There is a popular quote, often misattributed to Albert Einstein, that states “If I had only one hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes better defining the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the potential solutions.”
At the beginning of every creative effort there exists a question, one whose answer is the end result of the creative process. It pays to spend time making sure I’m asking the right question before I start exploring answers, developing a theoretical anchor to which the rest of the process is tied.
I gather and process as much information as I can, helping to define audience, identify and analyze competition, and determine what (if any) major themes will help tie together the project moving forward. Depending on the degree to which the project can be compared to past endeavors, case studies may be put together on the projected strengths and weaknesses to be expected. User Personas may also be worked up to help better understand market segments, and if branding is within the project scope focus groups may be organized to help define ideal ways to represent desired qualities within the prospective brand.
This is the very first broad strokes of design, intended to lay out a basic structure for the project to come. Information Architecture is a priority here, as is overall User Experience; any systems or workflows deemed vital to the project are designed first, not only to make sure that they remain true to the project scope, but to provide a core around which the more concrete portions of the project can come together. Those pieces that are required for the support of the core functionality are next given a rough design, resulting in a crude first draft of the final product presented in the form of wireframes and/or storyboards.
In this step I pair the crude designs of the previous step, which had been more concerned with flow and information and structure, and begin to give it a facelift of sorts: I add color, texture and form where needed, design and integrate logos, even produce and integrate rich media such as animation and video to bring a more polished and complete aspect to the design. Animations may be employed to fully express design thinking during presentations.
In this step, we translate the project from existing purely as a design to a tangible reality; depending on the type of project and the needs of its stakeholders, my delivery may be in the form of a working interface with “dummy” data, an approximation of the final product using software tools to create a clickable demonstration, or simply a carefully notated set of redlines to hand off to a development team to bring to life.
Once the prototype has buy-in from stakeholders, it’s time to complete the work. I may be hands-on helping to build the interface, or instead supporting a development team by providing whatever assets they require moving forward to help best execute the design. Implementation may be a one-time process, but returning to the project and refining it can bring added value, especially once the project has seen enough users to generate feedback I can base my next round of research on.