Every project has different goals and expectations, yet the process by which a designer gets the job done is nearly always the same. It can be boiled down to four fundamental steps: Absorb, Explore, Refine, Define.
Design is more than the literal sitting down and creating of images. Before that can happen the designer has to understand what he’s working towards. He has to understand the client’s business, clearly formulate who the target audience is, and clearly grasp the project itself. This includes researching appropriate fields to provide himself with sufficient ancillary knowledge (e.g. designing a propeller company identity benefits from knowledge of flight, propellers, aerodynamics, wind, and so on).
- Value: Research
- Result: Full understanding of the client’s goals and the project; attain appropriate project-related knowledge.
Information has been assimilated, now it’s time to begin applying it. The Explore stage concerns the shaping of ideas. It’s the part that varies wildly from project to project; the designer walks down a new path each time, not knowing where it leads or at what point it will bear fruit—ample time is required to truly benefit. (As cliché as it sounds, creativity cannot be rushed.) The goal for the step is to have project concepts to present for discussion.
- Value: Conceptualizing
- Result: Clear, appropriate, and effective ideas for the project; sketches to illustrate one or more ideas.
At this point the designer has one or more ideas and now it’s time for you, the client, to enter the discussion. The designer begins this stage by presenting the results of his Exploration. He explains his reasoning for the choices he’s made and together you Refine the ideas into a chosen direction for the final stage of the design process.
- Value: Deciding
- Result: Unified direction that is well thought out; appropriately expresses the project goals; appeals to the correct audience.
The final step is akin to sharpening a pencil to a fine point. The ideas have been labored on, discussions between you and the designer have taken place—now it’s time to take all of that work and hone in on the final solution. This stage is set in motion based on the direct feedback from the previous one. After all is said and done, your final product is design of value that is unique to your endeavor.
- Value: Finalizing
- Result: A final product that is intelligent and interesting—which accurately expresses the client’s intentions and appeals to the correct audience.