Before diving into design.
I like to understand my client’s culture, mission and goals before I start solving visuals. I firmly believe a thorough positioning process is essential to any design project. I usually start with a questionnaire that covers my client’s business, competition, customers and customers' customers. It also inquires about influences and personal tastes. I was first introduced to the idea while working at Winntech in 2007. They called it “client homework”. The questionnaire forms the foundation for a half-day discovery workshop in which we dive into the details.
Telling a story.
My first deliverable to any client is a multipage positioning document. In my experience, a narrative structure is the most effective way to frame up a business. Inspired by Pixar’s storytelling model, I set the scene (trends and challenges within the industry), introduce the characters (customers affected by the current landscape) and present my client as the hero – responding to industry trends and addressing customer needs. The document concludes with a framework that distills the business into a core promise and positioning statement. In addition, I define a set of pillars and personality traits, which are instrumental in guiding the design process.
Clarity over cleverness.
Capturing the essence of a company with good copywriting can be the most rewarding part of any project. In my view, graphic design plays a supporting role and should always find ways to celebrate a message instead of overpowering it. I like to keep things simple. Intentionally speaking in conversational tone, my copywriting aims to be concise, clear and stripped of as many buzzwords as possible.
Assembling a design toolkit.
In my opinion, an effective visual identity balances design components in a strategic way. Color, typography, photography, iconography, etc. should each accomplish a specific goal. Together, these components create a tailored look that embodies the positioning. I also believe that a logo is just one of many design components. As the brand’s main anchor, it's important to get it right, but it shouldn’t drive the design in an absolute way. Some might disagree with me on this one.
Mapping with a fat crayon.
When it comes to planning the flow of content for any medium (marketing site, app experience, coffee table book, etc.) it’s good to start at 30,000 feet. Although I can’t wait to assemble a polished design, I force myself to step back and focus only on the content without getting distracted by aesthetics. Clients are waiting in anticipation for finished designs, which can make compartmentalizing difficult. A technique that has helped me for quite some time is digital sketch illustration. I quickly put together wireframes using loose strokes combined with a handwritten font. This way, I can mock up concepts at a rapid pace.
These days, it’s not easy to create visual distinction – especially on the web. The flat design trend has taken over and seems to be here to stay. Clean typography, geometric shapes and a less-is-more design philosophy make it hard for any brand to stand out. However, one exciting opportunity for differentiation is custom illustration. Designing icons and assembling them into compelling compositions is a personal passion of mine. I am continuously expanding my abilities to cover as many illustration styles as possible. My goal is always to create a unique design system that appeals to my client’s audience and fully embodies the brand’s pillars and personality traits.
Don’ts can be more important than do's.
In the past, when I pursued new projects, I’d cast a wide net and list all the stuff I’d ever done. Now I know that I can’t compete in every category. I think, it’s a healthy exercise to use the process of elimination to define areas of focus. I’ve dabbled in many different disciplines over the past 15 years and have chosen to further develop a specific set of skills. I enjoy framing up businesses and developing holistic visual systems to support their ambitions.