How I work as a designer

Chris Lane / Business, Design / / 1 Comment / Like this

This is an explanation of how I work for design. It can generally be applied to any sort of design, but I’ll talk more specifically about designing logos, since that is a specialty of mine. So after the project has been discussed and the agreement is signed and the down payment has been paid, this is what I do.

Brainstorming and Mind-Mapping

The first step is just generating ideas. I start with the very basic, generally the name of the business or what it does, and think of absolutely everything that has to do with that industry. This stage is very fast moving, with lots of ideas in a short amount of time.
A mind-map is like a diagram of connecting bubbles with words or phrases inside. Here is an example of a previous job for a computer repair company:

tech WALK logo mind-map

I create mind-maps on paper. I have tried on the computer, but it just slows me down. So as you can see in this example I start with a word, then branch out to other words and branch out to yet further words, and so on. This can go on for as long as it takes. There is no set end and no absolute goal. It is simply an idea generator. If there is something that comes up that is particularly inspiring, I will only slow down to star or mark that word and maybe focus my branching in that section. I will occasionally doodle little illustrations at this point, but not much.
Once I have exhausted my ideas through mind-mapping, I will pick out the best words or ideas from it and list them or organize them in some way. If I need to expand on something in particular, I will do it at this point. This stage generally takes an hour to a few hours. Then I move on to

Research

I start this with whatever information I have gathered from the client. I will look first at what the business is, whether it be for design for a medical company or a computer company. I see what they do, how they do it, the process, and whatever else it takes to get a good working knowledge of what I am designing for. Next, I will look at direct competitors, generally those that are listed by the client. I will see how they advertise, be it logo, web, or print, how their products or services differ. I am looking for an edge for my client, something that I can promote that makes them a unique individual.
I also look at a multitude of branding campaigns and logos from a myriad of companies that are similar or have the same name. This way I will have a unique design or idea for a logo or advertisement. This step is very important, as neither the designer nor the client wants to copy anything else out there. That can lead not only to lawsuits of copyright infringement, but also lost revenue, a whole lot of time wasted and headache. The research stage can take a day to many weeks depending on the client and their business.

Sketching

Now that I have a better idea of where I am going, I start in on the sketchbook. This is when ideas really start to come to life. I will sometimes do a round of sketching in the brainstorming stage also, but this sketching stage is where things are much more firm. I take my strongest ideas that I organized at the end of the mind map and try to think of all the visual aspects of those ideas. Much like mind-mapping, this is still very rough and very fast. It is simply getting ideas on to paper. There really is no order to a sketch page, as I doodle things out randomly on the paper wherever it fits. It is important to be free in this stage, as nothing is shown to anyone, including the client (unless you do a process blog post that is). Drawing skills aren’t really that important either, as long as you can understand the concept of what you are trying to accomplish.
If this is for logo designs, I draw mini sized rough logos. If it is for a brochure design, I draw thumbnail layouts. Details are figured out later. Fonts are figured out later, but I will draw a general typographic layout and draw the letters in a general form be it script, block letter, serif or sans serif, etc. I will usually fill up a full sketchbook page or two with ideas. After I think I can’t come up with any more ideas I let the whole thing sit for a little while. The initial sketching process can take a couple days, as I will sometimes go back to the page with fresh ideas. The thing with ideation is that your brain can come up with totally different things at different times of day, what food you are digesting, your mood, how the day is going, the weather, or anything else really. Sometimes it is ‘on’ and sometimes it just isn’t. The job of a professional designer is to force that muse into the open, whereas an amateur will just go with their first idea or wait and wait and wait until something comes up. Not to say that those people won’t have good ideas too, because everyone does at some point, but designers should be problem solvers within a budget of both time and money.
I let the ideas rest for a day or two before coming back to it. This is to kind of clear my head and try to remove any bias from any particular idea I had. This way I can look at it with a mindset more like a client’s objective point of view. Though I don’t actually cross out any ideas, I mentally cull any of the bad, generic, clichéd ideas on the page. I look for what I think are the three strongest ideas and take them to a new blank page. With those ideas I flesh them out further with more detail. I draw them larger and flesh out the font choice more clearly and tighten up the layout of the whole thing. This detailing stage will only take an hour or two if it is a logo design, probably longer for a larger project.

Computer Design

Depending on the client or project, I may show the initial concept sketches to the client for approval before moving on. Otherwise, it is on to the computer. I will transfer my sketched idea to be a working digital design. At this point, I may have a personal idea of color choice in the logo, but it still does not come into play for the project. For other types of projects, web design, or print design, I may start working with color, but logos are a different animal. Logos should be successful just as a black and white mark.
For logos I will design it in a vector program, namely Adobe Illustrator. Many amateurs will use a bitmap program like Photoshop, but this is a drastic mistake. Very basically, vector design can be resized to any scale without problems, whereas bitmap design can be made smaller without too much issue, but runs into problems very quickly when made larger. I will go into more detail on this in a later post.
For layouts like brochures I use a layout program like InDesign and for web pages, I generally design in Photoshop and either subcontract out the writing of html and css code or do it myself.
I try not to work too long at this stage, because it can still have major changes. So I get as much of the design done as required to do the idea justice, and then bring it to the client for the

First Review

This is generally the first the client sees of their project. I will give a brief explanation of the idea, present them on a webpage and wait for the client’s feedback. Now, generally, I present three concepts, but it may differ depending on the agreement at the beginning of the project. With these initial concepts, the client can say what they like or dislike about the ideas and I will work from there. In the off chance that they don’t like any of the concepts, depending on the agreement, I will offer other concepts at an added cost. Thus far, that hasn’t happened.

Color

So, once I have the comments and critiques, I move ahead with the final design. This is the time that I make all changes and work at completely finishing it up. All the final details are tightened up, kerning and other spacing double checked, triple check spelling and all those sorts of things. Finally, I introduce color (for logos). I will generally give three different colored concepts to the client with this near final version. I talk with the client on what different colors can mean and why I chose what I chose and then see what their thoughts are.

Finalization

From here, I take any comments the client may have and any other design changes that may have been noticed and give a true final colored version. There still might be some minor changes, but at this point it should be almost fully finished. Usually, with a logo project I give two rounds of revision after this point, if the client has any further concerns. If there are revisions needed past whatever was in the agreement, then those are charged extra.
Once the final project has all been approved, the client makes the final payment and I deliver all necessary files.

I hope that gave a clear idea on how I work as a designer. If you have any questions, feel free to send me a message or write in the comments below. And if you are looking for a designer for any project from advertising to logos and branding to web pages, use my contact for hire page to start the conversation.

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