For some designers, the first impulse is to open Photoshop and start going right away, but most projects require some substantial work before digging into the actual design. Here are some of the things you should get done before you start to put together images, layers, vectors, and everything else in your design.
1. Get Core Project Information
Before any design work begins, the client and designer have to agree on the fundamental basis for the work itself. This can include project briefs or folders that go over the top-level objectives, the scope of the project, and what the project should accomplish.
For example, designing a glitzy marketing campaign on a few keywords can be really insufficient if there are specific messages, target audiences, or angles that the client wants to address. This resource from iDesignStudios goes into more detail about planning before designing.
2. Nail Down Contract Issues
Professional freelancers and designers who work directly with clients know firsthand the importance of tackling contract questions before any design work is done.
You may know what you’re supposed to do, but what about the size of the project? Do you know how many pages are to be done, what format the results are to be in, and how long all this will take? Is compensation clearly detailed in the contract?
These are some of the issues that have to be negotiated between the involved parties prior to doing any design work.
3. Figure Out Methodology
When you have determined the goals of the project and its scope, you can start to lay out your preferred toolbox. Think about the software you use to create a design project; for example, is Photoshop the best tool for the job or is it time to try Sketch? The tools that you choose determine your workflow and how you actually do the many tasks that make up your complete project.
4. Go to the Drawing Board
With goals, tools, and a solid understanding in hand, designers can start to experiment with drawings, mock-ups, sketches, or other rough ideas that give the project a skeleton and an overall structure.
Professionals do this in different ways. Some use project-specific software. Others like to use paper. Then there’s this approach, where mobile app designers create paper runners that thread through a cardboard iPhone prototype in order to simulate the scrolling that users will do on the page.
In the end, it’s best to go with whatever feels most comfortable and makes the most sense to you. Anything less tends to obstruct the process and limit the ways that the project develops.
5. Make a Preferred Short List
After doing typography, layout, image editing and so on, you’ll have a collection of possibilities that compete for a place in the completed project file. It’s often useful to build a short list or mark the options that seem best out of whatever’s been generated. In some cases, you’ll end up with a set of very similar plans. In others, you’ll have several options, and the client can choose. Either way, the narrowing down or winnowing of the process is a way to guide the focus of the project as it evolves toward eventual completion.
What Do You Do Before Photoshop?
All of these steps are critically important in the design process. It’s just not as easy as clicking open some software and throwing some images and text around. Anyone who sees design as a simple process hasn’t been in the driver’s seat when putting together quality projects. Leave a comment below and tell us how you kick off a project. What critical steps have you added to your workflow?