After you and the client have agreed on the specifics of the project and signed the contract, you will (finally) be able to put your graphic design skills to work. But hold your horses — it’s not as simple as creating images right off the bat.
Design is about solving problems. In other words, the design you create for the client has to fulfill certain objectives. As such, it’s important to have a design process in place so you can approach the problem in a systematic and logical manner. Furthermore, you will be able to work more efficiently and keep tasks better organized. Every designer’s process is different in some ways, but let’s take a look at a typical process to get you started.
COLLECTING INFORMATION FROM THE CLIENT
You must first get a thorough understanding of the problem that needs to be solved. The client can’t simply hand the project to you and expect everything to be successful without providing any information or context. For the client’s objectives to be met, you have to collect as much information from them as possible — often through a design brief.
A design brief is a critical starting point for any design process. It establishes client expectations and provides a point of reference for you to perform research. As such, you should convey its importance to the client and encourage them to provide as much information as possible. At the same time, such information should be relevant and useful to the project, so you need to draft the design brief appropriately. In doing so, keep in mind basic components such as objectives and goals, target audience, overall style, and available materials.
RESEARCHING YOUR CLIENT’S ECOSYSTEM
After receiving the design brief, review the information to make sure you understand everything about the project. However, just having such information isn’t enough. You also have to perform your own research, which entails checking out competitors, learning about the target audience, and accounting for market trends. The purpose is to get a 360° view of the client’s ecosystem.
If you don’t do proper research, you run the risk of creating a design — only to discover it’s similar to a competitor’s or doesn’t appeal to the target audience. While the process may be dull and boring, you should do your best to understand the client’s ecosystem as much as possible. With the internet, you have a lot of resources at your disposal, so make use of them when performing your research.
Based on your research, you should be able to approach the design problem from different angles by having a holistic picture to work with. Furthermore, you may uncover unique qualities about the client’s business or organization that can be amplified to stand out from their competitors.
BRAINSTORMING IDEAS AND ANALYZING DATA
By analyzing your research data, you can then brainstorm ideas and develop a strategy moving forward which revolves around design and functionality.
Remember that all elements in a design, from colors and typography to whitespace and symbols, should work together to reinforce the visual solution. As such, you should give considerable thought to each element before making any hard decisions. It’s what brainstorming is about — to allow you to explore how these different elements can work together.
For a graphic designer, brainstorming often involves a mood board (a collage of text, images, and other materials) to provide inspiration for your ideas. Having a mood board also illustrates the creative direction for the project, thus solving some of the problems you might encounter further down the process, such as style and colors.
A mind map is another way to represent ideas and concepts. Mind mapping helps structure information and exposes gaps or differences in thinking.
DEVELOPING AND SKETCHING OUT CONCEPTS
Once you have a clear strategy in mind, you can then select a handful of ideas and develop them into viable concepts. For a graphic designer, the method used is usually sketching. Pen and paper is the most straightforward way to materialize your ideas, but there are also other tools available for the same purpose, such as a graphics tablet.
Once you have come up with a solid set of concepts, it’s time to share them with the client. If you have a mood board, consider showing it to the client as well so they can better understand your inspirations and research. At this stage, it’s important to work closely with the client to obtain their feedback.
Letting the client see the sketches allows you to know whether or not your concepts are aligned with their objectives. Remember, graphic design is often subjective. A concept can be perfect in your eyes, but the client might think otherwise. Since you’re working with sketches, making changes based on the client’s feedback should be easy. From the discussions with the client, you can narrow down the concepts until both parties agree on one to move forward with.
BUILDING THE DESIGN AND REFINING THE WORK
Your job becomes much easier after the concept is finalized; you just have to put your skills to use and execute the design in the graphics program of your choice.
See also: Tools of the Trade (Graphic Design)
At the same time, consider coming up with several variations of the concept. It can be as simple as changing color palettes and typographic pairings, or something more complex like creating a 3D effect. Having variations helps the client visualize the concept in different ways, so they can decide which visual style works best to meet their objectives.
Once the client has made a decision, they might request for additional changes. Most graphic designers will specify how many revisions are allowed before they start charging extra — and you should have done the same in your agreement with the client.
Unfortunately, there are some clients who will request for the concept to be changed completely, even though you have performed extensive research and came up with concepts that align well with the client’s objectives. In such cases, don’t be afraid to defend your decisions, — or even cancel the project if the client becomes too much to handle.
See also: Avoiding Bad Clients
PUTTING THE DESIGN INTO PRODUCTION
Once the client approves the design, you can then produce the design in different file formats. Before that, you should have agreed on the deliverables with the client. Most of them will ask for the working files (usually in AI or PSD formats) so they can edit the design if required. In addition, if the design is meant for print, you have to make sure the files are in CMYK (a color model used in printing) and that bleed guidelines are set up properly.
If everything goes to plan, you have successfully met the client’s objectives and solved their design problem. Once the client transfers the final payment to you, you can send over the files — and congratulate yourself on a job well done.
PROVIDING FOLLOW UP AND SUPPORT
Success in freelancing is about managing client relationships well. As such, it’s a good idea to provide follow up and support even after the project is completed. Although you might have to invest additional resources, excellent customer service goes a long way to increase client loyalty and your reputation as a freelance graphic designer.
Ultimately, having a design process allows you and the client to focus on the objectives at hand and efficiently solve the design problem by following a series of well-defined steps — so don’t underestimate its importance.