A Designer’s Approach to the Creative Process
Designer's Approach to the Creative Process
Perspective from Rachael Conti, Senior Graphic Designer at Advantage – a sponsorship and brand experience agency.
We all know the creative process can be difficult to kick start, and no one can simply dream up the perfect idea or campaign concept out of the blue. Within our own minds exists a cloud of unbridled ideas, and if we research, explore and obtain context, we can rein those thoughts in. It is important to understand how to think creatively and see a creative project through from beginning to end. With the proper tools in place, we can get our creative juices flowing. There are countless ways a designer can approach the creative process; however, here are a few steps I take to jumpstart that process and transport me from ideation to completion.

Asking the Right Questions

Asking ourselves the right questions is an excellent way to dig deeper into the project ask. Writing out the answers to these questions will give us a well-rounded understanding and will later inform our ideas. To start, I’ll grab some paper and a pen to answer the following questions:
What is it we are trying to do or say?
This could be a problem we are trying to solve. Or a call to action.
Why are we trying to do it or say it?
We can also ask, what is the purpose? Or why is it necessary? What are we trying to achieve?
Who is it we are trying to reach?
I describe our target audience. Are they male, female, unisex? High or low income? Do they have passions?
Why that particular audience?
What about this audience makes them prime subjects for listening to what we have to say or for receiving what we’re trying to give/sell them? Are they current customers with whom we want to deepen loyalty? Or are they not current customers, and we hope someday they will be? What makes them more likely to buy into the company or product?
How do we think we can reach that audience?
I think about their passions and what moves them to action. Where are they located or where can we find them? How do they consume information and content? Does the brand voice speak to them? If not, how can we change that? Is there a problem they have that we think we can solve?
Once we’ve answered these questions to the best of our ability, now is the perfect time to reach out to data analysts and researchers, so they can answer the questions we weren’t able to. All of this information will prove necessary for informing creativity and ideas along the way.

Extracting Keywords & Developing Mind Maps

Using the answers from the previous step, I like to pull out the strongest keywords and list as many synonyms or related words I can think of. This can take on the form of an organized list or a mind map, which is a diagram used to visually organize information. It can be hierarchical and can reveal relationships among pieces of the whole. The ultimate goal of this tool is to inspire related words, phrases, and thoughts as we build it. Once complete, I circle the best keywords.

Manifesting Our Intentions & Ideas

This is where the magic happens. Based on the selected keywords, I develop a concept title, and a 2-3 sentence manifesto, declaring the intentions, motives, and/or views of the brand and idea. At this stage, by digesting the findings from the previous steps we are concepting our ideas into written form. Not everyone is a copywriter, and that’s OK. I try to write up a manifesto to the best of my ability, even if it never reaches the public eye. The manifesto can always be wordsmithed and rewritten after the fact, as long as myself and my team understand its true meaning and purpose.

Crafting Mood Boards

Now it’s time to develop a visual thematic. To begin that process, I will start by crafting mood boards for each manifesto. For those that aren’t familiar, a mood board is a collaged composition consisting of curated inspirational photography, artwork, textures, colors, typography, and other graphic elements. This can be achieved either digitally or analogically; and the images can be sourced from anywhere, i.e. magazines, Google Images, Pinterest, and creative platforms like Behance and Dribbble. Mood boards can inspire a project’s overall look and feel, as it represents the aesthetic and emotion of the concept. This is all informed by our findings in the previous steps. With our manifesto, keywords, and answered questions as a guide, we can formulate a visual mood board, sourcing images and inspiration from anywhere and everywhere.

Putting it to Paper

Nearly every creative professional will swear by this step, as it’s one of the first lessons they teach us in design school. Once I have the look and feel down, I start putting it to paper through a series of sketches and drawings. Going straight to digital tends to cramp and restrain the ideation process. Also, a designer doesn’t have to be a professional sketch artist to perform this step. The quicker and dirtier the sketch, the better. That means my ideas are flowing out of me and onto that piece of paper! I even try to be fearless and use a pen rather than a pencil. There’s no need to second guess my drawn strokes, as my sketches are meant only for my eyes and my fellow teammates’. I can filter out the drawings that don’t work later. Rough sketching allows me to test whatever is in my brain and develop multiple compositions. As long as I know what my intentions are, my messy sketches can be easily translated to a clean digital composition.

Applying it Digitally

At this point, I should have a few selected sketches that I can now render into digital form. Taking the curated graphic elements from my mood board, I apply them to my compositions. Like the sketches, I test multiple layouts to discover the best options. Digital application is all aesthetic decision making. I form my composition by combining colors, graphic elements, and imagery. Similar to a puzzle, I fit pieces together until they work.

Present, Revise & Finalize

I am all about showing off the kick-ass work I just did…then asking for some feedback. Everyone knows this part can get a little chaotic because we are including outside opinions. So long as we present our ideas and explain why/how we got there, it’s likely the client will get on board and trust our creative decisions. It’s important to think of enticing ways to incorporate our creative process into the presentation, so the client can appreciate how we got there as much as we do. This includes showing off our mood boards and presenting our finalized manifesto for each concept.
Landing on a campaign concept doesn’t just happen. Before flexing your creative muscles you have to stretch them first – do an intensive warmup to get the creative juices flowing. These steps are a surefire way to jumpstart creative thinking and nail the creative process. Need help with creative on your upcoming project? We’d be happy to put our creative process to good use to give you the results you’re looking for. Send us a message and let’s chat!
Rachael Conti is a Senior Graphic Designer working on the Creative & Content team at Advantage. She has supported the creative needs for The Event Studio, EXP, and Sponsorship Consulting teams, including clients; Allegiant, LG Electronics, Frontier Communications, Microsoft, NYX Professional Makeup and Smithsonian Channel, among others. Design is her passion; and when it comes to her work, she believes in concept, the creative process and having fun.