Structuring Your Workflow
A workflow is like an itinerary. While you may not need one to get to where you’re going, taking the time to carefully plan one out will result in fewer detours, wasted time, and headaches. A solid workflow is universally important, regardless of discipline. Whether designing an app, an ad campaign, or an illustration, having a well-structured series of steps to follow will reliably guide you to the completion of your project.
When time is critical, which it often is, having an intimate understanding of your process will keep you on track to reaching various milestones along the way with predictability. Understanding each stage of your process can help highlight where you should focus your efforts as well as how to account for any issues you may encounter along the way.
Here are some tips to help establish or refine your workflow. This will be a general approach, the specifics of which can be adapted to any discipline, but the overarching process will keep you moving in the right direction, from broad to narrow.
Set Clear Intentions
At the start of any project, the first step will be to determine exactly what our objectives are. Often this will involve reading or creating a brief, and asking ourselves a series of questions to narrow our focus. What are we creating? Why are we creating it? Who are we creating it for? When does it need to be finished? An answer to these questions might look like this: This fall we are launching an application for baseball card collectors to buy and sell verified authentic cards. With this, we’ve painted a clear picture of where we expect to be in the fall. It helps to be as specific as possible in this stage, as we’ll use these insights to gauge our progress along the way and ensure cohesiveness.
We’ve now figured out the what, why, who, and when. All that’s left is the how. The goal for this stage is to explore all potential directions and determine which is best suited for our objectives and audience. We’ll start by looking at the work of others, collecting reference material and making note of aspects we might want to include in our own work. Our aim isn’t to copy their work but to borrow elements that we’ll use to construct a new design language of our own. We’ll then organize our reference material into mood boards to represent the possible directions we can take. Once the boards are complete, we’ll analyze all of our options through the narrow lens we established in the previous step and settle on a direction. Again, specificity is king, so the more stylistically varied we can make these boards, the easier it will be to determine if a direction is right or wrong for our target audience.
With our direction selected, we can now get to work. This stage is where the bulk of the creative decision making will happen, here where we can inject our personality and make it our own. Having committed to a direction, all that’s left to do is explore within these now much more narrow parameters. Ideate and refine, ideate and refine, until we’ve arrived at the final product, all the while comparing against the insights gained in previous steps to ensure cohesion and focus.
There you have it. Start with a broad idea and progressively narrow your focus so that by the time you actually begin to work, you’re no longer guessing. As with any itinerary, you’re likely to come across some unexpected detours, but having a plan means you’re better prepared for when those happen.
Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.