“Research is the scholarly pursuit of new knowledge, discovery, or creative activity in an area with the goal of advancing that area’s frontiers or boundaries.”
Goal of Research & Sketching
The goal of adhering to the early steps of our process–research & sketching–is to ensure high concept creative/ design.
Qualities of High Concept Design
- High level of entertainment value High degree of originality
- High level of uniqueness (different than original)
- Highly visual
- Possesses a clear emotional focus (root emotion)
- Targets a broad, general audience, or a large niche market.
“High-concept is a type of artistic work that can be easily pitched with a succinctly stated premise.”
In other words, high-concept design is easily sold to clients and stakeholders, your design choices are quantifiable and dependable. This helps ensure client satisfaction and a successful project.
Iterative & Agile
Iterative : Our process is nonlinear. During the beginning of any project we should lean heavily of research then sketching, but at times we should test out our concepts in digital, particularly logo concepts. But never show refined concepts to the client without their consensus and buy in of the concepts, thus showing low fidelity work first is preferred.
The reason we take small steps with our work and with working with our clients is to prevent rework. Rework is the scourge of any project and can kill your project’s profitability.
Agile : Agile project management process is known for being interactive, non-linear, dexterous, and focusing on the user while helping you get to optimal concepts then delivery of work that is purposeful, meaningful, quantifiable, appropriate, and easily sold.
Agile is typically used in development, however I have come to the conclusion that its principles of taking iterative and incremental steps work extremely effectively with managing yours and the clients expectations, eliminating surprises and the unknown, keeping the client fully engaged, and getting to delivery with a successful project on time and on budget, with NO rework. If at any time during the process the client bucks, it is usually because the project was not scoped out properly. If that’s the case, you return and re-scope, getting more money and better aligning expectations, or part ways with the client.
Why Rework Sucks
Don’t Lose With Rework : My study and understanding of rework and my determination to prevent it at all costs lead me to much of my design process as well as how I manage client’s expectations.
What is rework? Th term rework became popularized in a book called Rework written by the founders of 37Signals (Basecamp). It’s basic message is “ASAP is poison.” Rework is unaccounted for redoing, correcting, or rebuild.
Rework is typically the result of a poor or non-existent project process. The symptoms of this are frustration by both the project team and the client. A properly composed Project Charter is a reliable tool to ensure all expectations are managed properly. A project charter outlines all the key stakeholders, the project process, the deliverables, risk, challenges, current situation, goals, and metrics for success/completion. Since defining and sticking to my project process, including using a project charter, I have eliminated all rework, I have done my best work, and I have happy client. However, you will, and I have, run into unreasonable clients that just won’t work out no matter what you do. They want free work and want to screw with your process, these are the ones to avoid, fire, or as I prefer stick strictly to the process and scope and deliver, but never speak to them again.
Components of Design Research
Competitor Analysis : An assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of current and potential competitors. This analysis provides both an offensive and defensive strategic context to identify opportunities and threats.
Design Research : is about understanding real people in the context of their everyday lives and then using what we learn to inspire our work.
Design Inspiration : the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. Creative inspiration comes from 2 or more sources, if it comes from less you are stealing. Don’t steal.
Pre & Post Research : Research should be done throughout the project process, including before the final design (mainly identity work) are delivered to the client. It is important to ensure originality in your work, even if you did due diligence. Often inspiration for our work comes from our sub-consciously, where something we’ve seen in the past comes through. It happens, so be sure to research your work to help prevent any awkward scenarios.
Tools for Design Research
Your Client : Your client is part of the project team. Source from them by way of interview and/ or questionnaire important information on who their competitors are in their market and how they compete, who their neighbors are on their block (literally and figuratively) vying for your visual attention and trying to stand out from the crowd.
Pinterest : Pinterest has emerged as an excellent tool for research and research collaboration with clients and project teams. Creating Pinterest boards for each project is an excellent method of researching and collecting great examples of work and all members of the project team can contribute, helping keep people engaged. Pinterest is an excellent tool to help get visual concept consensus from all stakeholders as well as amassing quality visual inspiration.
Books : Nothing inspires better than good design resources in print, like books and magazines.
Google : Researching for your project via Google is less then ideal. It is very difficult to get the search results needed to properly research your project. But once you have a design, a good practice to Google Image search your work, to help ensure the design isn’t too similar to existing designs. However, using a Copyright attorney is the only way to limit any legal risk and it is recommended that in your contract you address this and put the responsibility on the client.
Analyze : Identity the current and potential competition. Once the competition has been identified, assess the strengths and weaknesses.
Be sure to assess the following:
- Brand Reputation
- Marketing Materials
- Packaging, Collateral
- Customer Experience
Empathize : Defined by empathy. As we know, design research is understanding people, their pain points, and how the design/product will benefit them. Be sure to define and understand the following
- What they want?
- What they need?
- What they feel?
- Test your design.
- Refine, optimize and deliver.
- Track the performance of your designs.
- Further revise, update and improve if needed.
These points are very much aligned with our overall creative process.
Creating user personas is a helpful exercise and method for understanding your target people.
Be Inspired : What we see, do, experience, read, and learn all impact our work. Attempting to start from scratch in the creative process is a fallacy and likely impossible. We must have a starting point for our designs. That is why researching is so crucial to delivering top notch work. Be inspired by books, conversation, film, your peers, your idols, the masters, and most importantly life itself. Gather your forms of inspiration, identity what pieces are core to your project and refer to them and build off the ingenuity and imagination within them.
Good designers are well read. Good designers are cultured. Good designers write well. Good designers are curious. Good designers are interested in many things. Good designers are humble. Good designers like to learn.
Pre & Post Research
Always Research : As we’ve seen, logo fails and other design mishaps happen too often. As a good designer you must incorporate research to every facet and phase of your project. You want to ensure your work is original as well as not implying something inappropriate or weird that will damage your client’s brand as well as your integrity.
But, do not shoulder all of the burden. Include in your contract language putting the responsibility to copyright or trademark your work on the client. They will pay a copyright attorney to handle the legal research and filing. But never let the client receive work that is questionable or worse.
Active the Right Brain : Once you feed your mind, it is important to start processing and working out ideas and concepts for the problem at hand. You do not need to be a skilled artist or illustrator to reap the immense benefits of sketching in your notebook. Do it. Do it all the time, and always run back to your notebook to work out some fresh ideas. Sketching is the quickest and most efficient method of working out ideas and evolving concepts., You’ll get to better solutions faster, you’ll move past weak or failed concepts quickly. And you will have an archive of your thought process, which is imperative to selling your work to your clients, as well as selling yourself to prospective clients or employers.
The first step in sketching is to pick up a writing utensil and put ink on a clean page. Then go from there. It is that simple. Designers and creative of all ilks and levels have their own personalized method, find your own through playful drawing and sketching in your notebooks. Enjoy it and be amazed at what you can come up with.
Designing is OK : While we are not truly in the design phase of the project, don’t be afraid to test out some concepts in the digital realm. However, be careful not to jump to the machine too quickly. Your mind is where it all happens, the computer and software are just tools to help you execute your ideas. No great design happens in Adobe with properly researching, sketching, iterating, and repeating before you push pixels.
As Milton Glaser said: “Computers are to design as microwaves are to cooking.”
Let the ideas flow!
I like to say early ideas are like the cork in a wine bottle. Like the cork they have a purpose, but also like the cork you have to get them out of the way to really let the goodness flow. Don’t stop at your early ideas, get them on paper then throw them away and brilliance can follow.