The Graphic
Design Process

The goal of the Graphic Design Process is simple: help you to work faster and come up with better solutions. While there are variations*, nearly all graphic designers follow some form of these 4 valuable step:

  1. Communicate

  2. Research

  3. Ideate

  4. Finalize

While this process is sequential, these steps often overlap throughout this entire creative process (e.g., a designer communicates with the client at nearly every step of to confirm they are heading in the right direction).

*Note: While similar in many respects, the popular Design Thinking process has key differences from the Graphic Design Process. To explain, graphic design is a client-based field of design with differing constraints, terminology and workflows.


Communicate

Abraham Lincoln once said:

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

By effectively communicating with a client - before designing anything - a designer can save themselves a ton of time and better assure that the client will like their work.

This communication can take different forms, but typically involves either a: questionnaire, survey, or interview - sometimes all three. While these inquires can get very specific, the goal is to form a clear picture of the client’s business and their design needs by determining:

  1. Who the client is (their business, competition, audience, etc.).

  2. What exact work is needed. (the specs, scope, deliverables, etc.).

  3. When they need the work (timeline stages and final due date).

  4. How the stages of work and compensation will be handled.

This critical project info is compiled into a singular, defining document known as a design brief.

But while the design brief helps guide the rest of the process, communication remains essential at every phases of the Graphic Design Process.


Research

 

Every client is different.

Some have a clear idea of what they want from the start. Others need to see multiple solutions. Others need a strong explanation and rationale before committing to a solution.

But in all cases, research is a hugely beneficial step as it helps:

  • Clients to hone in on what they really want (fonts, colors, etc)

  • Designers to come up with better solutions.

To these ends, a common research method is the creation of a moodboard - made by the client and/or the designer.

A practical example: for a monogram, this might include visiting:

Google (monogram image search)
Logobook (letters section)
Dafont (use custom sample field)
and other related sites.

As the client or designer explores related content, whenever a font, color, style, etc. resonates with the client and/or designer, they screen grab it (cmd+opt+4). This might be 20-40 images spanning a wide range of content.

The collective images are then dropped into an app like gomoodboard that provides a visual reference for the client and designer to get on the same page and come up with ideas.

And by the end of the research phase, the designer should have a much clearer idea of what to design - and be ready to sketch and ideate some solutions.


Ideate

Ideation is an art and mini-process unto itself. It is typically made up of 2 steps that are repeated over multiple rounds:

1) Ideating - sketching solutions. These sketches are not be polished works of art - just quick references for concepts.

2) Selecting - deciding which solution(s) work the best. A designer might eliminate some on their own, but this often involves considerable conversation with the client.

And then the crucial bit: the designer doesn’t stop here.

With a solution selected, they enter into a second round and ideate a new range of new solutions based on the selected solution.

The point? With each cycle of ideating and selecting - the solution gets stronger and better - until the designer eventually reaches the best possible solution.

As an example, imagine a startup toy company, “Cube Heroes”, looking for a simple logomark (symbol).

The questionnaire and moodboard reveal they want to use a combination of a rounded rectangle and star - and they identified colors they prefer.

But that’s it. So here ideation comes to the rescue.

Round 1: Ideating shape combo options. Note: for a real project, this might be more than a dozens solutions.

id-1.jpg

Round 2: With the centralized star options selected (#2), the designer moves to the color options shared in the moodboard.

id-2.jpg

Round 3: With the light and dark blue colors selected (#1 and #2), the client wants to see a range of “playful” stylistic options that evoke a sense of both “fun” and “hero”. So back to ideating . . .

id-3.jpg

The client loves the 3D star with extrusion (#4), and the designer is (almost) done.

Hooray.


Finalize

Now that the client has selected a solution they really like, the designer has just one last phase to go through.

Finalizing refers to a checklist of industry-standards that vary from media to media - and that the Design Dojo covers in the individual project pages.

But each type of media usually requires:

  • Clean up - removing unneeded points, smoothing curves, etc.

  • Prep - outlining fonts, cropping, scaling, etc.

  • Export - saving files in the proper format(s) for print or screen.

But after going through these few finalizing steps, at last, the project is complete.

Files are sent.

The client is happy.

The designer gets paid.

There is great rejoicing.