This blog is the second part of a three-part series titled, Graphic Design Process – The Basics. If you haven’t read the first part of the series please view it by clicking here.
So you’ve finally finished all your research and now you’re ready to start the designing process, of well, design! This part of the project is where you take all the information you learned from your research and put it to use. The design process can be broken up into sketching, initial comps, critiques, and revisions. This is often the most time-consuming part of your project as it contains the majority of the work. Here is a breakdown of each step of the process:
Though it might be your natural reaction to go straight onto the computer, I strongly suggest you start with a pen and paper first. The problem with going to the computer first is that everything can look finalized quickly. Although you might create something that looks visually appealing, your designs will most likely lack any sort of strategy or reasoning. When it comes time for your design critique, people will ask questions that you won’t have a solid answer for.
By starting your designs with rough sketches, you have no limits or constraints that you may have on the computer. By working with small thumbnail sketches, you will be able to explore a wide variety of ideas quickly. I also suggest working with a thin-point marker and paper thick enough so that the marker doesn’t bleed through. Most people assume pencils work best for sketches, but I often find myself smudging the paper or erasing a lot of stuff. By using a pen instead, you get to see your thought process as it evolved. It also helps you save time by not going back and erasing stuff to make your sketches perfect.
What’s a “comp”? A comp, or comprehensive, is designer lingo for a draft of your design. These are higher fidelity than a sketch, but lower fidelity than a prototype. In design school, your final project could be considered the prototype. The comps are everything that comes between the sketches and the final. These comps will be done on the computer and will evolve over the course of your assignment.
Using your mood and style boards, you should start drafting out a wide variety of directions of your design. The key here is to design them quickly and to keep moving. The worse thing you can do is to get focused on one design and try to perfect every single detail early on in the design process. Trust me, we’ve all been there and made that mistake. More often than not, this will lead to you only having a few directions that don’t work. In my experience, the design you think is least likely to be a favorite ends up being the class favorite. I don’t know why it works out that way, but at the end of the semester, it all makes sense.
It’s also important to believe in what you’re doing. Don’t design something simply because you need more directions. Actually put some effort and thought into your designs. As I’ve mentioned before, don’t spend a long time on it, but working fast doesn’t automatically mean your work will be amateur.
It’s a good rule of thumb to have a minimum of five directions on your project. This is a rough number and depending on the type of project you’re working on, it can change. If you’re working on something like a book or app, you should have your five directions and 3–5 variations of at least 3 different screens within each direction. This means that you will have a total of around 12 designs per direction with a total of around 60 different designs. What!? 60 designs!? This might sound crazy and impractical, but trust me, it always pays off in the long run.
The idea is to get as many ideas out as possible. Therefore, any bad ideas you have in your head get out on the table early in the process so that the remainder of the semester can be spent on perfecting the details of your project.
Critiques are going to be the strongest tool you have as a designer. This is the process where you present your comps to either your teacher, class or both in order to get feedback on what to fix. Since this is such an important and crucial step in the design process, I have a dedicated blog called, Everything You Need to Know About Critiques, which is definitely worth the read.
Using the feedback from your critique as a guideline, you should start fixing the parts of your design you feel are not working as best as they can. I say to use the feedback from your critique as a guideline rather than set instructions because I feel it is up to the designer to judge what should or shouldn’t be changed. Keeping in mind that you’re still learning, you should still have control over how your project turns out. This is especially true for 1st or 2nd-year design students, but a lot of the time the feedback you get from your peers is often personal preference or not thought out. Take everything your classmates say with a grain of salt and focus mainly on the feedback from your instructor.
I like to think of my instructors as my clients. At the end of the day, their opinion is more important than how I feel about the design. You should also keep in mind that they will be the ones grading your work, so make sure to design it in a way that will satisfy them.
*Note: There will be rare occasions where your instructor gives you bad feedback. It will be obvious to see because the odds are the entire class will receive bad feedback. My suggestion is to do what the instructor is telling you to do in your designs and spend the entire semester trying to work with their feedback. At the end of the semester, go back and redesign anything you feel isn’t working. I would also suggest talking to the department head about that particular instructor.
Since designs are meant to be used by people, whether it be an app, website, brochure, menu, etc., you need to make sure it functions. Functionality and purpose is the difference between design and decoration. If your design doesn’t do what it’s designed to do, then you have a serious problem that needs to be fixed. You can do this by asking your friends if they can find any problems with your designs. Problems can be things like icons being too small to touch, brochures not reading the way you intended, confusion on website layout, the list goes on.