Understanding the Design Process

If you are getting something designed, whether it is a website, brochure, product packaging or whatever, it's helpful to understand the process.

There's a natural sequence that if followed smooths the process and contributes to a stellar result. This applies to any visual art, not just marketing. It includes photography, fine art painting and video amongst other venues.

1. The first thing is who is it addressed to? You can't make ANY design decisions without knowing whether you are trying to reach Inuit speaking Eskimos or Manhattan attorneys.

2. The next thing is the message. What are you trying to communicate? As that controls EVERYTHING, whether images, copy or the paper it is printed on.

3. The third thing is the dominant image. There is always going to be some main image around which the piece will be organized and that is a major factor in determining color scheme as well as many other things.

Sometimes you don't initially know what the dominant image should be and you have to go back and forth between this step and the next two before it is finalized. Sometimes your dominant image is established in stone from the start.

4. The idea. The designer has to get an idea of what the design is to be.

5. The comp. "Comp" is short for "comprehensive". Another word for the same thing is "mockup". In the days before computers, "dummy" was another synonym. We also use the term "look" especially when we are talking about a website.

This is a rough execution of the idea. Sometimes it's done with pencil on paper. Or, most often, in Photoshop.

It has just one purpose: to see if the idea works or try and adjust until it does.

If it doesn't, go back to #4 or #3 and come forward again until you have a basic design for the piece or item that looks good and will do its part to effectively communicate the right message.

In fine art painting and sculpture, this step is called a "study."


If it is gone at any other way, lots of time is likely to be wasted and the quality and effectiveness of the end result may be severely compromised.

We try to make sure our clients understand where we are at in the process. Otherwise, we get complaints about typos when we are still at the mockup stage. It's also why designers use Latin text as fillers in mockups - the text is meaningless at that point.

Once the mockup has been settled, there should be at most minor changes in the overall look of the piece or item. Now all the work is on writing and polishing copy, building website pages, getting the pictures to look just right, etc. etc.

Every detail now counts, but it's all done within the framework of the established look.

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