In the past I have posted a couple of articles on the importance of process in the development of Design work. I feel very strongly about keeping the traditional methods of process and working through them to develop strong concepts and ultimately strong finished designs. The process I am talking about is the (1.) development of a concept, (2.) producing thumbnails of that concept, (3.) refining and enlarging the thumbnails into roughs, (4.) further refinement into tight roughs and finally (5.) producing the finished comp. Today, more than ever, most designers want to short change steps 2 and 3 and move right to step 4 on the computer. I feel that method results in less exploration and ultimately poorer results.

Let’s talk about each step of the process in a little more detail. Step 1 and step 2 are often combined together and I think that this is a valid method of working because the thumbnails often evolve into and generate more concepts. The concept is the key to successful design. Without a concept we become decorators with little or no communication. Without concept we as designers have no power. It would be like a super hero without their cape! During this part of the process we want to explore every or all possibilities. Yes, this means a lot of thumbnails. Sketchbooks full of thumbnails! They don’t all have to be new and different concepts but every thinkable way to present a single concept and then move to another concept. They should be sequential with slight changes until something unique develops and leads to another concept. These thumbnails don’t need to be highly rendered but the cleaner and better they are done the better they communicate the idea. Outside of school, usually the thumbnails are seen only by the original designer, so as long as they communicate to you, they serve the purpose. In school or in a team environment they probably need to be a little more succinct.

Thumbnails for a multi-page brochure booklet.

Thumbnails for a multi-page booklet layout.

Thumbnails for page division icons.

Thumbnails for page division icons.

The third step is the rough stage. In some ways I feel like this is one of the most important steps because it bridges the project between traditional hand skills and the computer, so there is a larger potential for misunderstanding both conceptually and actual visual style. If the client or supervisor doesn’t have enough visual reference the project could be scraped or worse yet totally misinterpreted causing huge disappointment in the tight rough stage. This stage has also suffered the most over the years with diminishing hand skills. Most students want to just do a bigger version of their thumbnail. This really doesn’t do justice to the work at this point. An Art Director or a client needs to see what headline fonts look like, how the images will work with the type and the overall scale of all elements and their relationship in the final layout. So, polish up your hand skills and do what ever it takes to communicate your vision. Take advantage of the Art-O-Graph or even tracing computer prints to clean up and show more detail. Do your best to show off your work, you may not get another chance!

Layout roughs for a multi-page booklet.

Layout roughs for a multi-page booklet.

Thumbs 10004 sm

Pencil roughs

Thumbs 10003 sm

Pencil roughs


Client rough - booklet

Client rough – booklet – markers were used to indicate color

Client rough - magazine cover

Client rough – magazine cover – Xerox copies, markers and colored pencils

Client rough - B/W magazine ad

Client rough – B/W magazine ad – markers to show grey values in halftone photoographs

Client rough - brochure cover

Client rough – brochure cover – markers to indicate 2 color solution

All images in the above roughs represent photographs, not illustrations. Art directors and clients can’t see what is in your mind so you need to visually show them.

The last two steps are computer generated and should look as much like the finished print project as possible. Step 4 is the tight rough stage and this is where we should see all the subtle nuances of the project. All type, font choices and sizes, all chosen photographs and or illustrations, all colors and textures. Everything should be in this version, nothing should be left to the viewers imagination. This is the last step for outside input. From this point on there should be no surprises particularly for the client.

Step up your process game to better communicate and to improve the final solution!