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Design Process

Good work comes from good process.

Trying to define the design process is a little like trying to answer the question, “How long does it take to come up with a good idea?” It’s almost always dictated by circumstances. Besides, coming up with ideas is only one step. Much of the value that design methods bring to solving brand-level problems lies in evaluating which solution works best.

Idea Generaton

Some designers wrestle with a graphic identity project for a year or more. Others leave the first client meeting with a workable solution in mind. While the timeline can be unpredictable, good designers learn to trust the creative process.

Generally, this process starts with an understanding of the vision and context for the project. Next, it draws upon ideation techniques taught in design school: research, goal-oriented creative briefs, prototyping, and other innovation methods. Testing and refinement follow.

Generating a lot of ideas throughout the process can be a good way to arrive at a great solution, but volume does not guarantee quality. Developing a good set of filters for editing your ideas is an essential step for creating an effective graphic identity.

Idea Generation
All the marvels of computer-aided graphics aside, there is no substitute for the napkin sketch as part of the ideation process for a graphic identity.


Creating an identity program starts with understanding its context: Where does the identity need to manifest itself? Who is using it, and why? Context determines media options, and the combination of media constraints, business objectives, and program elements provides valuable input for prototyping.

The program is the rubber-meets-the-road moment when the theories are tested out. Prototyping plays a key role in the program development process. The program may undergo more iterative phases than the logo. Visualizing potential solutions can be a very useful way to evaluate the effectiveness of individual ideas. The goal is to fail fast and learn through testing and evaluation.

Generating a lot of options during a prototyping phase can be an effective way to quickly test out ideas before a large investment is made.

Strategic Foundations

It’s easier to create a brand identity on paper than it is to put it into practice. Making the brand promise is one thing. Keeping it is quite another.

Potential customers identify a brand by its artifacts as well as its actions. It makes sense, then, that the process of building brand identity typically begins with an exploration of these artifacts: the graphic identity and program elements. But it quickly goes much deeper. Brand identity work warrants frank, strategic business conversations about an organization’s value proposition and positioning. A solid understanding of the business strategy will result in a brand identity that supports the strategic direction of the business.

Strategic Foundation
Progress may not always meet client expectations for speed, but a solid yet flexible design process yields better results.

Once a business foundation is in place, other important human factors play a role in the brand identity, including the character of the company, its audiences, and the marketplace. Through the iterative process, designers often land on a better understanding of the meaning and values of the brand. Often, the work of building the brand helps to actualize the brand attributes.

Originally published in Brand Identity Essentials.
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