Hello World.My name is Ben.Simply stated, I am a Graphic Designer. I love, love, LOVE Graphic Design. It defines such a large part of who I am, and I just can't imagine doing anything else with my life….except for being a trust fund baby.Kidding. Passion?I have it.Talent?Born with it (thanks to The Big Guy Above).Skill?Always working to improve it. This is my calling in life, and I humbly accept.
So anyway, I'm the new guy here at lifeBLUE Media, and I'm just thrilled to be here to do my part in taking this fine company to the next level.One thing I have been commissioned to accomplish here at the LB is to define, refine, and implement an effective creative process.Yes!But wait…uh…what exactly does that mean?
The term "creative process" may sound a bit like an oxymoron.Most people think of "creative" as being free-flowing, unrestrained, and whimsical.While this certainly can be the case, in relation to effective commercial Graphic Design…eh, not so much. And the word "process" seems to evoke feelings of rigidity, confinement, and order.So how can you put a process in place to be creative? Doesn't that just happen naturally?
In order to better understand this, I think it might be helpful to talk about what Graphic Design is…and isn't. I'm always surprised at the varied responses I get from people when I tell them what I do. It has led me to believe that a large portion of the public doesn't really understand what a Graphic Designer does, which is completely understandable. Adding confusion is the immediacy of computers and extremely accessible design software programs that lead people to believe that any guy or gal with a copy of Photoshop is a designer.It's all just the push of a button and the click of a mouse, right? Again, not so much. I'm not here to tell you that Graphic Design is something so super complicated and deep that people just can't understand it. Quite the contrary. But because it touches so many aspects of our lives and because the professional tools are so easily accessible to the general public, it's easy to see where the confusion comes in. We are so bombarded with Graphic Design in our society that I think it becomes a part of our lives that we are not all that aware of.
Simply put, Graphic Design is visual communication. It is not mere decoration. It is an applied art, not a fine art. A designer skillfully and strategically (we hope) uses a variety of visual elements such as photography, illustration, typography, layout, etc. to effectively (we hope) convey a message, usually to a specified audience. A Designer takes the intangible and ambiguous nature of a concept or an idea and turns it into something we can look at (and sometimes pick up and touch) and quickly "get it." Most of the time, the Designer is also responsible for coming up with the concept to begin with…and it's got to be memorable, have impact, and be on target too! A good designer doesn't design something to look cool just because he or she can; there is well thought out reasoning and execution behind every design (we hope). Our visual communications take many forms, such as websites, advertising campaigns, magazines, book covers, brochures, billboards, logos, business cards, letterhead, stationery, posters, product packaging, signage, annual reports, and on and on and on. Phew!
While the creative process is not rocket science by any means, it is constructed of a few crucial steps that, when followed, will ensure the best possible outcome of solid creative that communicates well…and that's really what it's all about. What you definitely DO NOT want to do is jump straight on the computer and start designing in the digital realm--this is a total rookie mistake. Bad designer! Bad!
Basically, you can break the creative process down into three main stages or steps: research, thumbnails, and comps. Let's delve a little deeper, shall we?
BUT WAIT! It's pretty crucial to understand a few things first: what is being designed (a logo, an e-commerce website, an email launch, a brochure?) and what is the project's budget.These things will help to dictate an overall focus and a time line for completion of the project and for the various stages within. Seems fairly logical, right? I could go into more detail here, but I shall spare you.
So now that we know what we're doing, we need to really, really understand who we are doing it for. This is where our first bit of research comes into play.At this point, we need ask lots of questions and gather as much information about the client's brand as we possibly can. This is the fact finding stage.Who is the client? What do they do?Who do they do it for?How do they do it?What makes the client unique?Where is their business now and where do they want to take it?Who is their competition?Basically, we need to have all of this relevant information (and more) before we can make the best decisions with our creative direction.
From here, let's continue with some research, mmmkay?Once we have a pretty good handle on who the client is, we need to learn what we can about their industry as a whole.What's it all about?Who are the key players? What is the competition doing well and what are they doing poorly? What are our client's key differences from the competition?
With all of this information now gathered, documented, and processed, it's time to start with some serious George W. Bush style "strategery."Yes!The design team takes all of the variables learned in the client research phase and uses that information to establish a vision, or write a creative brief.This document or plan will usually consist of things like the project summary (scope of the project), an audience profile, the client's perception and tone to the marketplace, a communication strategy, and competitive positioning.Basically, this is mapping out how we will get the client to where they need to go. Probably a good idea at this point to share the design brief with the client to make sure you're both in the same page.
Let me just throw in a little side note on all of this really quick.For smaller clients and/or smaller projects, this all may seem like overkill.That may be true, but it's important to always try follow some semblance of these stages of the process…even if the client research phase means simply reading through the client's existing website or collateral, or the creative brief only consists of a few sentences or bullet points.The point of all of this is to be thorough in your approach and to get all of the facts before making decisions.Remember, the end goal is to produce powerful and impacting creative, and to do so you need all of the facts up front.
We're not done being thorough just yet.We've done client research…time to do some design research.Fun!The creative thought process really begins here in doing design research.Let's go back and take a look at creative that's already out there in our client's market space.Let's look at some design annuals, design blogs, and design oriented magazines to get the creative wheels turning.Research should not be limited to just Graphic Design resources either--look at architecture, fine art, nature…there is no limit. Let's get inspired!All Designers pull inspiration from other designers and artists and the world around them.It's true.Not only is it true, it's the right thing to do.Immerse yourself in the wonderful world of art and design, always keeping your creative brief in mind to help your research maintain focus.So spend some time doing design research, yeah?All good Designers are doing design research pretty much daily anyway, because we're design nerds and we derive pleasure and satisfaction from it.(Did I just imply that I'm a good designer? I think I did…but I also just called myself a nerd.)
Okay, now comes the fun and challenging part.We've done our client research, we've established a vision and mapped out our plan with the creative brief, we've done design research, and now it's time to put the pencil to the paper by creating some thumbnail sketches.This is where true creative conceptualization is born.Think of this phase on jotting down loose ideas on a napkin, loose being the key word.The idea is to get the creative juices flowing; no idea is a bad idea at this point.This isn't about drawing skills or tightly rendered art.It can be, and usually is, some form of chicken scratch that means something only to the designer as a reference point for an idea.That's all that matters.Thumbnailing isn't a time to make practical design decisions such as color choices and font selections--this is pure conceptualization and should be utilized for generating ideas.I could back up a step here and talk about word lists or mind mapping as well…and so I shall. Most of the time, before I even begin with the thumbnails, I will make lists of words or phrases that can be associated with the client's brand.This helps to get me focused before even beginning with thumbnails by identifying potential concepts by use of words alone.
Just how many thumbnails should I create, anyway?The answer is plenty, or enough.Sometimes, when all of the stars are aligned and the gravitational pull of the moon is just the right amount to foster maximum creative potential, my first thumbnail will be my best idea.But even if this is true, more thumbnails need to be generated to test the strength of the first idea.As a design student, we used to be required to produce 40+ thumbnails on a regular basis.That's not easy.I find that I usually do not produce quite so many in a real world situation, but it's important to not rush through this phase and to do your due diligence.Work it out!Because no amount of fancy design work later on down the road can compensate for a lousy concept.
Another important step in this phase, and through all the phases of the creative process, is collaboration with other team members to help you realize your best ideas and weed out the weak ones. I think most Designers crave validation through feedback. I know I do. And so many times a team member will help you expand on an idea, or help you realize that you may be heading down the wrong path.No Designer should live on a desert island of design.
Now that you've done your due diligence with the thumbnail process and collaborated with your team to select your best ideas only, you're ready to move on with your life. A lot of the time, I will do some pencil roughs of my best three or so ideas just to tighten them up a bit and provide a clearer picture before moving on to computer comps. Pencil roughs are a step up from thumbnails, but not as tightly rendered as comps. I don't think roughs are always a necessity though. Just depends.
Next, walk over to your Mac and turn it on. Because surely you haven't been using the computer up to this point, right?Well, only for your research phases. Now is the time to put your Adobe suite to work. But ONLY if you have a clear picture of where you're going. Let me be clear about something--there is, and should be, plenty of room for exploration during the comping phase. Rarely do my comps turn out exactly how I envisioned they would during the thumbnail phase. Things change. Ideas evolve. Not always do concepts translate to the medium you're working in just as you originally thought they might.So be flexible…but don't veer too far off from your original ideas either, or else you'll end up spinning your wheels and wasting valuable time.Generate enough comps to exhaust all possible design options in your allotted time, but it's not a good idea to present everything you've done to the client.Collaborate with your team to narrow it down to the top three designs.This may, and probably will, take some back and forth of going back to the comping phase and making edits and changes.Make sure you are remaining true to the concept you decided was best in your thumbnail stages.Think about how many comps you want to present to the client.I think presenting anything more than three is usually asking for complications and frustrations. Sometimes it may be best to show only one comp.Again, just depends.
Once you have some solid comp work done, it's time to present all of your hard work to the client, and this is where I will bring this lengthy blog entry to a close.Presentations and client revisions are a whole other topic and entry.
I hope what I have done is to help clarify why, as Designers, a creative process exists and something of what that entails.There is a lot of work that goes into any good design, but any good designer will make it look easy. As a result, most non-designers don't realize what goes into it. But there is a method to our madness.We do have well thought out reasons why we design the things that we do.We work hard for the clients of the world.We put passion and energy into our creative work.It drives us and motivates us.We thrive on it!Well I've said enough. I could go on, but I'll shut up now.