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August 25

The Creative Process

With the rise of the digital design age along with the rise of design blogs, I have noticed something that makes me cringe. No longer does anyone talk about the creative process. It honestly makes me feel pretty upset. Great design doesn’t come from a machine. Great design comes from the human mind, and that is one thing that many design blogs do not teach.

There are loads of amateur designers and design bloggers, who haven’t been trained with the creative process. I don’t blame them for not knowing, but it’s something that I personally feel needs to be taught to anyone who wants to pursue a career in design.

There is a particular design blog that I really used to enjoy reading, until they started publishing tutorial articles (obvious link bait is obvious). There was a particular article that I just couldn’t agree with – the entire tutorial was on how to create infographics, particularly in Illustrator.

The blog wrote:

Step 1

The work with infographics always involves information search and data processing in the first phase of your project. I use the internet statistics in this tutorial. The first graph, which we create, will show a number of internet users, social networks, mobile subscribers and total population (source: slideshare.net). All that I listed above is called categories, and numbers which correspond to these categories are called data. Take the Bar Graph Tool and create a marquee selection on the black area of the current document. As a result, the Graph Data window opens, where all categories and data should be entered.

Edit: if the author / blog editor of the quote happens to read this, by no means am I bashing you or your writing. Your post was very informative on the tools used to create infographics. I’m simply showing how many posts like this leave out a very important aspect of designing, the creative process.

P.S. it is not safe to assume your readers already know the creative process or are professionals. Many of your readers have never had any formal training in design, and therefore are commonly unaware of the creative process.

I hate to sound like a complete jerk, but the first step to creating infographics, or designing in general, is not jumping into the program and going at it.

Great design doesn’t work like that. Great design doesn’t come from the computer. Before any designer goes near the computer, they should have completed the first parts of the creative process.

Research + Brainstorm + Sketch + Refine + Design

The first step: Research + Brainstorm

Research and brainstorming almost go hand in hand. In order to design well, you must know your client, and your client’s demographic. Research the demographic, look for other work that has been designed for that audience, look at other infographics. In order to brainstorm, you really must know the ins and outs of your audience, what makes them angry, happy, sad, every emotion possible. And to know all that, you must research.

What is the point and purpose behind brainstorming? Ask yourself, “who is going to be viewing your design?”, and  “how can you craft it to appeal to them?”.

Great design, my friends, sparks an emotional reaction. Even infographics can be designed so well that it makes you feel something.

Step two: Sketch

Sketching is most likely the most important part of the creative process. I can’t stress enough how crucial it is that you sketch your ideas on paper. Create as many small sketches (thumbnails) as possible. It’s important to get all of your ideas down on paper. Don’t worry about the quality of the idea or even the quality of the sketch – as long as you get all of your ideas on paper and you understand what the idea was, that is the important part.

When you draw thumbnails, its about quantity. The ideas that you think aren’t so great can sometimes be your most effective ones. Draw every single idea that comes to mind – I try and shoot for 50 to 100 different thumbnails. Some may say that’s overkill, but I honestly don’t feel like its possible for me to come up with a great idea in just 10 – 20 thumbnails. The best ideas are sometimes the least conventional, the last ones you think of.

The third step: Revise

Revise, revise, revise. Choose your best 5 – 10 ideas, and sketch them again, but bigger. For logos, draw them at least 5″x5″, bigger if you’re a bold person. For apps, sketch them at close to the actual size of the screen, same for websites. Everything else can be a scaled down version (eg, magazine spread, revise at 1:3 scale).

It’s important to draw your revisions somewhat neatly, especially if it is a logo design or illustration. It will make it significantly easier to trace / draw over in Illustrator in the future.

Step 4: Design

Finally, grab that mouse and fire up that software! This is the best part, and if you have followed the creative process, it should also be the easiest.

Instead of going straight to the computer and trying to come up with the ideas there, you have already come up with great ideas to start putting together. All that is left to do is really clean up your great ideas – use your computer as a tool to make your paper ideas really come to life.

The creative process is so effective – it has been used for decades by the world’s greatest designers. It was established to help us save time and produce the best work possible. I urge anyone who is already a designer, or who plans to pursue a career in design, to study and use the creative process.

Check out this TED radio talk on the creative process.

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