The Graphic Design Process

young designer discussing with custmer in cafe

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The Benefit of the Graphic Design Process

There are steps of the graphic design process to follow that will help you to achieve the best results. Rather than jump right into the design when you get a new project, you can save yourself time and energy by first researching the topic and understanding exactly what your client needs.
Then, you can begin finalizing your content. This will start with simple sketches and brainstorming, which is followed by several rounds of approval on designs.
If you take the proper approach to your graphic design work, you and your clients will be happier with the final product. Let's walk through each step in the design process.
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Gather Information

Before you can start a project you, of course, need to know what your client needs. Gathering as much information as possible is the first step of the graphic design process. When approached for a new job, set up a meeting and ask a series of questions about the scope of the work.
Aside from the exact product your client needs (for instance, a logo or a website), ask questions such as:
  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the message?
  • How many pages is the piece?
  • What are the dimensions?
  • Is there a specific budget?
  • Is there a deadline for completion?
  • Can the client provide examples of designs they like?
  • Is there an existing corporate brand that needs to be matched?
Take detailed notes, which you can refer to throughout the design process.
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Create an Outline

Using the information collected in your meeting, you will be able to develop an outline of the content and goal of the project.
  • For a website, including all of the major sections and the content for each.
  • Include the dimensions and technical specifications for print or web work as well.
Present this outline to your client and ask for any changes. Once you have reached an agreement as to what the piece will look like and received approval of the project's details, you can proceed to the next step.
Note: It is at this time that you would provide a proposal to your client as well. This will include the cost and timeframe for the work and any other 'business' details. Rather than discuss that here, we are focusing strictly on the design aspect of the project.
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Harness Your Creativity!

Design should be creative! Before moving on to the design itself (don't worry, that's next) take some time to think about creative solutions for the project.
You can use the client's examples of favorite work as guidelines for what they like and don't like, but your goal should be to come up with something new and different that will separate them from the rest (unless of course they specifically asked to fit in).
Ways to get the creative juices flowing include:
  • Brainstorming: Get together with a group and throw out any and all ideas.
  • Visit a museum: Get inspired by the originals.
  • Read a book: Something as small as a color or shape in a graphic design book could spark a completely original idea.
  • Take a walk: Sometimes it's best to get outside and watch the world because you never know what will spark your imagination.
  • Draw: Even if you're not an "artist," doodle some ideas on a page.
Once you have some ideas for the project, it's time to start creating a structured layout.
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Sketches and Wireframes

Before moving into a software program such as Illustrator or InDesign, it is helpful to create a few simple sketches of the layout of a piece. You can show your client your basic ideas without spending too much time on design.
Find out if you are headed in the right direction by providing quick sketches of logo concepts, line drawings of layouts showing where elements will be placed on the page, or even a quick handmade version of a package design. For web design, wireframes are a great way to start with your page layouts
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Design Multiple Versions

Now that you've done your research, finalized your content, and gotten approvalon some sketches, you can move on to the actual design phases.
While you may knock out the final design in one shot, it's usually a good idea to present your client with at least two versions of a design. This gives them some options and allows you to combine their favorite elements from each.
Quite often, you can agree on how many unique versions are included in a job when writing and negotiating your proposal. Too many options will lead to too much unnecessary work and may overwhelm the client, which may frustrate you in the end. It's best to limit it to two or three unique designs.
Tip: Be sure to keep the versions or ideas that you choose NOT to present at the time (including those you might not even like). You never know when they'll come in handy and the idea may be useful for future projects.
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Be sure to let your client know that you encourage "mixing and matching" the designs you provide. They may like the background color on one design and the font choices on another.
From their suggestions, you can present the second round of design. Don't be afraid to give your opinion on what looks best. After all, you're the designer!
After this second round, it isn't uncommon to have a couple more rounds of changes before reaching a final design.
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Stick to the Steps

When following these steps, be sure to finish each one before moving on to the next.
If you conduct solid research, you know you can create an accurate outline. With an accurate outline, you have the information necessary to sketch out some ideas. With the approval of these ideas, you can move on to create the actual design, which once revised, will be your final piece.
That's much better than having a client say "Where's the Logo?" after the work is already done!

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