creative process

Design Process / 1


This week I was asked to share an example of my design process with a small group of design students at The Starter League. As I was going through my work, I tried to look for themes or important steps that I felt would be beneficial to discuss, especially for someone just starting out. The one that stuck out to me the most and something I still continue to work on is the importance not falling in love with your first design and the need to continue to refine ideas over and over as they develop. There have been so many times where I sit down and start designing for hours at a time, and I land on a concept or design and say “THIS IS IT. It’s so good.” Sometimes I’ll put it up on dribbble or show my peers and wait for them to pat me on the back and confirm my intuition, that it’s a great idea. The funny thing is, every time I do that, I’ll go back a few hours or days later, look at it, say “what was I thinking?” and realize how many things I need to change and that it’s really NOT that good yet. Or sometimes I’ll get a comment from my husband saying “I don’t get it” and my world falls apart. I think to myself, HOW could he not get it?! This IS it, it’s the best possible solution to the problem, NOT.

Like I said, more often that not, your first idea is not your best idea, but – sometimes it can be. However, in order to know and trust that an idea or design is the best it can be, it’s so important to refine, design 100 other options even if you don’t think they’re right, and stay openminded. This way you can say with confidence that whatever idea you land on (even if it ends up being your first) was the best and right option. Here are some little pointers I try to keep in mind as I’m going through my own creative process.

TRY EVERYTHING – Even if it ends up not working, it’s SO important to try every idea you think might be maybe, sort of, kind of, an idea. This way, if a client, or a professor, or a peer says “that looks great, but did you try it this way?” you can say yes, you did and it wasn’t working. Or yes, you did but you felt this concept was stronger. Even if you don’t show all of those ideas in your final presentation, it’s important to go through the process on your own so you can better validate the conclusion you came to. They can be as simple as a quick sketch or as complex as a complete layout, whatever works best for you.

GIVE THINGS TIME TO BREATHE – Every time I start a new project, I always make sure to factor in time to let things sit for a little. Whether it’s just for a day or two, or a week, this can be such an important time to take a step back and let designs and ideas marinate. 95% of the time, when I think I have a great design, after I let it sit for a little, I will always come back and make further changes. If I don’t have time on my side and am up against a tight deadline, even stepping away for 20 minutes does the trick.

GET FEEDBACK FROM YOUR PEERS – For a lot of us who work for ourselves, sometimes we don’t have the pleasure of tapping our neighbor sitting next to us and asking “hey what do you think of this?”. I’ve found that the most successful projects I’ve worked on are those that I reach out to a friend to see what they think, or collaborate with a design peer. It’s really easy to sit on your computer and work for 8 hours, and think something is great because it’s all you’ve been staring at all day. Sometimes you have to get out of your own head and get a fresh perspective from someone who is seeing it for the first time. It’s amazing what their eye can catch and the great tips or builds they might have!

I just designed a series of posters for a whiskey event here in Chicago. I showed the designs to my friend before I printed them, and he had a great idea of turning one of the design elements into a custom die cut sticker instead of having it printed right on the paper. It’s something I would never have thought of on my own and it’s now one of my favorite parts of the poster.

REFINE, REFINE, REFINE – Now that you’ve tried everything, given it time to breathe, and gotten feedback from a peer, it’s time to refine! Even when you think you’re done, continue to look and see how you can make something better. Obviously, it’s important to give yourself a deadline – you don’t want to get stuck and be nitpicking it forever, but give it the attention it deserves and make sure it’s something that you couldn’t be happier with. Treat every project like it’s a piece of you going out into the world, and you want it to be perfect.

You can take a peek at the presentation here to see a bit more inside my process for a work in progress logo!



As a creative person, it’s easy to want to take on everything, but is everything the right fit for you? The ideal client should be appreciative of the creative process, enthusiastic, and most importantly, enjoyable to work with. Obviously this doesn’t happen 100% of the time, but it is something that we should strive for. At the end of the day, for me at least, it isn’t worth the few extra bucks to work with someone I don’t think is a good fit (and that can be the hardest part of saying no!). Things can end on a bad note and it’s not productive for either party. Anytime we take on a new venture, our excitement can sometimes outweigh the more practical side of things. It’s all part of the process – each new opportunity brings about a new experience to learn from. And I believe that the more we stay true to ourselves, the easier it will be to say yes to those amazing clients knocking at our door.

Do you have a hard time saying no?



Good Morning! I have been a huge fan of Joanna Waterfall (Waterfall Creative) ever since I discovered her design work a few months back. It is super inspiring and has such a “feel good” personality. I am also an avid reader of her blog, which has some great inspiration and resources for designers, be sure to check it out. Welcome Joanna!

What inspired you to become a graphic designer? I was lucky enough to have a high school that offered graphic design classes. Unfortunately  I never took one! I always wanted to, but the boyfriend I had at the time was really into graphic design. I always saw it as his thing, and I didn’t want to invade on his territory. (I know I know, really dumb, but I was in high school!) So I took photography instead. This is where I learned how to work a camera and use Photoshop. I really loved it. My plan was to go to school for Photography and eventually have my own photography business.

Come first two years of college, I was an art major with an emphasis in photography. I took painting, drawing, photography, figure studies, 2-d, 3-d and 4-d design… My life was all art, all the time! My junior year, I studied art in Italy. (Talk about art overload!) and when I came back, the world was really a different place. Obama had just been elected (the first time) the economy had plummeted  and my family had moved away from my hometown. The reason being that my dad had started a new job as a professor at a small university. I was offered free tuition there, and decided to take it. I transferred schools and went to the university my dad was teaching at. This school didn’t have a great art program, but had a real up and coming graphic design program. With entering my senior year of college, I had been questioning how I would make money using the skills I had developed, so I decided to switch my major to graphic design, fell in love with it, and the rest is history!

What do you do to continue to challenge yourself as a creative person? Great question. I am constantly challenging myself to step away from the computer and create with a paintbrush, a pen and real paper. If I feel like I’m in a creative slump, sometimes I’ll draw with my left hand, and see what happens. Or I’ll grab a few random objects from my house and try to make them into something new. I find that getting out of the norm and thinking with different parts of your brain really helps to get the creative juices flowing.

Where do you go for inspiration? I have found that I am most inspired by talking to like minded people who are making things happen in the world. Going to conferences, or just hanging out with motivated people really inspires me the most. Watching TED Talks are also really inspiring. (Here is my favorite on on the creative process… check it out!) I used to go directly to places like Pinterest, Dribbble, the Graphic Exchange, or other design blogs for inspiration, but I’ve tried to limit that in my process lately. I’m trying to go more into old books, museums, or even cool restaurants that inspire me. A place like an old library is really inspiring as well. It’s like the old version of the internet- tons of information at your finger tips, but you can hold it, smell it, interact with it a way you can’t while sitting in front of a computer screen.

Are there any unexpected places you look for inspiration outside of your field? I love music, and watching music videos has really been inspiring me lately. They are so creative, it’s a different form of art I’ve always been intrigued by. Inspiration strikes at the strangest times… most I can’t really pin down. It kind of just happens…

But out of all my sources of inspiration, I seem to find the most from the natural world around me. Like looking up at the stars on a clear night, or spending some time to look at the ocean, think about all of the wildlife living in it, and how it goes on what seems to be forever. I love taking long drives at night by myself and just thinking about life. Whenever I have the chance to step outside of myself and see the world from a perspective that is greater than my own little world, here I am most inspired.

Thanks Joanna! Make sure to take a look at her blog and portfolio!