So you’ve come to the conclusion that hiring a designer is the next step to creating a professional online presence for your business. Never having done this before, questions may arise as to how it all even works – what’s the process once I hire someone? Will they listen to my ideas or completely take over creative approach? What happens afterwards, will they be in touch if I have a question? How can I trust the designer will deliver what I want?
Lucky for you, I’ve listed the five most common stages you and your designer will experience throughout the design process. Of course, variances may apply for particular projects or design disciplines but the process doesn’t stray to much from these general stages.
Discovery, Strategy or Feasibility.
We begin with the collection of all available information relevant to the project. This could include a written brief, background material, researching existing branding standards and/or any new research necessary for the project. Many questions are asked at this stage in order to understand the client’s expectations.
Without asking the right questions, design erodes to nothing more than decoration. Decoration’s nice… in your house and on your office walls. But decoration isn’t the best for marketing materials. It can be better.
- What is the project’s purpose? What problem(s) are you trying to solve or what opportunity are you trying to capture?
- What specific outcome are you looking for and how will you know when we have achieved this?
- What (if anything) can get in the way of your success and what can we do to mitigate that risk?
At this stage I believe it’s a good time to look at the competition and their approach and figure a way to gain the advantage.
This information is then analyzed, and an initial proposal is developed that reflects my understanding of the project that covers the objectives, feasibility, budget forecast and general direction. Sometimes an estimate is all that’s needed as long as everything is made as clear as possible to the client so that there are no surprises.
My goal is to keep my clients well informed each step of the way. It helps to avoid those little things that may become big headaches.
In certain instances, the project might require the services of copywriters, specialized photographers, printers or programmers depending on the project. If this is the case, I will make the client aware that I will need to outsource for these particular services. Prices would be collated from all the individuals involved.
When the initial proposal has been accepted and everyone agrees on the details, preliminary design ideas are developed. This is where the creative process is given free reign within all the constraints established in Stage One.
We begin with the creation of wireframes. Wireframes make the process of knowing how to design the website fundamentally easier, by visually stripping the product down and allowing all involved to focus purely on functions and user interactivity. Clients need to understand how the proposed website will work. But simply explaining to them verbally or textually leaves the vast majority of functions down to their imagination. Wireframes can be extremely helpful in squaring that circle.
Once the wireframes have been approved by the client we continue the design process by developing visual concepts. Considerations may be color combinations, typography, graphic style, keywords and technology. I might end up with a lot of visuals – some concepts work and some don’t. The ones that make most sense are refined and assessed as to the practicality of development. I also like to move away from them for a day if possible to see them with ‘fresh eyes’. Generally only three concepts are presented to the client for review, usually in pdf format.
Client feedback and discussion result in the preferred concept being chosen for Stage Three development. Approximate costings for implementation are also calculated at this stage.
Detail Design Development.
The selected concept is then modified with all details implemented. Variations may be developed as well as further mock-ups. A logo for example, would be created with subtle variations, different colors, fonts etc. A website’s various pages would be assembled in Photoshop and live sample pages created in order to experience the onscreen effect. A brochure might have photographs commissioned or purchased from a library which would need selection and approval.
This stage can vary a bit depending on the item being designed. The important point to bear in mind is that this is an organic process and details can be changed if necessary. A detailed specification of the design for production planning and final costing would also be created at this point.
After Stage Three approval, finished artwork is produced as required. For print, this usually involves the creation of print-ready pdfs and detailed specifications are also created for outside suppliers. For websites, designs are converted into code for example.
Supervision of Production and Delivery.
Quality control is important so I prefer to oversee production myself through to completion. In the case of print, it usually just means checking printer proofs although the pdf system is quite reliable. After the approval of final print-ready pdfs with the outside supplier, material is then printed and delivered.
Websites are scrutinized and tested for responsiveness on various browsers and mobile devices. Certain steps are then taken in the back-end in order to launch the website successfully. Since my websites are usually created on a CMS platform, I like to schedule a 1-hour online Skype meeting where we sit down and go through a basic crash course of your website’s administrative control panel. This allows for you to become familiar and be able to manage necessary updates in the future (e.g. creating/editing/publishing blog posts, photo galleries, and pages). A quick reference guide is then tailored to your website with the steps we covered in our Skype meeting for you to keep handy. Of course, I won’t leave you hanging here, on-going website support is guaranteed for my clients.
In conclusion, trust in the designer can be obtained by consistently keeping the communication lines open between both parties. Every good designer will know there is great value in being transparent and keeping you in the loop throughout this process. In doing so, not only will this bring refined results in the delivery of the project, but it will make for a happier client, and the possibility of long-term opportunities… and who doesn’t want that.