The design process

The 5 steps of the design process
The process of designing is called the creative problem solving process, the design process, the creative process, and/or the problem solving process (they all mean the same thing). All healthy humans are capable of solving problems. Some people take the process and their design sense further than others. Those are successful designers.
Great designers are not only problem solvers, they are also problem seekers. They feel annoyed when they encounter an entity that is poorly designed. Great designers always seek a better way, how could that be done better, more efficiently.
Following are 5 steps the mind works through to achieve solution to problems. The mind will complete each step, maybe in varying times and in varying order, but each of the 5 will be addressed.

Assess the problem
• State the problem clearly.
• Set thorough objectives that the solution should achieve.
• List adjectives and descriptors that the solution should convey
• Determine specific target markets.
• Provide a strong motivation to solve the problem.
• Determine deadlines to meet for solution.
This step is where you do the groundwork to provide a foundation of information for your mind to begin addressing the problem. It is important that you state the problem clearly to understand exactly is involved in the issue. Is there really a problem. Sometimes it is not what it seems to be at the surface. Dig deep and determine the underlying problem that should be solved.
The objectives should include the obvious like staying within a budget, to more obscure like not offending the user.

Input: feed information
• Become an authority on the problem and its solution.
• Feed your brain a wide variety of information.
• Review periodically the problem assessment.
• Understand fully the problem through comprehensive research: learn all you can about everything associated with the problem: ramifications, influences, impact, audience, etc.
The solution to the problem is usually inherent in the problem. The more you understand the problem, the easier and more obvious the solution becomes. Designers become authorities on the problem: its source, ramifications, people affected, impact, etc. A designer can learn so much about a problem that the best solution will be obvious and apparent.
If a designer hits the proverbial block, that wall or barrier that stops the flow of ideas, he/she should knock it down by learning more about the problem. See it in new ways. Try to see the problem as the user, viewer, target would.
The more you understand the problem, the easier the solution becomes. The solution is often within the problem itself. Learning about the problem allows the solution to emerge.

Process and incubate
• Allow incubation: processing, integration, synthesis, analysis, sorting, judgment, etc.
In this step all you do is just allow imaginative processing. If you provided your mind with a clear statement of the problem, adequate information for processing, strong motivation, and a valid deadline; then your mind will solve the problem. This step is letting the unconscious do its job of sorting, processing, and comprehending the information.
This step can happen in a split second, you may get Eureka solutions while conducting research; or solutions may come after much processing; or solutions may not come at all. If your mind hits a wall or barrier, it usually means you need to provide more information. If you often hit barriers, then the activities in this Kit can help you free your mind to retrieve innovative solutions more easily.

Output: retrieve options
• Execute a variety of possible solution sketches (thumbnails: fast, very prolific, exploratory, non-judgmental). Determine an appropriate theme, storyline, concept, or big idea.
• Test those options to determine which most efficiently meet the stated objectives and convey the adjective/descriptors.
• Refine those solutions and finalize all design decisions with more sketches: color, type, composition, materials, renderings, textures, fabrics, layout, etc. in tighter renderings (rough sketches).
This step of the process is about exploring a multitude of options and determining the most efficient.
Sketch a variety of possible solutions as thumbnails: fast, prolific, exploratory sketches. Develop numerous options: explore both fluency and frequency of ideas and options.
Build rough sketches: further explorations of color, type, layout in tighter renderings.
Evaluate the rough option that is working best.
Figure out what's working in the piece: enhance that and minimize the rest. Every element in your work deserves respect. And life, an existence. If an element cannot be justified nor explained it should be deleted. It would just become clutter: garbage getting in the way of communicating the message.
The idea, the theme, copy line, should be innovative tug at a new emotion or thought. Involving the emotions aids memorability and user participation in the solution.
The strongest solution option should balance the familiar with the innovative. If the solution is too familiar, we reject as boring. If too innovative, we reject it as foreign, uncomfortable, and incomprehensible.
Determine the single best selling point, theme of the piece, message to convey to the reader, the benefit to the consumer, the copy line. The designer has the responsibility to communicate the proper and appropriate message to the consumer, to achieve the objectives that will most efficiently meet the client’s needs.

Present the best solution
• Develop the final solution as an exact dummy or model or renderings to present to the viewer/client (comp).
• Present comp with rationale.
• Make revisions if necessary.
• Prepare the accepted comp for reproduction (mechanical or finished art).
• Conduct further evaluation for future reference and growth.
This is the step of the process in which you produce a rough for presentation to another person: the client, the printer, the user, or just yourself.
Refine, if necessary, the rough you determined was most successful. Develop that solution as an exact dummy (comp or model) to present to the viewer or client. You may get feedback or input from that person. Listen intently, determine if their needs have been met, and make revisions if necessary. Once all parties are satisfied, prepare the accepted comp for reproduction. The last activity is to evaluate the solution and the response from the user for your future reference and growth.
Successful solutions are often very simple, with minimal clutter and a minimum of needless information. Simplicity allows the user or reader to more easily comprehend a clear message by being right on target.

You do not need to work through each step in the sequence stated above - that is just the most common and most efficient order. If your brain begins ideating, that's okay - start sketching. At some point, you will compete the assessment stage and the input info stage. Completing all 5 steps is necessary for a successful solution.
When a designer gets 'stuck' - concepts or solutions aren't coming - it is most often due to a lack of information. Go back to step 2 and conduct more research. Look at the problem in a new way. Learn new information. The more one understands the problem, the easier the solution becomes.

Different sources and design textbooks may list different steps. The above 5 are nice because there is some symmetry - info in, info out. The design community will probably never agree on the 'correct' process, they each reach the same goal - effective solutions to marketing communication problems.

Thumbnail sketches
Once you know to whom the piece should communicate, you understand the problem, and you have conducted massive amounts of research - you can begin to let your mind explore options. Thumbnails are quick sketches to encourage the fluency and fluidity of thoughts and ideas from your mind. Avoid judgment at this point, you are seeking numerous options and judging ideas inhibits and limits the free flow of thought. Thumbnails are sketched for two main reasons:
1. Get ideas on paper so your mind is free to explore other options.
2. See ideas objectively to prompt even more thumbnail options.
It may be frustrating, but if you show a teacher a bunch of thumbnails, he/she may not tell you which ones are working or which ones have merit. Some students respond with, "well, you're no help" (what they mean is - "I'm too stupid and/or lazy to decide and I want you to do it for me"). Teachers help you by not telling you which ones are the best. It helps you become a more intelligent, assertive, and confident decision-maker. Becoming a better designer is about becoming a better decision maker, and therefore, a better creative problem solver. If the teacher decides which ones are good, you will be deprived of the process of understanding, analyzing, debating, and concluding. You have probably been conditioned to 'please the teacher', but if you ever tell an interviewer or client, "This one works because my teacher said so," you may brand yourself somewhat of an idiot. Hopefully, becoming a successful idiot is not your career goal.
Decide if you wish to be fair, good, or great. "To be good is not enough if you dream of being great".

Rough sketches
Remember it is at the rough stage of the process that all design decisions are made. Thumbnails are for non-judgmental exploration sketches and the comp is simply preparing the most successful rough sketch into presentable form. While you should avoid judgment at thumbnails, at the rough stage you must pass judgment and make decisions, based on the list of objectives. Review the target market(s), the list of objectives, and the results desired to help you determine which thumbnail ideas will be the most effective solution to the problem. The rough sketches serve to help you refine all elements - color, composition, font, point size, format, style, etc. It is helpful to work larger to better see detail and alignment.

Requirements for creative problem solving
Problem solving ability is inherent in the human mind. The brain loves to solve problems: just let it. It will solve any and every problem given to it provided these four conditions are met:
• A clear definition of the problem to be solved.
• Adequate information and input for solution.
• Strong personal motivation for completion.
• A valid reasonable deadline.