A few years ago, I completed RISD’s continuing education program for Graphic Design. During that time, I developed skills ranging from typography to semiotics. In addition to those studies, conceptual design was the most important skill that I learned. “Trust the process” was my mantra, and no matter how difficult the design challenge, I found it essential to the way I approach every project and use it to this day. Using my favorite key commands, let’s walk through the process together.
1. COMMAND F: Find
When tackling a design project, it’s essential to do your research. Find as much information as you can about your client and their design needs. What are the goals of this project? Who is the target audience? What message are you trying to communicate? Asking such questions and defining the problem will better prepare you when brainstorming and beginning concept development.
2. COMMAND +: Zoom In
How can you use your research to generate concepts? Zoom in on your materials and begin brainstorming. This is where the magic begins. Jot down all of your ideas. Do any visuals come to mind? Your brainstorming might be neatly organized lists, while others’ may look like a scene from A Beautiful Mind. Do whatever works best for you. No idea is bad. (Actually, some ideas are really bad. But trust the process. “Bad” ideas can lead to brilliant ones.) Brainstorming allows you to break down mental blocks and discover ways to visually communicate complex ideas.
3. COMMAND C: Copy
Don’t be afraid to copy what is out there. There are many places to look for new ideas. Hop on Pinterest, Behance, or the millions of blogs out there to gain inspiration. You will find that there is more than one visual solution to your design challenge, and there are several new tools that will enhance your process. Staying current will not only help you push your own boundaries, but also help you keep up with the latest design trends.
4. COMMAND V: Paste
Get your ideas down. Once you’ve done your research and developed your concepts, it’s time to paste them on screen. What fonts, colors, shapes, etc. support your concept? If your design isn’t working, it’s probably not fitting the concept. Design as much as time will allow. Iteration is key.
5. COMMAND -: Zoom Out
Hours upon hours upon hours. It’s easy to get lost in a project and burn through time when designing. After all, that’s the fun part. But it’s important to step back every now and then, and take a break. Fresh eyes can change your perspective and help you discover new design solutions and ideas. Zooming out allows you to pick up on design errors or oversights. Know when to hit pause.
6. COMMAND A: Select All
When you find yourself surrounded by a room full of people with diverse skills and backgrounds, take advantage of it. Select all of your peers and present your concepts. Bounce ideas and talk about your challenges. Your peers are your friends, let them help you! It will only take your design to the next level.
7. COMMAND O: Open
By opening yourself up to others, you’ll not only push your design, but also push yourself as a designer. Be prepared for criticism, and welcome it. Chances are, if someone is having a hard time interpreting your concept, others will too. Listen to what others are saying, and be open to revisiting the drawing board.
8. COMMAND X: Cut
Remember when I said some ideas are bad? It’s true. Sometimes taking a break will allow you to see things that you couldn’t see before, or coworkers will point something out that you need to address. If your design is not working (even if you love it), it’s time to make the cut.
9. COMMAND S: Save
But don’t completely delete your files. Just because a design doesn’t work for one project, doesn’t mean it was a bad idea. Make a folder and hold on to your designs for another day. Save everything. You may find that a concept that didn’t work for one client may be perfect for another.
10. COMMAND P: Print
Last but not least, print out your designs and hang up your work. Have confidence and take pride knowing that you arrived at them by “trusting the process.”
Rachel Stuver is an Art Director at RDW. She loves good design and has been known to over-caffeinate on cappuccinos while spending hours searching for the perfect typeface. When she’s not designing, you can find her on her bicycle heading towards the beach.