once you can answer these questions, you can tailor your value proposition to be relevant, and eliminate the pieces that aren’t important. It is important for the company to have a solid grasp of the target audience age, gender, income and interests. Brands that have excelled in their marketing campaigns and have surpassed these basics, also understand the importance of the motivation behind a purchase. The design will vary depending on the target audience and is our duty to deliver as many ideas as possible based on their characteristics.

A worthwhile read, that includes information about the target audience, is “55+ Questions to Ask when Designing a Logo”.

Sketching Visual Concepts

As graphic designers, we think visually. It's a good idea to develop visual concepts that reflect the objectives and outline of the brief.

Collect images relating to the aims of the project. I personally have many places from which I can get ideas. Dribble, Behance, Designinspiration, Pinterest and Abduzzedo are just some of them.

Is also good to create a mood board to present to the client:

Creativebloq mood boards.

Presenting Ideas and Getting Feedback


A creative using professional judgment should be able to filter our various ideas and designs and retain the most relevant ones.

Present the work to the client with your preferred method of communication. Justify each design with the research you have previously gathered and wait for the feedback. The quicker you receive the client’s feedback, the better you can keep the creative momentum flowing. It's a good idea at this point to confirm the next date and time of communication.

I like to make sure the feedback is always written. If you get a face-to-face, send a follow-up email stating what occurred in the meeting and ask them to review it a final time, just to be totally clear there were no misunderstandings.

Follow the scheme: Gather - analyze - visualize – deliver and repeat this process as often as necessary.

This repetitive process narrows the focus over its timeline. As information is gathered, assessed, and visualized, the space in which the solution can be found, narrows.

Final delivery and production


A well-defined, systematic procedure, nails down the project with a guarantee that all the parties involved are fully satisfied with the result. Remember, whenever there is more than one party involved in a decision, it is a matter of give-and-take.

There is no hard and fast rule as to what “system” works best. What works well for you may not be the best method for another. Try to come up with your own methods that will make your end product most effective.

These stages are a just rough guide from which I develop designs. My method is personal and it adapts with flexibility to the different projects and briefs I take on. Developing a solid design process may seem like a pain, but it will help you evolve throughout your creative career, as it is doing for me.

Technology, as a tool, is constantly changing and there will always be new platforms for various stages of the creative process. If the process you’ve developed is working, then by all means stick to it, but constantly reviewing and refining your technical knowledge and skills, will help you to “stay on the crest of the wave” and to work more productivity and creatively.

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