Pros Provide a Behind-the-Scenes Peek at Their Graphic Design Process
By Will Erstad on 12/14/2015
Everyone has a process. Whether it’s your morning regimen or how you make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, we all enjoy having a familiar routine. After all, practice makes perfect.
It’s only natural for a graphic designer to have a process as they take on new projects. A graphic design process can help keep designers and projects on track. But where do you start when trying to develop a process?
We asked graphic design gurus to give us a sneak peek at their process and offer advice to new designers. Keep reading to learn their insider insight.
Pre-production: The brief & research
For many designers, the key to a smoothly executed project lies in the pre-production stage. This is your opportunity to gather crucial information about the project and client while also setting expectations and timelines.
Jacob Cass, owner of JustCreative.com, says pre-production is vital for setting the stage for an entire project.
“A smooth design process stems from clear communication as soon as the client relationship starts, as well as a detailed contract” Cass explains.
The contract can be your lifesaver if properly structured (this guide from AIGA is a great starting point) as it will legally protect you from excess revisions or other forms of what is essentially unpaid work.
This phase of the graphic design process isn’t just a matter of finding out what the client wants in the final deliverable. It’s also important to establish a timeline and a review or revision schedule as well as gather other important information about the client and the overall project.
Researching any prior work completed for a client can also be a significant help, according to Joanna Lundeen, graphic designer at Collegis Education.*
“Research what they currently have in the market—not only design, but messaging in general,” Lundeen says. “You can gain a lot from studying the tone of voice they use.”
The past brings some valuable insight into a project, but not all clients want the status quo. To address that, Lundeen recommends asking the client who they want to be and their vision for the company or brand.
Production: Drafting & client reviews
Now that you’ve got a lot of the business end of things out of the way, it’s time for the fun part—actually designing something! You’re ready to apply what you’ve learned about the brand and the project and start doing some rough sketch work. But how much is too much? For Cass, the amount of time spent sketching can vary from a few minutes to a few days depending on the project, but it remains an important step.
“A lot of my sketches will seem like scribbles to anyone who looks at them,” Cass admits. “However, it’s more about getting my ideas onto paper.”
Once you’ve got your rough ideas laid out, it’s time to start producing some initial designs in a digital format and present them to the client. But how many designs or concepts should you present?
"A lot of my sketches will seem like scribbles to anyone who looks at them."
The number of concepts you present will depend on the project and with whom you’re working. For instance, a new business will have several different styles to explore so the number of concepts you present should reflect that.
The key is to provide enough options for the client to feel like they’ve got a choice, but not so many they become overloaded. Lundeen says in most cases she sticks to two or three concepts so as not to overwhelm a client with options.
“Don’t be surprised when they don’t choose one but rather choose parts from each concept and ‘Frankenstein’ them into one idea,” Lundeen warns.
Next in the process is gathering client feedback. This can be a frustrating experience if you don’t know the best way to approach it. Rick Tuckerman, owner of ZoomIQ, says a common misstep from young designers is a lack of confidence in their designs.
“Most of the young people I’ve hired do not appreciate the need to sell their work,” Tuckerman says.
Because of this, he says it’s easy for designers to get sucked into a ‘merry-go-round’ of revisions that could potentially be avoided. For Cass, the contract prevents this and leads to a sort of ultimatum—either choose one of these options to focus on or expect to pay more for additional work.
Lundeen adds that providing a design rationale with your concepts can help a client understand your point of view and hopefully result in more thoughtful feedback from a client.
Post-production: The hand off & beyond
Now that all of the heavy lifting and revision work has been completed, it’s time to hand off the finished product. That should be simple enough. Just send the files of your completed work over and pat yourself on the back for a job well done! But is there anything else to consider?
Well, for one, not every client knows exactly what to do with the files you send them. Lundeen suggests including any documentation with design rationale as well as recommendations for logo, font and color usage. While you’re not obligated to help with every question a client may have at this point, your help could leave a positive impression and lead to more work from the client in the future.
Another point to consider is showcasing the work you’ve done for a client on a personal portfolio website. Before you rush to add it to your site, be sure you have permission from the client. This may vary depending on the language of the contract you sign. Building that in from the get-go is one way to sidestep potential issues after the fact.
Now you’re a process pro
Now that you understand how professionals handle their graphic design process, you should have a stronger understanding what is most important to consider and how to best work with a client.
Establishing a solid graphic design process is one often overlooked lesson that can be learned while earning a design degree. Discover 7 other things self-taught designers don’t know they’re missing.
*Collegis Education is the marketing vendor of Rasmussen College.