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Making Good Jam: The Design Process

Alyssa Najm

Coined by the longest member of the Prosek team, Dave Zamba can often be heard saying “Making a website is like making good jam.” This catchy comparison is quite accurate and, as an enthusiast of Chef’s Table on Netflix, it dawned on me that designers are much like chefs. Chefs are often tasked with a project such as creating a menu and then they go through a long process of researching and testing until they create perfect pairings for diners to indulge. 

One might argue that the best part of creating a product, whether it’s a full identity system, a website, packaging or even a PowerPoint presentation, is the process. It’s the most interesting because it’s a period of time that involves a lot of trial and error, head tilting and eye squinting until the message is clear, the proportions feel right, and the palette is balanced. Every designer has his or her own way of approaching a project or problem, but there is a general list of steps that help break down complex assignments into digestible bites. The following list should give you an idea of what design thinking looks like.

Discover: As the nun and pop artist, Sister Corita Kent, once said, “Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time, they are different processes”. It’s very hard to offer solutions if you don’t fully understand the problem at hand. To start, clients are usually given a questionnaire to help assess how their company operates, who their target audience is, what their overall messaging is, and what problems they are seeking to solve. During discovery, focus groups are sometimes conducted to help with this process and evaluate the successes and failures of an existing brand. This step is crucial because it helps inform the following steps and really shapes the strategic approaches that are eventually recommended. Ultimately, this first step is the foundation for a strategy and a series of actions that are implemented to further a client’s brand and increase their business impact.

Research: The research process is the best way to not only be inspired by what others are doing, but to also gauge what direct competitors are rolling out. For example, having a logo that looks eerily similar to a competitor is a huge faux pas and it’s very likely to get you some unwanted, negative press. A good way to start this step is by searching similar names, industries and even words that relate to the name and/or messaging. It’s one of my personal favorite steps in the design process because all ideas are considered and you are encouraged to think big.

Sketch: It may seem old school, but putting pencil to paper is a fundamental step in the process. In fact, Paula Scher sketched the Citi logo on a napkin. Milton Glaser was inspired while in the back of a taxi when he drew the ‘I love New York’ graphic on a blank envelope. These two great examples prove that sketching out concepts holds true merit. It’s important to note that there’s no right way to sketch, but these basic principles may be considered: quick, loose, plentiful and with just enough detail. When it’s time to bring the drawings to the computer, you can work as efficiently as possible since you have established the blueprints. 

Prototype and test: After developing a plethora of sketches, the next step is to review what you have and take a few of the best concepts to the computer. As drawings come to life, the approaches really begin to take shape as fonts and color palettes are selected, and applications of the design are taken into consideration. After internal review, and a couple of rounds of testing, we provide about three-to-five different strategic approaches to the client. The limited amount of options assures that the best solutions have been thoughtfully explored—and you also know that the client will not feel bombarded by an overwhelming amount of possibilities. Once the client gives their input, additional revisions take place and a lot of back-and-forth happens as the final product is refined.

Deliver: It’s time to make the files pixel-perfect and prepare any artwork for production. All files need to be checked and organized so that there’s minimal room for error when the designs are handed off to a client or vendor. Naturally, there’s a great sense of relief, excitement and a little bit of anxiety when your work is finally “thrown” into the universe – your hope is that it will be received positively and that everything goes smoothly! It’s important to note that, here at Prosek, we work on multiple projects at a time and, at any given moment, we utilize and leverage all the steps that constitute the design process. 

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