The Design Process Matters
At Emotive Brand, we work each day to bring brands to life through strategically informed design. And doing this requires a multi-step process. Wayne Tang, a senior designer in the studio, adds a rare balance of analytics and creativity to the design part of the process. With his background as a mechanical engineer, Wayne brings a logical focus to all projects, a honed systematic approach, and an ability to see the big and small picture to us help deliver the best design solutions for our clients. In this interview, he explains and discusses his design process at Emotive Brand, why it works, and the challenges and rewards embedded in it.
What is the design process? Can you define it in simple terms?
The design process is the set of steps we take, as designers, to reach the final solution. Every studio and designer takes a different approach. It’s another way of explaining our workflow, the ways in which we collaborate, and how we reach the best strategically informed design solution possible.
Why is process so important to design?
There are some designers who just start creating things on the computer right away, and don’t take the time to build or follow a design process. But usually when you do it that way, the solution is not as well thought out and falls short when it comes to execution. A good solution stems from doing your homework. You need to know the client and the industry inside and out. Often times, it takes time for unique ideas to come to you, especially if the industry is complicated. It’s critical that as designers we move through each step of the process carefully and thoughtfully. By doing so we are able to create unique solutions that help differentiate your client and avoid repetition or design that is not distinctive. Process helps promote collaboration between designers maximizing ideas and ultimately creating the most powerful solutions.
Can you outline your design process for us?
First, it’s always important to have an in-depth understanding of the client and their industry before diving in. We analyze the competition as well as best practices outside of the category.
2. Absorb the brief:
The brief is critical for designers, providing the big picture view of what a client needs, and connecting to the strategy our team has created. Understanding the emotional impact of the brand strategy helps me find imagery that evokes those same emotions. I always use the brand promise to help guide the design.
3. Free association:
Not every designer does this, but I find it helpful to draw a word map at this point in the process. It’s almost like a string of word associations that come from the brand. I look for images that match those associations to get a better sense of what direction to take.
4. Mood board:
This is the most important stage of the process for us at EB. It’s a stage of inspiration and creativity as well as focus and distillation. At the studio, we create mood boards for the brand by scouring the net for images. These could be anything from branding projects to graphic design, photography, posters, album covers, packaging, etc. We print, cut, and categorize images and try to create solid concepts from groups of images that reveal something to us about the brand. These boards are always different. Some are very conceptual. Others are more style-driven. From there, we can narrow it down to the most compelling, and powerful concepts. This part of the process is inspiring and exciting. It gives us the momentum we need to move forward.
5. Design explorations:
From the mood boards, we begin to focus in on the concepts. However, we make sure not to limit the possibilities. Often times, new concepts emerge in this stage. Sometimes initial concepts get grouped together. Or one concept gets broken apart. This part of the process is all about creating quick designs. For instance, we would create a quick sketch of a logo, explore how the system could look with a few layouts, and then move onto the next concept. It’s not about details. It’s about coming up with as many rough directions as possible.
6. Refine, expand, refine, refine, refine:
Out of the many concepts we’ve created, we collaborate to select three or four that we agree hold the most potential. These are the concepts we refine again and again until the solution is where we want them both aesthetically and strategically. We would then expand on these concepts to see how the system could flex in different media, and then refine again and again and again.
What are the challenges you have come across in this process?
Sometimes, I hit a block. And this is hard, but creative blocks are inevitable to any creative process. However, what usually helps me is simply talking to my fellow designers. I just ask what other designers think, and we always find a way around a particular problem. Getting other perspectives really helps move through blocks in the process. Sometimes I take a walk. Or I do menial tasks and turn my brain off design for a while. I really have had a few new ideas pop up in a shower – it’s not a myth!
Another challenge, as always, is allocating time correctly. This is why understanding the client and their industry is so important, as well as designing from a strategically informed mindset. This understanding makes it easier to identify what parts of the process are going to require more time and attention and be of more value to the client and the end solution.
Can you talk more about how working with the EB team plays into the process?
Having a team to talk through differences, gather inspiration from, and flesh out ideas with is key to moving the process forward. As you get to know the people you work with, you learn their strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has them. In our team, some designers are more logical, while others are more intuitive. You need both to create truly unique, well thought-out solutions. Every designer brings something different to the table, and another set of eyes can make all the difference.
What are some of the most important attributes to the design process today?
I would say adaptability and flexibility. Some projects are less conceptual. Others are more client-orientated. The ability to be able to tailor the process to the project is very important. And processes that allow adaptability and flexibility often lead to more creative, innovative, and powerful ideas and design solutions.
Emotive Brand is a San Francisco brand strategy and design agency.