Just like there is a Scientific Method that scientists and researchers should follow, there is also a process for all designers to follow. This is called the ‘Design Thinking Process’, created to make the designer’s job a whole lot easier.
The Design Thinking Process has seven concrete steps wherein the problems are defined, ideas are created, and in the end, the best solution is chosen and implemented. The process isn’t exactly linear though, as the steps can occur simultaneously and can be repeated when needed. The whole intention of the 7 step process is to meet the client’s needs and maximize the designer’s precious time.
First Step: Define
The first step is to know your problem. Primarily, this first step must Define the Project. Accumulate all the information you can gather before going on any further. This can be done via a meeting with your client. This is to establish contact and build a relationship with your client, so that you will know what they want and what is expected of you. List the objectives your client has cited. Ask any questions to clear up any misunderstandings. Every nook and cranny should be covered. This is to get a clear, 360 degree view of the project being discussed.
Determine strategies you think will solve the problem or issue in question. Decide on your deadline by determining the priority or gravity of the project. Finally, it is time to write your creative brief. This seems like more work, but it will do you more good. The creative brief contains the client profile, market situation, objectives, target audience, demographics, implementation and schedule.
The brief should be your ‘bible’ for the rest of the project, your point of reference that you can reread as many times as you need to throughout the project. This is to constantly check if you are going in the right direction and if you’re meeting the objectives along the way.
Second Step: Research
The second step is an important step in the design thinking process; but often taken for granted or deliberately forgotten. Tactless graphic designers often skip this step because they think it’s unnecessary. You can of course create a layout or web design without research–but professionals know that research brings out the most substantive and fruitful ideas for your project.
Do as much snooping as you can. Look at the materials given to you by your client; but don’t stop there. Go the extra mile by studying the whole picture. This includes studying the client’s profile, competitors, product differentiation, market trends and the industry’s environment.
Research the history of the problem or issue at hand; whether there have been similar designers who have encountered the problem in the past. Collect examples of both successful and failed attempts. And, it will be wise to read discussions about the issues from your end users, investors, critics, industry leaders and inside men.
Third Step: Conceptualization
This step is when you start conceptualizing your idea. This step must come after your research analysis, thus you can get a good idea on how to approach the design issue. You would now determine the functionality criteria and must come up with what strategy to use. Generate as many ideas as you can–be creative!
Afterwards you can present it to the client for their approval before it moves to the drawing board.
Fourth Step: Prototype
After the conceptualization stage, it’s now time to ship your concept to the drawing board. During this stage you can now create design drafts based on the strategy you wish to take.
Sometimes your drafts can be a bit ‘off’ with your creative brief without you realizing it. Thus to ensure that you are going the right direction at all times, you can implement a few tools:
- Storyboard – for projects such as animation, TV ad or short movie that require sequential organization of illustration
- Mind Mapping – for layouts and design, it is a diagram used to put into words the ideas and tasks connected to the central idea.
- Sketch drafts – Play around with your concept, try using different color palettes, experiment with font. This will allow you to find the best way to approaching your project. Create as many drafts as possible!
- Journal – have your own ‘professional journal’ and encourage yourself to write your ideas down so that you can come back to them later at any time.
Combine and expand the ideas you’ve thought about throughout the brainstorming process. Again, make many drafts, but be sure to refine and edit them later. Ask for feedback from your colleagues and the end users before finally presenting the idea, or ideas, to the client.
Fifth Step: Objectives
Finally, it’s time to review the design and see if it has met the objectives. After presenting the design proposals, you should have a one-on-one talk with the client, so that you can receive feedback. Ask them any questions and comments on how to improve the design. It must be a two-way communication, so that both the designer and the client can get their input into the final output.
Afterwards the designer must have the time to make the necessary changes and final touches before Implementation.
Sixth Step: Implementation
After getting a go-ahead from your client, it is now time for implementation. Depending on your project, this stage requires your design to go into production and launched into the intended media vehicle (whether it’s on print, TV or web).
Seventh Step: Evaluation
The last step is a self-evaluation. After submitting the project to your client, give yourself a pat in the back! The project is closed and you have been paid by yet another satisfied client. It’s time to relax.
Or not. As tempting as it is to forget the project, a good designer still needs to study the outcome of the project. Get feedback from the end users. Measure the success level of the project, and see if it has met its objectives as promised. Assess yourself in an objective point of view, see areas where you need improvement for future projects. Finally, having solid documentation will definitely help a lot.
This 7 Step Process will help any designer refine their work ethic. Don’t think of the process as too linear or routine–it isn’t! You don’t have to follow it step by step. Some designers are more spontaneous than others, after all. But at least, one should use the 7 Step Design Process as basis for future projects. They can do the steps simultaneously, they can go back and repeat another step. But every step should not be missed by designers. For in their own way, they are crucial to the success of the project.