A Designer’s Creative Process

Posted March 9, 2022 by Jon Vlasak

Though I have only been at Brightly Creative for a little over 6 months, I am no stranger to the creative process. Although the resources available to designers have greatly expanded over the years it has not made the ability to brainstorm or come up with creative solutions any easier. In fact, it has made it that much more difficult to capture people’s attention.

When I enrolled at the Art Institute of Seattle many moons ago, I had dreams of becoming an illustrator. This was before Twitter, Instagram or any of the myriad of digital distractions that are a facet of our daily lives existed. I did own a first generation PlayStation. It was easy to sit down and waste the day with Tony Hawk Pro Skater. But I learned very quickly that deadlines don’t wait. 

I outgrew the PlayStation, but the challenges of producing creative, eye-catching work remain. I’ve come a long way since those early art school days. After 20 plus years as a designer I have found a process that has resulted in work that meets deadlines and makes for happy clients. While I’ve found success with this formula, your mileage may vary.

Just Get Started

There is nothing more intimidating than a blank page/screen awaiting your creative genius. Instagram, Twitter and YouTube beckon for your attention. While distracting yourself with mindless scrolling is tempting I like to take inspiration from Kris Kringle in the Rankin/Bass classic Santa Claus is Coming to Town: “You put one foot in front of the other and soon you’ll be walking out the door. You’ll never get where you’re going if you never get up on your feet.”

Analog First, If Time Allows

The tools available to designers have made it extremely easy to sit down at your computer and bang out designs. While a quick digital design can be satisfying, my most creative solutions start with the humble pencil. Word lists are part of almost any major project I undertake. There is something about putting a pencil to paper with no guardrails in place. Making lists of related words and concepts gets the brain going. I then create thumbnails, sketches and doodles from that list.   

Find Flow

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as a state of complete immersion in an activity. Being immersed can be defined as a state of focus in which a person is completely absorbed and engrossed in their work. I find that engaging in some sort of physical activity such as lifting weights, going for a long walk or bike ride primes the pump for the flow state. Creative solutions present themselves more readily and ideas take shape on the screen or in the sketchbook. Ride this wave as long as possible. This state is elusive but when found it’s the most rewarding part of the creative process.

Walk Away

It may seem counterintuitive but after I am comfortable with several layouts/concepts/designs/sketches, I take a step back. This could be for an hour or a day. When I return to the project with fresh eyes I always seem to see an opportunity for improvement.

Three is the Magic Number 

After coming back to a project I always try to pursue three different directions. This ensures I am covering my creative bases and not ignoring a potential solution. These options can be variations on a theme or three completely different design directions. The important part is providing several creative solutions for the client to choose from.  

Be Done

You can always go back to tweak some spacing, add another element or update a color. But sometimes it is best to put a pin in it. I always have to resist this temptation. This is also a good time to reflect on all steps taken along the journey. If you feel like you checked all the boxes, it’s time to call this particular project a wrap.

Creating well-received work is extremely satisfying. While there are many approaches to a designer’s process, I hope this glimpse into what I find successful is helpful to those looking to bolster their creative output.

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