For the inexperienced designer, starting a new project can be intimidating. Whether you’re a recent graduate, or an office worker delegated to creating in-house materials, the design thought process is something that gets overlooked in training.
Some new designers may be lucky enough to be given bits of advice such as “Don’t use too many fonts”, or “Make sure you Spellcheck your documents”. Unfortunately, the majority find they are just expected to know what to do. Then when mistakes are made, the designer is left asking “Why didn’t someone tell me about this sooner?”
That’s what I’m here for. As a seasoned designer, I would like to pass along some tips to consider before you tackle a new design challenge:
- Ask yourself some questions.
After meeting with the client to discuss the goals of the project, sit down and plan your strategy. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What do you want to say? Decide what information should be included.
- Who do you want to deliver the message to? Identifying your target audience will help you decide what elements might appeal to them.
- Which format will I choose? Pick a format that will best suit the delivery of the message. Will the audience respond better to a poster, a flyer, or a billboard?
- What is the information’s order of importance?
Highlight and emphasize the most important information. This is what should be most prominent in the layout (usually the largest in size and near the top of the page). Information that is less relevant should be minimized (or ask if it can be eliminated altogether).
- Don’t start your concepts on the computer.
Sketch out some rough ideas on paper. Scribbling some lines and boxes to indicate size and position can be an effective way to get a lot of ideas out quickly. This process also helps strengthen the designer’s creativity. When you find an option you would like to explore, move the design to the computer. In some instances, you may discover that the rough idea doesn’t work out like you had imagined. That happens to everyone at some point! Not to worry – there’s usually another sketch that can be refined to accomplish what you were looking for.
Check out the sketches I found from my college days! Nothing fancy here, but you can get a feel for the layouts that are suggested.
- Avoid designing for your portfolio.
Graphic design is a communication tool – so don’t forget the message that needs to be delivered! A good design is more than just an aesthetically-pleasing layout. Don’t get me wrong! It’s very important, but not when it becomes the designer’s only concern. Stay focused on the client’s expectations. Be certain that you have a clear understanding of the project’s goal to ensure the design decisions you make reinforce the message, not negate it.
- Don’t push it!
Following design trends is one thing, but trying them out on the wrong client can be risky.
New designers may rely on copying something they’ve seen elsewhere. Don’t worry about being on the cutting edge if you don’t know what your client expects. Concentrate on the client’s goal first.That new technique may be something you want to try out, but this project may not be the one for it. Once you develop a solid business relationship, you can present more innovative solutions to the client. In the meantime, file that idea away for another project.
I’ve viewed plenty of design portfolios and would rather hear the designer discuss the thought process behind an average design, than hear how fun it was to design a trendy piece that didn’t get any response.
- Think about the end result before you start.
Know how the final piece will be produced. There’s nothing worse than going through the whole design process only to find out in the end that the piece can’t be reproduced as it was designed. Check the printing specifications for the vendor that will be handling the project. They may have specific requests that need to be kept in mind (spot color vs. process color, bleed requirements, and output settings).
Keep these tips in mind before you start your next project. Don’t be the designer that focuses all his/her attention on the design and forgets the actual intent of the project. Your clients want the finished piece to look professional, but as business owners, they’re probably more concerned with the response rate it will bring.
Just remember this: A happy client will be more inclined to look to you for repeat business. Continue to build their trust in your work, and watch your portfolio grow!