A design process is something that most creatives are well acquainted with, but not all clients understand what's involved or how important this is. In order to deliver a well thought out design project, it's crucial to bring clients on board and make sure they are part of the process, so they clearly understand what should be delivered to them and how this is done.
What is a Design Process?
In its basic format, it’s the approach taken to break down a large design project into manageable chunks for the creative team to work on. Essentially, it is a project management process for creatives. There is dedicated time for research, ideation, critical thinking, development and reflection.
When there’s a structured process in place, appropriate time can be allocated for each stage, allowing designers the creative freedom needed to produce high quality work and secure the best results for the customer. Another advantage of a well structured and formulated process is the option to then share this with clients so they can understand where time has been allocated and the importance that brings to their project.This article focuses on a typical design process for branding or website work , but it can be applied to most creative projects.
Below are the key areas of a design process
- Define - Briefing & Goals
- Collect - Research & Discovery
- Ideate - Brainstorming & Idea generation
- Refine - Gathering feedback & Concept Selection
- Develop - Building, Testing & Reviewing
- Deliver - Handover & Launch
- Reflect - Feedback & Takeaways
Briefing & Goals
First things first, the brief is key to understanding the purpose of the project in the eyes of the client, what the main objectives and goals are with the project, why it’s needed and what is wanting to be achieved. Typically there would be a project kickoff meeting with all key stakeholders involved (clients, designers, programmers) so everyone is on the same page and key project information can be captured. If any information is unclear, ask further clarification questions so you know exactly what you are going to receive and feel comfortable that the team you’re working with fully understands your project and goals set out. It’s also good practice to agree on a realistic project deadline at this stage so that both sides of the table are working towards the same deadline date.
Research & Discovery
This is a crucial stage of any creative process and one that needs focussed, dedicated time, not to be sacrificed due to looming deadlines. The design team you’re working with will utilise this time to research and gather ideas, working towards creating the best possible solutions. During this stage, designers are looking for inspiration and getting creative, thinking outside of the box by absorbing the latest design trends, collecting ideas from different sources and industries, taking into account all information presented in the briefing stage. Competitors will be reviewed too but won’t be restrictive as we get inspiration from completely unrelated industries, products and services.
Brainstorming & Idea generation
This phase is all about getting the creative juices flowing, producing as many ideas as possible with little restrictions which can then later be explored with the client.
Every design team works in a different manner, but simple pencil to paper is usually the best way of quickly getting the initial ideas jotted down. That way not too much time is spent on creating concepts which may not make it to the next stage. As a general rule, the designer should aim to have at least 5 to 10 initial ideas.
After generating these ideas, the design team will apply critical thinking and select only the concepts they think are most relevant and impactful to fulfil the project’s brief. A good rule of thumb is for the designers to select 3 of their best concepts for refinement, ahead of presenting them back to the client.
Gathering feedback & Concept Selection
As always, first impressions are important so the creative team should be taking time to carefully consider how to present the design concepts back to clients as every client and their project brief is unique. Most concepts can be digitally shared but as the customer you should expect these to be presented back to you in a meeting (video or face to face) so the creative team can run through the context of these concepts and any additional supporting information needed.
Walking through the creative process, taking the time to explain the creative journey and providing reasons in how the designs are addressing the brief are all key in helping clients select the best concept to move forwards with. Each project is different and it is during this collaborative stage, you and the designers may select one concept to further explore (if additional work is needed). The key aim is to fulfil the project brief, sometimes the solution is straightforward, other times it takes another round of collaborative feedback.
Based on the provided feedback, the design team will then refine the chosen idea selected by the client and make it look as slick as possible. If a web or mobile application concept is being developed, it’s at this stage that a static or interactive prototype should begin so clients can provide feedback prior to any coding begins. Where possible, it’s useful for both sides to agree on the chosen imagery and copy in order to start visualising the concept with the correct context and information.
Building, Testing & Reviewing
All essential feedback should have ceased by this stage and now it’s all about getting the project developed.
If dealing with a static design like a print advert, the design agency needs to consider all artwork specifications and use only the final approved content and imagery.
If the agency is working with an interactive digital project like a mobile or web application, it’s at this point they will move into the build phase and implement the prototype presented in the previous stage into a functioning web based application.
This will be a less interactive period between the client and creative team as they will be building the code and doing their rigorous testing to make sure everything is working well before they share anything with the client. However, it’s fair to suggest that the client receives some basic updates along the way so they still feel in the loop with the progress of their project.
Handover & Launch
Once finished and all testing is complete, the completed project will be handed over to the client. At this point, the client should have a full walk through of the project so the creative team can go through the deliverables, provide any training needed to the client to empower their knowledge and answer any questions the client has so there’s no stone left unturned. Giving the client the full confidence that all they’ve requested for in the brief has been met.
Each business or agency will have their own agreed amendment period, whether that’s at different stages throughout the design process or right at the end. This will be agreed ahead of the project being signed off so expectations on the deliverables are met to a high standard and the client is fully satisfied with the outcome.
With every project there is always something to be learned, which brings us to our last point.
Feedback & Takeaways
Every project is unique and there’s always important takeaways from each project delivered for both the agency who’s completed the work and for the clients. Feedback should always be welcomed from both sides so businesses can continue to grow and improve in all areas of the process.
It’s key to get that first initial feedback straight away whilst the experience is still fresh, but agencies should also plan to reach out to the clients they work with over a longer period of time, perhaps 3-6 months post go live to see how all is performing for them. Building long lasting relationships is essential to any business and will perhaps lead to other future projects, saving time spent on having to find another agency if you know the one you’ve already built a relationship with can fulfil your business needs.
There is a misconception that having a structured creative process could waste valuable project time and time is always a challenging topic to discuss in creative projects. However, a well structured creative process will save a lot of time in the long run as it will ensure both the design team and client keep organised and stay focussed on the brief and tasks set.
Get in touch
Whether you’ve worked with creative agencies before or just started your search, we hope this article helps you identify some of the key stages that should be recommended and presented to you in your project brief. The number of stages and time spent on each stage will depend on the project and its size but these are 7 key stages which should always be considered. Get in touch with us today via our contact form or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a design, branding or website project in mind that you’d like to discuss, we’d love to hear about it!