The Designer’s Guide To

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A guide to help new designers research and plan their design projects. Advice provided by industry professionals, edited and curated by Richard Baird.

Strategy Insight

My process is aimed at helping me to brand and package new products and typically begins, following the brief, with the identification of values and propositions drawn from questionnaires, informal conversation and workshops. Personal client information such as their background, inspirations, aspirations and journey to market can also provide interesting references and avenues for exploration. These initial exercises are designed to tease out unique details that a formal brief can miss and help to create a unique brand DNA from which I can build a relevant and specific visual result.

Clients new to the design process don’t often know what they want or need to communicate and end up citing general marketing buzzwords such as ‘artisan’ and ‘sustainable’. A lot of these terms will fall under the same themes and can be distilled down to a number of primary brand values. Conventional marketing practices suggest that consumers tend to respond well to one or two messages but I work with between two and four to deliver depth and a sense of narrative with each component contributing to a wider brand story. Following this I assign each value, in written form, visual characteristics and cues that can be understood by the demographic.

For example:

Speed – sweeping terminals or italics
Reliability – consistent line weights
Security – bold geometric typography
Clinical effectiveness – spacious and uncluttered layouts
Expense/sophistication – foiling and embossing
Exclusivity – specialist and rare materials and print treatments

To create a broad brand experience I execute these visual cues, with mixed impact, across an identity and packaging solution that utilises both graphic components and layouts, material choices, print treatments and through structural design.

It’s important to present these ideas to the client for discussion and revision before design work begins. Try not to hit them with an essay and be sure to include visual and physical references. This is a good opportunity to show your client that you understand their problem and can offer a broad and consistent design solution that compliments their product and engages their consumers. This design strategy document can also be used as a proposal prior to securing the job.

Provided by @richbaird

Calm your enthusiasm with a quick sketching session

Young designers frequently make the mistake of jumping straight into the visualisation process without spending an appropriate amount of time on research and strategy. This is understandable as design is often presented as a predominantly artistic discipline (by logo specific publications and websites) rather than one of communication. The enthusiasm to bypass a structured analytical process and get sketching is likely to only generate ideas that are instinctual rather than insightful but should be utilised as an opportunity to clear the mind of any preconceived ideas.

Insight will come as a designer gains experience, for a beginner it’s better to generate ideas from a solid and tangible foundation.

Provided by @richbaird

Strategy delivers targeted, brand specific results

Process and strategy should a designer generate brand specific themes and values from which visuals can be attributed, combined and remixed. The advantage of undertaking such a process is that the results are less likely to be generic and separate your work from the increasing number of off-the-shelf logo sites. A proven and communicable process will also show a potential client why a larger financial investment is worthwhile.

Provided by @richbaird

Research: Questionnaires

We’ve used a questionnaire in the past with regards to corporate identity design. It’s designed to get as much information out of the client as possible, including what they like, what they don’t like, colours, who their competitors are, who their target market is etc. This can provide a designer with detailed valuable information and stimulate new avenues of research. It’s worth developing a very simple document to begin with and expanding on it as you gain more understanding of the identity design process.

Resource Links:   Graham Smith  |   Jacob Cass

Provided by @ellishollie


If you’re new to freelancing your first clients may not have the budget to invest in research and strategy but it’s worth doing at your own expense. Try to expand on your pre-design process on a ‘by project basis’ as you gain more understanding of various sectors and develop the necessary confidence to engage clients with more penetrating and insightful questions.

Provided by @richbaird

Research: Presentation

Deliver your research in a clear and engaging manner through a variety of formats, infographics and moodboards are a great way to make your presentation interesting, professional and understandable. It can also provide a designer with a creative stimulus alongside the more analytical work.

Provided by @ellishollie

Research: Get out of the office

It’s really important to experience the product or service you are designing for, make a note of your first impressions, feelings, take pictures and if possible ask other people about their experiences. The internet is a great resource but can be very one-dimensional and can fail to convey emotion.

Provided by @richbaird

Research: Utilising Pintrest

Use Pintrest as a virtual moodboard to pin images that are related to your project. These could be material options, texture references, print treatments, colour options and graphic design inspiration etc. These boards can be easily shared with, utilised and added to by your client and help steer the direction of the project on a more collaborative basis.

Suggested by @iMelissaBrunet

Research: Trends

As a new or young designer trends have an incredibly powerful appeal but it’s important to remember that you’re not designing for yourself or to impress other designers. Spend time identifying key trends in the market place, are these long or short-term? How effective are they and is there room for new ideas? Research can help you spot and avoid saturated techniques but also to understand why these are relied upon and offer alternative solutions.

Suggested by @kattjayne

Strategy leads to relevance

The point of strategy is to make sure that each of your design directions are relevant and understandable to a particular consumer or visitor. Superfluous detail dilutes impact and can lead to a confusing message so identifying which visual devices are most communicative prior to design can save time and keep solutions focused and effective. If you can’t explain what each component offers then it’s likely to have be an aesthetic choice rather one drawn from anything meaningful.

Provided by @richbaird

Look to different industries for transferable ideas

When researching, say for a new brand, don’t limit your research to the sector to which your brand will belong. Direct competitors will offer you little but tried and tested clichés.

Instead look at brands in other areas that reflect the tone and stance of your own.

Provided by @jameswarfield


It’s often best to steer clear of obvious media generated stereotypes and keep things simple. Ask your client for a short statement on their intended market. As a young designer you’re not going to be expected to completely understand a every sector or demographic but it’s important to engage your client in narrowing down what may appeal to that particular group.

Provided by @RichBaird

Research: utilise social networks for thoughts and opinions

Big agencies have the luxury of focus groups, polls and letter drops. With a significantly smaller budget to operate with new freelancers have to put their ideas in front of as many people as possible without the associated expense. As the world continues its social and vocal upward trajectory opinions are becoming increasingly easier to come by. Short, well phrased questions can elicit helpful responses across blogs and social networks run or frequented by industry leaders or  your target. The anonymity of the Internet can provide very honest and revealing answers.

Provided by @richbaird

Brand statements

It can be beneficial to write a short statement to crystallise a brand’s key propositions and help to define the parameters that need to be fulfilled during the visualisation process.

Brand statement I created for Brownies Atelier:

“Brownies Atelier is a Lima based business, run by Christel Krumdiek, that produces finely flavoured and handcrafted brownies. Packed in uniquely designed boxes the brownies reflect Christel’s artistic background, passion for high quality, natural ingredients and her creative recipes. I was commissioned to develop an identity and two packaging options that would capture the texture and exclusivity of the products while positioning the brand as a sophisticated alternative to the typically cakey Peruvian brownie.”

Click here to read how this statement was visually executed across the identity.

Provided by @richbaird

Research: A collaborative approach

If you work remotely, instead of a workshop, consider setting up a shared folder on Dropbox so you and your client can upload images that visualise the ideas and themes related to the project. Having two interpretations of the same strategy can lead to a fresh perspective or an interesting and unique combination of styles.

Getting a client involved at this stage should also allow them to feel more invested in the process, be more understanding of the design solution and reduce the risk of initial concept rejection.

Provided by @richbaird

Strategy: Asset Architecture

Strategy should provide a designer with the opportunity to develop a broader visual language by distributing brand values, with varying impact, across the most communicative methods.

For example, a conversational tone of voice might well be better suited to Facebook and Twitter rather than conveyed across a packaging solution. Exclusivity maybe more appropriately executed through the packaging while sophistication presented across a simple logo-type.

Each component should contain subtle qualities of each value but weighted differently across a variety of touch point creating a coherent sense of variety. I like to call this ‘Asset Architecture’.

Provided by @richbaird

Don’t rush

Make sure you take plenty of time to research and understand the design problem and consider multiple strategic options before giving these visual resolutions. Leave a couple of days to digest all the information. A designer should be able to sort through the problem even when not consciously aware of it, time outside of the working environment should help to stimulate and cross-pollinate ideas.

Provided by @richbaird

Research: Understand your client

Understand your client inside-out through extensive research before starting any creative work. A strong and descriptive (ideally one page) brief and strategic guide will help too. Demystify your research, strategy and design processes where you can so a potential client can understand and appreciate your workload, talent and cost!

Suggested by @curvecorp

Allow ideas to evolve while doing other activities

Most of my planning and strategy does not involve a computer or pen, it’s all in my mind. As I am driving home from work or making dinner, I am mulling over the goals, purpose, message and visuals. By the time I return to the office I have layout what’s already fully built in my head on paper.

Increase your mental library

To help grow my mental library of styles, ideas and visuals, I surf the web, read RSS feeds and compile any idea I have into a notebook app. Typically by type of function or category, so I can review it later when needed.

Suggested by @rebecca_adolf



If you are a designer and have any advice you would like to add to this article, please submit your contribution as a comment below and remember to include your Twitter ID so I can credit your tip.

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