It's All In The Process

I recently saw a post about the designing process, that described it a little like this:

  1. This is awesome.

  2. This is tricky.

  3. This sucks.

  4. I suck.

  5. This might be okay.

  6. This is awesome.

My first reaction was to chuckle at it, and I thought "yeah, that's pretty accurate!"
And then I gave it a second thought and realized that almost every design actually does go through the same process (albeit a bit less dramatic!).

The process of doubt and questioning generally comes from the disconnect between the idea that we have in our mind, and what we're able to put on paper (or the computer screen).

More often than not, after discussing a project with a client, my mind starts racing. I'm trying to piece together ideas that they've given me with ideas of my own, and trying to match those with the constraints of my abilities, software, and design elements. I'll spend some time letting all of the information bounce around, and then create the concept in my mind. But then getting the concept from my mind to paper is perhaps one of the hardest parts.

One of the funniest part of the process is starting off with what you believe is an amazing concept, and then seeing the first attempt at the design. Sometimes it’s almost funny, and I can guarantee you that I have actually laughed at my own designs before! The disconnect between the first "draft" and the mental concept is sometimes pretty apparent, but with a bit of luck, there will at least be some resemblance, and at the very least something to work with.

Then I'll start to tinker. I'll start making changes to the design to try to get it closer to the mental concept. Some things will start to take shape (and some will still be laughable). 

It's at that moment when the doubt and frustration will set in. There's often moments, or hours when that design just will not take shape. It will not look like that perfect mental concept. This is when the "ugh, this design sucks!" sets in, and is soon followed by "ugh, I suck!"

When frustration sets in, it’s important to step away from the screen. I’ll usually pack up and go for a run to clear my head, pick up a book, or walk to a nearby café.

Changing pace or location is often what it takes to shake up the creative juices. But more often that not, what comes from the place of frustration actually makes a design better.

It requires going from that idyllic design to what actually needs to be there. It requires picking out the core elements, and really getting back to basics. What did the client need? And what can I do with that right now?

It’s a cliché, but I actively have to tell myself to “keep it simple”. I have a tendency to take an idea and try to run with it. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s just like in football - if you like football. Sometimes the Hail Mary pass works, but more often than not, running the ball is safer and more effective. When you get stuck, just run the ball.

Keeping things simple, at least until you have momentum, helps keep things concrete. It’s about getting the parts of the design and the elements that are necessary in order to get the ultimate design.

Personally, small progress helps get me out of a design funk. It stops the frustration and the “I suck” mentality, and really gets me into the “huh, this isn’t so bad afterall!” phase. Progress is progress, right?

At the end of the day, I’ve never had a client who wasn’t thrilled with their design. That means that at some point along the way, the breakthrough happens. If there’s one part of the design process that I can count on, it’s that.

I tend to appreciate the designs that take the non-linear process most. The ones that just come together quickly, are nice, sure, but the ones where I struggle get imbedded with a little piece of my blood, sweat, and tears, and it’s those designs that I cherish the most!

“Determination gets you a long way.” - Chelsea Clinton