Content before Design: The design process


Ever wonder what goes into designing a brochure, laying out a billboard, or creating a website? Believe it or not, there’s no “Easy Button” when it comes to effective and strategic design. The process is often long and always well thought-out. Here are the steps to producing a successful design project:

1. Information Gathering
Collecting information is the first step to designing anything.
What is the purpose of the project? Who is the target audience? What is the brand? What is the goal of the piece? What are the specifications and requirements for the project? What are the deadlines? Is there a budget and, if so, what is it? These things and more should be collected and clearly defined prior to starting any project.

2. Research
Research is another step of information gathering but it allows the copywriter and designer to answer a lot of questions they may have, and gives a direction to the project.
What are the demographics for the target audience? Who is the competition and what are their solutions to the same design project? What should be the key messages? What types of media are best for the target audience: print, web, social media, email, texting, billboards, etc.? How will you determine if the project is successful/How will you test the outcomes? What format or layout works best? What is the tone and overall feeling you want people to get out of the project based on the brand? What kinds of words, images, and colors reflect the tone that you want to convey to the target audience? This will help determine your mood board for the project. This will guide the designer along and really help if there are additional sister-projects that need to be completed down the road.

3. Writing Content
Contrary to popular belief, the message (meaning the content or words of the project) always needs to be completed before the design process can begin. The content is what helps create the tone to the piece and the design generally follows the lead of the writer. Based on the size of the piece, how much text will be required? Usually, less is more unless you’re explaining something very technical that requires a lot of words. Make sure the text fits in line with all of the research completed previously.

4. Brainstorming, Sketching, and Inspiration
This is where a project starts getting visual. Sketching is a very important part of the design process. This is where the designer can quickly and efficiently jot down ideas in order to keep the brainstorming process flowing freely. The internet is a great source of inspiration, but something as simple as taking a walk, visiting a new place, or revisiting a favorite place and looking at it in a new way can be equally inspiring. Inspiration is all around us, we just have to open our eyes to it!

5. Concepts
Up until now, the only reason the designer needed to use the computer was for research and information gathering. Now the designer can finally open up the graphics software and start creating concepts based on the research, content, sketches, and inspiration of the project. Usually, several “quick and dirty” concepts are developed to see how the audience may respond. During this stage, testing is important to see how the various concepts go over with the target audience.

6. Revisions and Layout
Now that you’ve tested your concepts, it’s time to revise one or several in order to develop the final design. This is also where the designer finally lays out all of the text, determines if any text needs to be cut, or reevaluates the layout in order to make all of the text fit.

7. Proofing and Editing
Don’t underestimate the power of proofing. Even though you’re sure the copywriter did a great job making sure there were no misspellings or grammatical errors, proofing or editing is a crucial step to the design process and one that should be taken very seriously. Two of UR’s favorite sources include The APA Style Guide and the Chicago Manual of Style. Make sure you’re using the most up-to-date version, as these publications are updated every three years.

8. Production
Finally! You’re ready to produce the piece. Whether it’s a print project going to the printer or a website launching, this is a very rewarding place to be in the process. Your hard work and diligence has paid off. Just remember a few tips if you’re dealing with an outside vendor:
If the project is being mailed, do you have the mailing list completed and ready to go? What types of files does the vendor accept and are your files vendor-ready? These questions and more should be answered while you’re working with a vendor.

Congratulations! You’ve completed your project… almost! Though the project is produced, don’t forget you should monitor the produced piece to determine its usability and success rates. This will help you in all future projects to determine what works best for your target audiences.

Andrea Yinger