Great graphic design doesn’t happen by accident. When you see a business that has quality visual assets in place across their brand, you can be sure they worked hard to make that happen. There is a process that must be completed in order to come away with the kinds of graphic design outcomes that will serve your business well for years to come.
Unfortunately, simply plugging in the same design process that is used by another company won’t always work for your needs. The way your process works should be customized to suit the needs and constraints of your operation. With this article, we’d like to outline the basic steps of how a design project should move along, while still offering you the freedom to adjust this track to better suit your requirements.
In the design process, it all starts with the brief. If you are not familiar, a design brief is a document you create early in the process to provide a design with all the information they need about a given project. Some organizations will create design briefs to help with the hiring process, while others will prepare them after a designer has been chosen.
Writing a great design brief is a topic all its own but know that this document should contain everything that is relevant to the job at hand. Points to highlight include –
- Goal - What is the desired outcome of this project? What kind of work should be produced at the end of the job? This point needs to be as clear as possible, so everyone is on the same page.
- Timeframe - Another important point is the turnaround time that will be required for the project. This is particularly important to include if you have not yet hired a designer – the timeline you request will impact whether or not some designers are able to bid on the job.
- Company overview - For a designer than has not previously worked with your business, it’s important to provide some basic information on what your company does, what your brand represents, etc.
- Inspiration - Do you have previous designs that you would like the new designer to use as an example of what you like? Or perhaps graphics/logos from other businesses that they can use as inspiration? Provide these in the brief to give the project a starting point.
The importance of the design brief cannot be overstated. Putting significant time and effort into the creation of your design brief can go a long way toward avoiding headaches later on down the line. It’s tempting to shortcut this piece of the puzzle just to get started, but you’ll regret that later. Respect the value of a good brief and you will be rewarded with a lower-stress design process.
The First Concepts
With a comprehensive design brief in hand, your designer should be ready to get started. Unfortunately, this is where many projects take a turn for the worse. Some business owners simply send the designer off to work on the job and don’t check in again until the final product is due. This is a huge mistake.
Yes – your designer should be taking the lead and driving this project toward completion. No – that doesn’t mean you can just ignore the project and assume it will meet your expectations at the end. This needs to be a collaboration along the way if you are going to love the results.
A good way to get started is with the designer providing some initial ideas or concepts for you to review. These aren’t going to be fully-realized designs – not even close. In fact, they might not be visual at all. It could just be some notes from the designer on what he or she is thinking for the project. This is the perfect time for you to provide your input and feedback to make sure valuable time isn’t wasted going in a direction that you won’t like in the end, anyway.
Bringing the First Ideas to Life
With a little bit of back and forth, you should be able to settle on a concept with your designer that everyone likes. At this point, it’s time for the designer to actually create something visual. At this stage, you’ll get to see if the ideas that have been spoken and written are going to properly translate into something that could become your final design at the end of the project.
To better understand this stage of the graphic design process, let’s use the example of designing a new website. Bringing ideas to life in website design often takes the form of something called a ‘wireframe’. A wireframe is basically an outline of what the site will look like when it is completed – but no graphics or colors will be in place at this time.
For a website design project, reviewing a wireframe is a great way of seeing what the completed work will look like without waiting weeks or months for it to come to life. In fact, your designer might be able to put together a wireframe for you to review in a matter of hours once the brief has been reviewed and general concepts have been discussed.
Whether a wireframe is the right step for your project will depend on the design being produced, but the concept applies across the board. No matter what kind of project is at hand, starting out with a basic design that takes minimal time to prepare is a smart way to progress.
Preparing a Full Draft
It is at this time that you can finally turn things over to the designer and just sit back and wait for them to deliver some work. You’ve done the initial back-and-forth steps necessary to lay the groundwork for the job. Now is the time to allow the designer’s creativity and experience to shine through. With the proper preparation, and a little luck, you should be impressed with what you receive for this first full draft.
That is not to say that what you receive for a first full draft is going to be something you are ready to approve and take to market. That outcome would be unlikely. Instead, there will likely be things that you want to change, and that’s okay. Expecting perfection on the first draft is a recipe for disappointment. As long as the designer gets close to the mark on this first try, you can work together later on to hit the bullseye.
This stage in the graphic design process will be mostly hands-off for you as a business owner – and that could be a nice change of pace. It can take a lot of work to get a design project up and running, especially if it is something major like a website build or redesign. So, while the designer is off working on the job, you can focus your attention elsewhere for the time being. Depending on your relationship with the designer and your level of trust, you might want to check in periodically just to make sure things are still coming along.
Draft Review and Feedback
This is an exciting time in the lifecycle of this design project. With any luck, your designer will deliver their full draft on time and you will have an opportunity to review their work. It’s one thing to see a mock-up like a wireframe to give you an idea of what the design will look like. It’s something entirely different to see it come to life and gain an understanding of what it can mean for your business.
One important word of caution is this: don’t react to the first draft too quickly. Allow it to sit with you for a couple of days before you provide any meaningful feedback to the designer. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and say, ‘I love it!’, or ‘I hate it!’. Most likely, your true feelings are going to be somewhere in the middle. Give yourself some time to think it through carefully so you can provide measured, constructive feedback rather than just an emotional response.
As you are reviewing the design and thinking of what changes you might like to request, pay attention to these key points –
- Colors - These will be key in almost any design project, and they are going to be one of the first things you notice when you take a look at the completed draft. Fortunately, colors are typically an easy thing for a designer to change, so don’t hesitation to ask for alterations on this point. You might want a shade of blue to be a little darker, or a green to be a little lighter. Whatever the case, use your review process as a chance to get the colors just right.
- Branding consistency - Does the draft look like it fits with your overall brand persona? It should be pretty close if you took the time to develop a detailed design brief. Even with a good brief, however, there might be some adjustments necessary to make sure this design fits in with the rest of your branding.
- Level of quality - This one is hard to define, but you will know it when you see it. Ask yourself this question – is the design something you will be proud to display on behalf of your brand? It’s hard to build a brand that earns attention and respect, and you don’t want to risk anything you’ve built by putting out a sub-par product that represents your company. It might be possible for the design to sharpen some things up and pay attention to the finer details if the first draft doesn’t quite match with your expectations.
Only when you have taken your time and carefully thought about your feedback should you send along notes to the designer. Remember, he or she worked hard on this project, and it can be hard to hear criticism. As long as you are respectful and clear with your feedback, most designers will be happy to adjust the work to line it up with your needs.
The Revision Process
The way revisions play out in the design process is something you will hopefully address upfront in a contract between you and the designer. The terms of any revisions should be accounted for in the contract so there are no ugly or frustrating disputes at this stage of the game.
For instance, your contract may allow for two rounds of revisions, each one being completed in five business days. If further rounds are required, those may be billed at a specified rate until you as a business owner sign off on the job. Of course, this is just an example, and revision clauses can take on many different shapes and sizes. By dealing with this initially, everyone is in agreement on what work will be done in these final stages.
Project Completion and Implementation
It’s time to celebrate! When you sign off on the job as being completed, you will have your new design in hand and be able to implement it into your business. If this was your first time working with this designer, you can discuss with them whether or not you’d be interested in sending them future projects. And, if any payment is due upon completion, that will need to be made at this time, as well.
While this is an exciting time, it’s important to remember that the implementation side of things could be another challenging project of its own. That’s not so much the case for something like new ad designs, which can just be added to your rotation without any trouble. But the implementation of a new website design can be a tricky task, and one that takes plenty of time and effort. So, if your design project is for a new website or another piece of tech, have a plan ready to move right into implementation once the design is finished.