What's your usual design process?

Discussion in 'Design and Graphics' started by Blue Velvet, Jun 4, 2006.

  1. Blue Velvet Moderator emeritus

    Jul 4, 2004
    It's always interesting — to me, at least — to hear of how others go about their work and the approaches they take with their clients to get a piece of artwork out the door.

    My situation is this:

    I work for a large UK-based national charity as a print designer with the occasional web button or banner thrown in. Within the building, there are also a number of semi-independent groups that have their own funding structures in place and also have different branding requirements. Overall, there is a huge internal demand for flyers, promo and display material, reports and paid-for publications.

    However, my internal clients are — through no fault of their own — usually ignorant of the publishing/design process and often stipulate absurdly short lead-times and tend to provide copy that is either extremely wordy or riddled with errors with the hope that amendments can be made further into the design process.

    So the way I usually work is this: Once the job is booked in, I know what the print budget is and when I have my hands on the final text, it's a matter of laying out the copy first as it's usually a tight fit, and after the copy is nicely-fitted that goes back out for a proofing while I start working on any graphic elements and images that can slot in around the copy. These are usually heavily-modified or manipulated images from our image library with the occasional illustration or render done in Illustrator or Carrara.

    There are never any comping stages or presentations to internal clients, there isn't the time and luxury for them so it helps keep you on your toes, essentially designing the first or second decent idea that comes into your head. Typical design times for a 4pp flyer to press might be 8-12 working hours.

    This is one of the reasons I'm usually reluctant to post any of my work here as it's usually compromised by timescales and other limitations. Occasionally, there are the design-led projects that have fewer limitations and where the boat can be pushed out a little (e.g. the organisation's Xmas card).

    What kind of work do you do and how does your creative process usually work?
  2. ATD macrumors 6502a

    Sep 25, 2005
    I do two different types of work with two different timescales for the movie industry.

    One of them is collateral type of work, anything from popcorn bags to lobby standees to screening invites. This stuff is for the most part based on pre developed campaigns and is done very quickly, an hour or two. Lots of emails and phone calls but few late nights or weekends doing this. I may show a few comps on each but these comps are in fact finishes done at high res, there is not enough time to work out low res stuff then do high res. When a client oks the work it's often just before it's due to the printer. The work generally comes out good but I don't show much of this work because it's in large part relaying out an existing campaign, not much to take credit for.

    The other type is development work, ideas or finished art for a campaign. The timescale is different, less minute to minute phone calls and emails, the work is measured in days not hours. However it's generally a case of can you do 5 days of work in 3 days. This is where my long work days and working weekends are spent. Three times this year I did 5 back to back 18 hour days to meet a deadline. Lots of Friday late afternoon calls to start a project and have it done for Monday morning. And the projects goes on and on, many big budget films start working out campaign ideas a year in advance, sometimes up to 2 years ahead of time. What comes out as the campaign in the end is often the tip of the iceberg of the amount of ideas and finished art produced. Never quite enough time to do it right but plenty of time to do it over and over and over again. I'm going to be showing some new work soon, stuff I started on last summer that's just coming out now. It's been a good year.

  3. VeryReadableBil macrumors newbie

    Jun 6, 2006
    San Diego
    Managing the work

    Blue Velvet,
    What a good question.
    I was once a creative director for a small group, so dealt with the kinds of situations you're in.
    What I think I learned was this: once a project is badly sold, you're stuck, there's little you can do. By badly sold, I mean too cheaply, too tight a schedule, whatever.
    The key is getting the stuff right before you're stuck with it, and that means doing something the graphics people generally don't (don't like, don't want) to do: manage client expectations.
    For example, start to get their cooperation by doing what you do best: a little piece of paper you can give them with the job that says something like: "I would have liked to have done a better or more elaborate job on this, but to meet your schedule, there just wasn't time." Then spell out what you would realistically like to see: a day or two on a flyer, etc. or whatever it is. You could do a "Product Sheet" listing a bunch of the usual stuff, and headed "How You Get the Best Service and Results" giving time lines, always encouraging the clients to be thinking ahead (point out holidays coming up for which they're had projects in the past, etc.).

    I hope this helps.

    Bill (http://www.veryreadable.com/pilgrims.html)
  4. mactastic macrumors 68040


    Apr 24, 2003
    My timeframe for designs is much longer, but then again I'm not doing graphic design, I'm doing buildings.

    Thankfully, budgets are still determined by those above my pay grade. I'm usually handed a project where the scope of work is fairly clearly determined. I start with the schematic design phase, where rough sketches suffice. That can take anywhere from 2 to 6 months depending on the scale of the project (or longer, but not for anything I've had on my desk yet). This entails spending lots of time with the owner, making sure they're getting what they want; and lots of time with the various consultants to make sure we can provide spaces for all the equipment etc. This phase usually culminates with some pretty sketches for the client to hang their hat on so to speak.

    Then we move to design development. Sketches start getting turned into CAD files. Consultants are asked to provide preliminary layouts for all the mechanical, electrical, civil, technology, etc. systems that the building(s) will require. Spaces are allocated much more rigorously at this stage. Once this phase is over, the design is essentially set. Only minor modifications are allowed without contractual penalty.

    Then we move to the ConDocs phase, where the nitty gritty is hammered out. Sheet files are created, details drawn, codes met and exceeded. At the end of this phase a set of drawings and associated specifications are produced that will permit a contractor to build the building.

    Thus we move to the Contract Administration phase, where the building is constructed and contractors besiege me with questions about discrepancies in the plans.

    Fun stuff eh? It's a wonder anyone wants to do this...
  5. ATD macrumors 6502a

    Sep 25, 2005

    I agree with you there, sometimes you can get stuck into that, but the way I go about it is to prove it to my clients by putting in extra work and showing them how much better something can be. Once and awhile I'll take the project above and beyond what was expected without charging more. I will let them know given extra time (money), this is what we can be doing. No, this doesn't work all the time but I find it helps more than it hurts. It shows you are willing and able to take it up a notch, sometimes clients will think what you have been giving them is the best you have until you show them otherwise.

  6. frankblundt macrumors 65816


    Sep 19, 2005
    South of the border

    my work plan has changed immeasurably over the time that i've been doing web sites, as i've slowly come to grips with the realities of what's required.

    Now, before I begin anything in terms of development, I make sure the brief is right. Understanding of the web environment is generally abysmal amongst traditional marketing types and their briefs tend to reflect that.

    So I sit down with them and get them to work out a matrix of desired customer groups and the web needs of each group. They are so used to push media, telling consumers what to think, that forcing them to turn that around into a customer focused approach can often be quite refreshing. Once they have that set, they have to clearly outline what they want to achieve from the site, still from the customers point of view - what the customer will do as a result of the visit that will be of benefit.

    Once they have all that i can more or less leave them alone to work out the details of what content, in what hierarchy, needs to appear on the site. This way, they more or less design the site structure themselves and come up with all the content.

    With that done I can start work on the layout, structural elements, text hierarchies and employ designers to come up with the colour schemes and "feel" to support it (I've learned also though this career that I'm no designer).

    The final build is the easy bit (if often also the most grinding), which is good, because it progresses quickly enough to keep everyone excited and happy.

    It's not fixed in stone, as there are always projects that come up where you need to turn it around quickly and "just do this", but even with these, if i'd been stronger and enforced my "way" it would have probably worked out better and taken less time.

    Large parts of this progress have been driven by reading in areas not necessarily directly related to web design - Edward Tufte's books on data representation are as applicable as they are gorgeous, and a book whose author i forget called "the inmates are running the asylum" about software design revolutionised my approach to the web.

    I work for a large corporate, which although stultifying in it's small-mindedness and glacial in its ability to move forward, is vast enough for weirdos like myself to slither through the system with a degree of autonomy sufficient to explore my realm as I see fit (as long as it doesn't cost so much as to cause alarm).

    It's an interesting job, combining some of the love of systematics i inherited from my entomologist parents, with a bit of puzzle solving coding, some pot psychology, social justice and pure aesthetics. And I can work from home most of the time.
  7. XIII macrumors 68040


    Aug 15, 2004
    I'm not a designer or anything, but just found this thread interesting looking. Especially the post I have quoted, and some of the others, are a really interesting insight into the kind of design work people actually do. Just thought I'd say that. :eek: Thanks.
  8. princealfie macrumors 68030


    Mar 7, 2006
    Salt Lake City UT
    I do freelance art by myself. Shoot reference photo and then overlay trace with creativity there... that's about it :)
  9. 7on macrumors 601


    Nov 9, 2003
    Dress Rosa
    Well I'm a student working at the campus Publications department. Stuff like posters, brochures, and on campus flyers and the like.

    My process generally goes :
    1) Read MRumors forums
    2) start a new illustrator doc
    3) Read Digg.com
    4) Draw a square in Illustrator
    5) Read Engadget
    6) Save illustrator file
    7) start back at one and repeat.

    nah, but during the summer that's pretty much the routine. Summers are so boring as no jobs are needed done till August. And this summer I'm one of 2 students working so there are less jobs than normal. Sigh. Normally I wouldn't come in and "work" when there are no jobs but I need the money. Esp. after buying a car and a macbook. As students we're paid by the hour from the university, not by the clients ("clients" here are most likely club presidents and they only have to pay for printing). During the semesters work is pretty much normal and I try to sketch out ideas as I get them.
  10. iGary Guest


    May 26, 2004
    Randy's House
    That was freaking hilarious.
  11. iGav macrumors G3

    Mar 9, 2002
    My situation is this:

    I'm a interaction and motion designer, usually a freelancer... though I do stints in consultancies too depending on the client and project. Though I'm currently making small steps and dipping my toe into product design.

    It really does depends greatly on the project... but I'll give an outline to an Enhanced CD-ROM project (Chart or EPK) as it's probably the simplest thing I do (and I'd be here all day detailing the process behind even the most basic motion graphics project for example. heh).

    Once I get the p/o and spec through, the record company bikes over a promotional CD of the song, a DV/Mini DV/DigiBeta tape of the video, and any packshots, artwork or digital files.

    The turn around on these projects is usually relatively short 9-12 hours from receiving the content to biking it over to be be duplicated, though I usually have a timeframe of 3 days for the project, by turning it round in a day, you're optimising what is essentially a small budget job, which is usually in the £1500-£2000 region.

    The first thing that I do is watch the video to get an idea of any possible aesthetic, unfortunately (and has pretty much always been the case) the cover artwork is usually art directed by another design company, usually one that hasn't bothered watching the video for creative direction, so occasionally it might require a balance between incorporating the feel of the artwork into any animation and interface design.

    I then encode the video, not all that long ago this would take hours to do... now it's significantly less than hour, which is dandy... because you can then incorporate elements from the video if required into the interface or animated sequences.

    I'll usually work on 3-5 concepts designs of the interface, and storyboard any animated sequences that might be required, these are then emailed to the client for selection and approval. I'll receive an email approving a design (though normally with small changes) within the hour.

    I then set to work laying out the interface in Photoshop ready to be cut up and saved as .PNG files, working with .PNG files give me far greater creative possibilities for the interface and animations over other formats such as GIF's for example because of it's superior transparency abilities alone.

    I then start building the backend in Director, now depending on the project I have a basic generic E-CD template that I've built that has nothing other than basic functionality of Play/Pause, FFward/Rewind, Volume controls and the ability to double the size of the video. WIth the majority of the backend already built it's then simply a case of importing all the artwork files and media content.

    However, if the spec outlines a more complex product, then I'll build that from the ground up. Back in the late '90's and early 2000's engaging, mouse responsive interfaces were very popular, anything such as this is usually suitably complex and requires a greater degree of planning and of course time dedicated to building and developing.

    Likewise if they're any animated sequences, then I usually build these in either Director, Flash or After Effects depending on the complexity of the animation required.

    Once I have a complete and working version of the E-CD, I'll then run it locally off the HD to make sure that it works, any issues are sorted and then re-checked, I use this as a potential timesaving stage before Q/A.

    I'll then save the file as a .dxr (Directors secure format), this file is cross platform and works on both the Mac and PC.

    I already have assembled 3 projectors files (OS 9, OS X and Windows) these projector files are required for the E-CD to work on each platform, they also contain the QuickTime detection script, which not only checks that QuickTime is actually installed on the computer, but also checks for the very latest version, I usually use whatever the latest and greatest codec is to ensure the best possible video quality, and as such... it usually benefits from having the latest version of QuickTime installed, a copy of the standalone QuickTime installer is included on the CD-ROM for both Mac and PC.

    I'll then burn the CD.

    I'll then rope in anyone in the near vicinity to Q/A it on a Mac and PC. Any potential problems at this stage are then identified and if required rectified back in Director, I'll then burn a second CD and a second Q/A takes place (which is rare, because of the extra stage of running it locally of the HD, which usually catches any issues).

    The E-CD is then signed off, and is then biked over to either the record company or the duplicators and then I go to the pub. :D
  12. decksnap macrumors 68040


    Apr 11, 2003
    I work as a print and web designer at a small advertising agency. Our workflow is often very squishy, but usually goes like this- Get the creative brief from the Account Exec, begin brainstorming concepts. Concepts move to pen and paper, where ideas are beat around and nothing is too stupid to put up on the wall. From here, we choose a few good directions to move to the computer. The client is usually shown two to four concepts depending, and we may work in teams to flesh out the multiple ideas.

    Once a concept is approved, we craft and mech the project. Note that here is the golden point of the project- we've gotten buy-in on the concept, and we've laid it out beautifully.

    Now it's time for the client to destroy all hopes that this piece will ever be worth admitting to designing! Here is where we usually 'make the logo bigger', 'make the type bigger', fill in any empty spots or negative space ('let's put another picture in there!'), add about ten extra last-minute paragraphs, drop in the high-school yearbook photo of the client's company exec, etc. etc. We call this the 'souring point'.

    From here on in it's quite the downward spiral. Then it's off to press, or the www, and we never have to look at it again.

    Good times. Of course it's not always like that. Just enough to keep you permanently filled with low-level aggravation. :D
  13. jaysmith macrumors regular

    Aug 13, 2005
    its interesting to see what the working world is like with graphics, print and video. i'm just a student but i've always wanted to know more about what goes on in the workplace.
  14. ATD macrumors 6502a

    Sep 25, 2005

    Sounds like a few places I've worked at. ;)

  15. CanadaRAM macrumors G5


    Oct 11, 2004
    On the Left Coast - Victoria BC Canada
    frankblundt, I think I love you a little bit™ ;)

    I've been banging that drum for sooooo long... Nobody EVER wants to do the hard work of deciding who they are REALLY talking to and what precisely they need to say. Have to drag them kicking and screaming...

    And half the time, they are still arguing one week before deadline on a 6 month long project, and you're still in the the position of saying "$*% it, I'll have to decide what they need" and hope they adopt it after the fact.
  16. frankblundt macrumors 65816


    Sep 19, 2005
    South of the border
    I loves you too Porgy :) One of these days I'm going to buy some Mac-guaranteed RAM, just for you.

    My brother has the exact same issue with developing demo apps for a mainframe language he works on. It seems to be strangely rare in organisations over a certain size to find anyone who actually remembers who their customers are, let alone what they want. And don't get me started on focus groups... (the book by the two nongs who came up with MSOffice Paperclip is a case in point).

    One of the good things about doing stuff for the web is that you can track the effect changes have on visitor stats, which can on the odd occasion provide some gratifying "Nyah nyah" moments (suitably translated into corporate-speak, naturally).

    He found the "inmates" book (by Alan Cooper) extremely helpful also. Sometimes it helps to know that at least some people out there agree with you, even if it's not the people you work for.
  17. toaster_oven macrumors regular

    Jun 7, 2003
    not sure
    the profession of architecture has been skewed more towards deliverables than focusing on the design process. If the client saw value in the process of design, there would probably be less crappy buildings built. they just don't seem to understand that we can't just come up with the building after their first meeting, it is a lot of back and forth...

    there's a great post on design observer about spec work and the design process:


  18. freeny macrumors 68020


    Sep 27, 2005
    Location: Location:
    Doing the stuff that actually pays the bills doesnt take much thought after 15 years. Its all pretty much process now.

    I have been trying to get back into my illustration work that I stopped doing 3 years ago for lack of time, studio space where I could work and the birth of my son.

    My old work was adult erotica rated "R" to "XXX" based and I made a small but livable income from this.

    This time around I plan on working in a more rated "G" to "PG-13" subject matter.

    Getting back into this has forced me to reinvent my wheel and revisit my creative process.

    Its very different from illustration to illustratration but usually consists of innitial brainstorming. Strangely enough I find that clearing my mind of the thoughts of the project spawns the best ideas. Eventually something will just pop into my head. This unfortunately sometimes takes a while, a week or two. Sometimes the ideas are immediate.

    After that there is lots of sketching and referance gathering. Pieces evolve as I work and I find that working on the computer now lets me be more versitile when it comes to changes mid project. My old airbrushing techniques were very unforgiving to changes.

    In the end the piece rarely looks like what I originally pictured...
  19. mactastic macrumors 68040


    Apr 24, 2003
    So true. Your average client is willing to shell out big bucks for CM work, but not for design time.

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