After you and the client have agreed on the project specifics and signed the contract, you will finally be able to put your design skills to work. But hold your horses — it’s not as simple as creating nice images right off the bat. Design is about solving problems, and what you create has to fulfill certain objectives. As such, it’s important to have a design process in place to approach the problem in a systematic and logical manner, allowing you to work more efficiently and keep tasks better organized. Everyone’s process is a bit different, but let’s take a look at a typical design process for a freelance graphic designer to get you started.
Features of a Typical Design Process
COLLECTING INFORMATION FROM THE CLIENT
A project can’t proceed if you don’t have a thorough understanding of the problem that needs to be solved. For the client’s objectives to be met, you have to collect as much information from them as possible through a design brief.
A design brief is a critical starting point of any design process for a freelance graphic designer. It establishes client expectations and serves as reference for your research. As such, you should convey its importance to the client and encourage them to provide as much relevant information as possible. Draft the design brief appropriately, keeping in mind basic components such as objectives and goals, target audience, overall style, and available materials.
RESEARCHING YOUR CLIENT’S ECOSYSTEM
After the client sends you the filled-in design brief, review and use the information to build a basic understanding of the problem that needs to be solved. However, 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.
For a graphic designer research might seem dull, but if you don’t do proper research you run the risk of creating something that is similar to a competitor’s or doesn’t appeal to the target audience. As you perform your research, try to approach the the problem from different angles and uncover unique qualities about the client’s business or organization that can be utilized to stand out from their competition.
BRAINSTORMING IDEAS AND ANALYZING DATA
Based on the data collected it’s time to establish a design direction for the project. Consider all design elements such as colors and typography and how they work together to reinforce the visual solution. Explore and don’t worry about making any hard decisions for now.
Brainstorming usually involves a mood board. It is a collage of text, images, and other materials to provide inspiration and give you ideas for imagery, style and colors. A mind map is another way to structure ideas and information in a loose and visual manner.
DEVELOPING AND SKETCHING OUT CONCEPTS
Use the design direction as the basis to think of ideas and sketch the best ones out as viable concepts. Pen and paper is the most straightforward way, but there are also other tools available for the same purpose such as a graphics tablet.
Once you have a solid set of concepts, send them to the client for feedback. If you have a mood board or mind map, consider showing them to the client as well so they can better understand your thought process.
Remember, graphic design is often subjective. A concept can be perfect in your eyes, but the client might think otherwise. Since you are working with sketches, it should be easy to make changes based on your input and the client’s feedback. From there, you can narrow down the concepts until both parties agree on one to move forward with.
BUILDING AND REFINING THE DESIGN
Your job becomes easier after the concept is finalized. Now it’s just a matter of putting your skills to use and executing the design.
If possible, try to come up with a few variations of the concept. It can be as simple as different color palettes or something more complex like creating a 3D effect. From there, the client can decide on which one best meets their objectives.
Unfortunately, there may be instances when the client decides to go in a completely different direction, even though you have already performed extensive research and came up with concepts that align well with the client’s objectives at that time. In such cases, don’t be afraid to defend your decisions — or even cancel the project if the client becomes too much to handle.
PUTTING THE DESIGN INTO PRODUCTION
Once the final design is approved, you can send the files in the agreed formats to 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. If the design is meant for print, make sure the deliverables are in CMYK (a color model used in printing) and that bleed guidelines are set up properly.
Congratulations, you have successfully met the client’s objectives and solved their problem!
PROVIDING FOLLOW UP AND SUPPORT
Even after a project is completed, always follow up and provide support should any issues arise. Excellent customer services goes a long way to increase customer loyalty and improve your reputation as a freelance graphic designer.
In the end, having a design process as a freelance graphic designer allows you to focus on the client’s objectives at hand and efficiently solve any problem by following a series of well-defined steps. A good design process is integral to the success of a project, so don’t underestimate its importance.