Am I a designer by trade? Not in the slightest. But as someone who does graphic design work for fun, I’ve still developed a design process to use on each project I do.
Much like any activity, there are steps that you take to get to whatever end goal you want, whether that be writing an essay (research, drafting, editing) or finding a new place to eat (checking Google/Yelp reviews, finding the best route, arriving at the restaurant). Graphic design isn’t any different, where there’s a few steps to follow to get to the final design.
To give a more practical approach, here’s a rundown of the process I’m using for my latest project challenge… 14 days of Valentine’s Day cards. Check them out @dontmakelies on Instagram to see all of the finished designs!
Everything starts with an idea. I find inspiration from anywhere, really. I’ll scroll through Pinterest, think about what’s happening in my personal life, or try to make something to match an event. The past seven days have been making Valentine’s Day cards to celebrate the holiday coming up in another seven, so I’ve been thinking about Valentine’s cards from elementary school or things I see in movies and tv to get some inspiration.
Once I have an idea down, I like to sketch whatever I’m thinking out on paper. Sometimes I’ll do this in a traditional sketchbook, but lately, they’ve been doodles in the notebook that used to be my planner before I went digital (more on that process here if you’re interested). In the photo above, you can see my preliminary sketches for the cards. Once I had a few of the 14 drawn out, I made a list in Notion of the 14 phrases I wanted to include on each of the cards. And then it was onto the actual designing.
Designing in Illustrator
If I have one love in the world, it’s the Adobe Illustrator software. I’ve been using it for about four years now and I don’t plan on stopping because I’ve grown the most comfortable with it to make all my graphic design projects. I’ll occasionally use Photoshop if the project calls for it instead, but everything else is in Illustrator. So, once the app is up and running, there are a few sub-steps, if you will, to the design process.
Creating a color palette
I always start with deciding the colors I’m going to use. For most of my Don’t Make Lies branded pieces, I now have a solid color palette that I use on each piece so this isn’t as much of a step anymore. But once I have a new project, such as these cards, I had to create a new palette. As a starting point, I took the pink from my DML palette and messed around with the color picker to find complements. Once I had a solid palette, I used it to create the pattern for the card color and backgrounds so they looked cohesive in that aspect on the feed, even if the the actual style of the card cover was different for each one.
The actual designing
This next step is making the sketches come to life. This obviously varies from project to project, but I always start with a background color and then just start putting together text and shapes to create whatever I need. There’s always a good number of Googling how to do different effects in Illustrator as well because there will always be more to learn with that app. But for the most part, it’s just playing around until I get to the end result I sketched out or see in my head.
Refining the piece
The last step in the design is refining everything you make. For me, this could be choosing a different font if the original doesn’t match the vibe of the end graphic or editing the placement so everything is more evenly spread and appealing to the eye. It’s a lot like editing an essay into the final draft. This is also the time where I’ll ask for some feedback on the piece. For each of the cards, I’ve been sending drafts to my sister because she’s really into graphic design too and I trust her judgement with these things. Once I get some more feedback, I make the edits and save the file.
Export and Post
The final step in my design process is to export and post to Instagram. This is less so about the design and more about the promotion and sharing of what I make, but I enjoy posting to the Internet (hence the blog too).
And that’s my whole design process. It’s not too exciting in step-by-step form, but I promise the actual designing is the best part of it all. I will add that you should be taking breaks and drinking water during some of these steps so you don’t sit at the desk and stare at your computer for too long, which is what I’m often prone to doing. Also, let me know if there’s a step in your design process that you think is vital for others to know too.
Don’t forget to drink some water, and thanks for reading!