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!