My Design Process

As I near completion of my fourth class at University, one of the fundamental factors in all classes, is the design process. The design process refers to the steps you take to reach a final design. The way you approach this can vary between every person. My process involves; mind mapping/rough notes, research, inspiration, sketching, recreation in Illustrator (or other applications), the refinement and finished result.

The design process is a journey which relies on your ability to communicate your ideas. A collection of written and visual inspiration, allowing development of your artistic project.

For this post, I have included examples of my design process for a University project. The project involved the creation of three paper plane designs. I have included the completed design and process of one plane.

1. Mind Mapping / Rough Notes

Mind Mapping and rough notation is the process that allows you to branch out on a starting theme or subject. You are able to draw new connections you may not have considered before.

The initial stage of my process begins by exploring ideas connected to my starting point. The starting point may be a word, concept or even a feeling. I then think of as many different associations as I can. Sometimes I may even scribble any random thoughts I have.

Examples of mind mapping / rough notes

Design Process Mind Mapping Design Process Mind MappingDesign Process Mind Mapping

(Please excuse my horrible handwriting and spelling! :o )

Mind mapping allows you to join the dots between your starting point and pushing it as far as you can.


2. Research

Research involves the process of looking at and studying your subject. Understanding how it works, why it works and any other relevant information.

The level of research that I undertake depends on the purpose of the project. If the project is for an academic reason I will usually do more research then a personal project. In my project on the paper plane, I looked at the history of paper planes, how and why they were/are used. I then looked at my chosen theme, flightless birds. Examining bird environments and the reasons attributed to their lack of flying ability.

You don’t have to write an essay while doing your research, but it’s good to have a basic understanding of your subject. Doing this early can prevent you from having to do any major changes later.


3. Inspiration

Inspiration involves viewing visual sources, to assist in the development of your ideas. It’s important to note that when examining visual sources they are for inspiration only. You should never copy an existing design or image.

I gather my sources in mood and Pinterest boards, allowing quick reference to many images. Sometimes I may gather 10 images, other times 60 or 100. The number of images you gather depends on the subject/s you are working with. A more complicated design may have many points needing inspiration.

For my paper plane design, I looked at inspiration on paper planes (especially those with custom designs), penguin photography, penguin illustrations, and arctic climates.

Example of mood board (and references)

Design Process Mood Board


4. Sketching

Sketching is the process of creating quick sketches to capture the basic concept of your intended design. You do not have to be a talented traditional artist to create sketches and they do not have to be perfect! The most important thing is that your sketches capture the basic ideas of what you want to create. Even if produced in rough pencil or marker.

The number of sketches created depends on of the level of detail in the desired work. Sometimes I may only create a very quick sketch. Other times I may spend more time looking at different angles, and variations of the subject.

In the paper plane design, I created sketches of penguins. This varied in realistic representations to the more cartoonish versions. I also began to sketch my design into the applied prototype. Which looked at the design in a functional setting (when folding).

Examples of sketching

Design Process Sketching Design Process Sketching Design Process SketchingDesign Process Sketching


5. Digital Creation

Digital Creation is the process of digitally constructing your design. This may involve recreating a sketch in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator or similar applications. All the ideation and steps taken so far gives you a great head start in knowing exactly what you want to create.

When creating an artwork digitally the method involved depends on the desired outcome. Sometimes I may use the pen tool to trace a sketch. Other times I may work directly with shapes to build the design. There is no rule on how you can create your design, it’s all about creative exploration.

In my design for the paper plane, I approached the digital reconstruction in a technical way. I used actual measurements to first make a guide for each section. I then created the specific designs or shapes for each part. I used clipping masks to make sure that nothing intercepted. Finally, I applied any extra effects that enhanced the design.

Examples of Digital Creation

Design Process Digital CreationDesign Process Digital CreationDesign Process Digital CreationDesign Process Digital CreationDesign Process Digital Creation

Design Process Digital CreationDesign Process Digital Creation


6. Refinement

Refinement is the process of improving, editing or modifying the design. Perhaps you received feedback with suggestions on how to improve certain features. Or you discovered something needed changing.

When refining a design, I generally consider if the design is meeting the intention. If I believe that there is room for further adjustments I will make them and review. Some refinements might be small changes (such as curves) while others may be major changes.

In the paper plane, I made several refinements to the design. First I modified the center of the design so that it was more symmetrical. Second I transferred the design into Adobe InDesign and created an A3 layout. While not included here, the design for the A3 layout also followed a design process. This involved; planning and exploring ideas, visual research and inspiration, sketching and the creation and refinement of the layout. The folding instructions were also created under the same process.

Examples of refinement

Design Process RefinementDesign Process RefinementDesign Process RefinementDesign Process RefinementDesign Process RefinementDesign Process RefinementDesign Process RefinementDesign Process RefinementDesign Process Refinement

7. Completed Design

Woohoo. You did it. Celebrate how awesome you are.  :hug:

Design Process Refinement


This is my design process. It doesn’t mean that it’s the right creative process, your’s could be completely different! The design process is a journey in finding a way to express and develop your ideas.

If you have your own design process, I would love to hear about it in the comments or view your own blog post.


Design Process Questions

  1. Do you have a design or creative process?
  2. What is your favourite part of the process?
  3. What part of the process do you least enjoy or avoid?

About the author / Kya

I am Kya a twenty something who loves art, cute things, design, illustration, photography, reading, writing and creative adventures.

Website

32 Comments

  • Wow. I never knew that design process has so many steps. I don’t have a design process. Maybe that’s why most of my designs aren’t that great. :( Glad that you have shared these tips and hopefully I will follow them before I design my next theme.

    • Kya

      A design process can be a very personal journey. It might have a lot of steps or just a few. It really depends on how you work. It doesn’t mean that having one with a lot of steps makes you a better artist. n3b

  • I admire how much work you put into designs. I do plan designs most of the time, but I must admit, I don’t have quite the attention span to pay as much to detail as you do. Honestly, probably why most of my designs are mediocre :’D

    I do have certain steps I take in planning, but I also tend to avoid intense planning just because I get frustrated easily or get incredibly distracted ._.

    Also, I love that you chose penguins, because they’re incredibly adorable both realistically and also in cartoon form. I hope you don’t mind I added a link to your blog on my own. I’d like to visit frequently :owl:

    • Kya

      You have to find the process that is right for you. Most of my intense planning revolves around uni projects. However, it has carried over a bit into my personal designs too. :D

      Thanks for adding my link. :blush:

  • Wow. That’s a lot of steps. I too didn’t know there were so many different steps in the design process. I did notice that I follow some of these when doing my themes but most stop at the inspiration step. Normally, I get an idea. I find what I’m looking for or look at examples online then I throw up an idea and process on Paint Shop Pro. I play around with it and tweak it for a while until it’s at my liking. Then I add it to the website and play around with CSS and tweak it some more to my liking. Then I decide if I like it or I’m going to scrap the entire idea. — I have scrapped a lot of ideas the past few months.

    Thank you for sharing this process with us. Maybe it will help me create something more worth while.

    • Kya

      Thanks for sharing part of your process! I hadn’t really considered it in relation to designing websites, but I guess it would have some similar steps. There is no right or wrong way to have a design process!

  • Wow, a penguin plane! AWESOME! XD

    Do you have a design or creative process?: Not usually. Usually jump right in! XD
    What is your favourite part of the process?: N/A
    What part of the process do you least enjoy or avoid?: PLANNING! XD

    • Kya

      :’D

  • I remember in my graphic design class back in college, in which we had to present our design process. Of course, back then, Pinterest hasn’t existed yet LOL. In terms of mood boards step, I remember drawing a lot of thumbnails and rough sketches for ideas on what the final design would look like. Sometimes, I end up coming up with something that isn’t even included in my original drafts. Otherwise, mine is almost similar as yours. :angel:

    Now that I think of it, I don’t think there would ever be a step that I want to avoid, although sometimes I tend to get lazy on the sketching/drafting thumbnails bit and would just want to take pictures and draw more ideas from there. I don’t know if that makes any sense at all lol. ;D

    • Kya

      Pinterest is certainly a blessing in so many ways. I can imagine in years to come there will probably be a lot more tools that help. Yeah, it makes sense! Sketching is not always easy, some of my sketches don’t look very ‘realistic’ haha.

  • I wasn’t expecting to see penguins when I came to visit your blog, but it honestly made me smile so big this Sunday morning because I LOVE penguins. Case in point: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/b7/fe/a8/b7fea89ce0ade1d992a94dba6d23f790.jpg Assholes, lol.

    Anyway, I digress.

    I feel like the mind mapping / rough notes can be applied to all creative things you’re doing. This is a really good idea. I do have a creative process for my writing. My favourite part of that is reading for it. So, for example, if I’m writing a particular genre, I will veer more towards reading books in that genre. This helps me understand the genre more and pick on things that I think would be good to include, and help me character build/world build. It’s funny because my least favourite part of the process is the part right before starting to write. I am the biggest procrastinator known to man, and I will spend about 6+ hours doing anything BUT what I am meant to do. LOL. Once I get started though, it’s all good.

    Thank you for sharing your process!

    • Kya

      Hahaha. I kept watching that gif for ages. n’D

      A process for writing would probably be a little different. I can imagine many of the steps used in mine would be helpful in some way. Visual research for characters would probably be cool. :blush:

  • Thanks for sharing your design process, I really enjoyed reading it :D It’s interesting to see the progress and very satisfying to see how your vision became a reality! I really love the design :D

    “Woohoo. You did it. Celebrate how awesome you are. :hug:” Haha, loved that!

    Do you have a design or creative process? Mine follow a similar path as yours tbh!
    What is your favourite part of the process? Finishing, definitely!
    What part of the process do you least enjoy or avoid? The initial idea making, I always have blocks :(

    • Kya

      I found it really hard in my first few classes to get into the idea generation. Somehow, I reached this point where I had to try and stop thinking logical and just reach out in as many different directions as I could, no matter how abstract it might seem at first. Some of the ideas were never used at all, but it was good to have many options.

  • I love how intricate and organised this is!

    I don’t often do creative work, but when I write I tend to write notes and everything I’m thinking and then come back to it to make it good.

    • Kya

      Thanks. :D Writing down lots of thoughts can be helpful! In the past, I used to type things out, but having to do uni projects has forced me to do handwritten notes. My handwriting is so awful. >D<

  • It’s great to see what you’re learning so far in university! Ahhh, I would probably take a long time trying to figure out how to design a paper plane if I was tossed into the project @__@. Mapping things out is a great start. You lay out some foundation and see what you need to reach the end point. It makes sense to have research after because you know what you want but need to find out how to get there. I love doing research for projects I’m involved in :D. AND YES!!!! NEVER COPY SOMETHING EXISTING!!! There’s no point of being whatever you want to be if all you do is copy. Using the excuse of “not wanting to reinvent the wheel” is a petty excuse.

    Your penguin sketches are adorable!!!! I am falling in love with your digital design of the penguin.

    I don’t really design but I really enjoyed the digital design part. As for least favorite, I don’t think I have any. Every step is dependent on each other.

    • Kya

      Thank you. :D If you are copying someone directly you are never going to learn and develop and it’s wrong. u_u

  • I just started an introductory graphic design class this Spring, and I was quite amazed that there seems to be a “technical process” to it. I used to think that graphic design was more on the subjective/creative side.

    I am still learning the process so I can’t really say I have steps/process.

    P.S.: That penguine plane is awesome. It must have taken a great deal of time how to construct it in a “flat” paper so the penguine would look like a penguine in the paper place

    • Kya

      It sounds like you are already learning a lot which is great. :D I have found that it’s really a mix of both. You have to have a lot of creative ideas, but you need the technical skills and process to turn that idea into a design that can function in it’s selected or intended form.

  • Cat

    I thought it was interesting to read about your design process! I really like that you used a specific project to show examples of each step and how it came together at the end. That’s awesome to see how much work goes into each design! When I do make a web layout, I go through similar steps. I didn’t think of doing Mind Mapping though. That seems like a really handy way to start each project!

    I also love the design you did for the paper plane. What a cute idea to use a flightless bird on it!

    • Kya

      Thank you! :love:

  • as i scroll through this post, i can’t help but to say YEEEES from start to finish because this is exactly how my design process goes too. i think it’s always important for designers to do mind-maps for brainstorming and then finding visual references to create moodboards. the only difference between your design process and mine is that i do alpha-beta testing. then again, it’s because i’m an interface designer so there’s always a need to do A/B testing using prototyping tools like Invision or Marvelapp (these sites not only offer mock up prototypes for mobile app design but they also offer you mock-ups for desktop and tablets for website testing so it’s really necessary and useful for UI / UX designers to be familiar with some prototyping tools. another advantage is how these tools let you form hyperlinks and transitions by using static JPG or PNG images so there’s no need for extreme coding)

    other than doing the A/B testing, we interface designers are expected to sketch wireframes in order to explain our product flowchart. it can get really annoying especially if your app has tons of pages and links as it can get confusing. i feel like when interactive designers fail to do wireframe sketches and did not do any A/B testing of their product, the product has bigger potential to be rejected by client – at least this is what my lecturer always said. A/B testing is always crucial and i think it’s something every designer should insert in their designing process because even if the designer isn’t designing any mobile app or website, it’s always important to beta test the product to clients in order to gain feedbacks. a friend of mine failed her thesis once because she didn’t have time to do A/B testing on her board game – yes, a physical board game so yeah, i think it’s crucial to adapt play-test in design process. of course, i’m not a design prodigy but that’s just my principle.

    i guess the downside is how when you’re doing A/B testing and you have to consider a variety of feedbacks from your audience (because of course, not everyone is gonna give you a positive feedback), sometimes there’s a need to re-design some pages from scratch. it’s also important to come up with like 20 different designs for a single page. when i was doing my thesis, i had to come up with 20 different designs just for the app’s welcome page so yea, it’s really stressing lol

    • Kya

      That is such a great step that I had not even considered! It is very important to check how a design is going to be viewed and interacted with. Thank you so much for mentioning this! :hug: :wub:

  • That’s good that you have a process set that works for you. I’m glad that it allows freedom but at the same time control.

    • Kya

      Thanks!

  • Mei

    Salute to all designers! I’m familiar with design process but never really read much about it until now and wow, it’s really a long tedious process! But in the end, it’s worth it! I really really like your designs, Kya! :)

    • Kya

      Thank you! If I am really committed and interested in a project it doesn’t seem much like a chore. >D<

  • Wow – thanks for sharing! I’ve always thought it really fascinating to see thought processes, not just in design but in other creative works like art or writing as well. It’s interesting to see the way we refine ideas as an individual.

    The research and inspiration of your design process was really interesting to read about! It’s cool to see how much work goes behind each design.

    • Kya

      Thank you! :*3

  • That is so organized! I remember bubble planing from high school. It’s always been an invaluable tool for me. I think it’s awesome that you have a creative eye for planing out using sketches too! :o Nice work, so fun!

    • Kya

      Thanks! UuU

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