It’s the challenge of creating something that will “wow” and go beyond what a client could have ever imagined possible that is motivating and exciting to me as a designer. Whether it’s a logo, business card, brochure, or website, the designer will be making the “look and feel” decisions for their client’s company. These decisions determine how that company presents itself to potential customers/clients and in some cases before the client ever talks to them. A designer is the first line of communication from that company to the world. Their design can be the determining factor in whether or not a business is successful. That’s a BIG deal, and a huge responsibility.
Sometimes a client knows exactly what they want, or they say they do, and the designer will just act as an equipment operator for them. Not my favorite job, but that usually means the project will be checked off the task list relatively quickly.
Other times, a designer is handed a blank canvas, because the client will have no idea what they need or want, but they know they need something (and usually need that something completed yesterday). The client is hoping the designer can figure out what is in their head even though they themselves can’t see the starting line. That’s a tall order for any designer, and one that can cause a great deal of anxiety for both parties if the project isn’t managed properly.
Over the course of my 20+ years as a designer, I have developed a system for tackling these blank canvases with positive outcomes for all. So in the spirit of fostering designer excitement over designer anxiety, I thought I’d share a few key things that help me get a handle on the monster that I call, Designing Blind.
- Do your Homework. At the start of the game, you should keep it simple by getting answers to these 2 important questions: 1) What is the company name?, and 2) What do you do/sell?
After that, I recommend setting up a future meeting with the cliet (face to face or online meeting with video) to get a game plan together. Before that meeting rolls around, do your homework! Google their product or service and find out all about what your client is offering. Research the market as a whole, look at the competition's logos, color schemes, site layouts, and social media presence or lack thereof. Study the specific choices that successful competitors are making with their designs. You don’t want to copy them, but there is a reason why they are successful, and it isn’t just because of what they are selling. Sometimes their choices are what makes them so successful in spite of what they are selling. There will be a method to their design madness.
- Interview the Client. In that first meeting, talk to your client to get a feel for the attitude and message that they want to project (this step usually gives me color palette ideas). Ask if there are "no-no" colors. “I hate purple” would be great information to have at the beginning before you've spent hours basing the whole design around that color. Find out if anything is off limits as far as words, attitude, and shapes go. Find out what they want their site/logo to evoke in potential clients. The feeling they want to give off when a client sees their design for the first time. (Ex. crispness, cleanliness, organization or chaos, healing, optimism or anger, happiness, playfulness, seriousness, action, or relaxation). Ask them what they want their website to do for them. (To sell, inform, gather info, raise money, or all of the above?) Also gather clues from the items and colors they surround themself with, use in their office, wear, and hang on the walls. Do they favor round/sharp edges, soft materials, and semetry or asymetry? (this helps me get a feel for their design flavors) Take notes! You will never remember it all later. And finally, get and set the client's expectations for the project.
- Request 3 urls. Email the client and ask them to send you 3 urls that they like using/viewing for whatever reason. (This helps me design an overall layout that the client is more likely to approve.) Even if the client can't tell you why they like a particular site, you should be able to see what is similar between the three sites and figure it out. (Are all menus across the top/side/bottom? Are they all bold or primary colors? Lots of pictures? Cool features? Simple? Lots of whitespace? Do they lead the customer through or throw everything up on the home page?) If they offer up reasons for liking certain sites then great! Maybe they like the Hero banner size, but nothing else about the site; or maybe they like the way a form looks, but not the color choices. Perhaps they find the logo super cool and says exactly what the company is. You get the picture, right?
- Analyze all the Data. Gather all notes, ideas, inspiring photos, downloads, gut feelings, experience, and research results into one pile. (This helps me formulate the big picture and get both the client and myself to the finish line more quickly and with less anxiety.) Spend an hour or two organizing all the pieces into workable solution. Look at color charts, type the company name in different fonts (even the crazy ones), and scan through stock art to help find a starting place for the design. No need to reinvent the wheel because time is golden. Remember that. Use all resources available to you when it comes to reaching the happy endgame on a project.
- Design for the Client. Now it's time to create! Never provide more than 4 options/variations in a single proofset, because more than 4 confuses and muddies the waters for all. Never-never send a proof option/variation that falls into the "I hope they don't pick that one" category, because they will pick that one, and then you won't be happy with them nor will you want it in your portfolio. In the initial contract for hire, be sure to have locked down a 3 proof process with the client. Meaning, changes can be made and proofs provided 3 times within the cost frame of the initial approved quote; however, proofset #4 and beyond will cost over and above the originally quoted price of the project. (Trust me. You’ll be glad you did this.)
Once we get past this last step, thanks to the previous four, I usually successfully naildown a happily approved design inside of three proofsets, and you can too!