Everyone has their own working styles and habits. I’m no different. The creative process is a messy one and the avenues through which you arrive at a solution can be surprisingly simple or painstakingly complex. There are too many factors to determine what avenue your project will take and truthfully, it doesn’t always matter.
What my process is designed to deliver is some measure of certainty. I do that by following a consistent and reliable workflow that reduces risk and increases the probability of a positive outcome. To an extent, the work you see in my portfolio is only a biproduct of an intentional and thoughtful process, aided by some very talented people.
During the planning process, I’m focused on learning as much as I can about you, your project, and anything else you want to share, like how your neighbor is mad that you knocked a tree into his pool with your backhoe. The factors that I care about most aren't predetermined, but I tend to focus on your customers, your vision, how your company works, and the specific requirements you have from the work. There is a real practical benefit from the planning phase, though its purpose is just as much about developing lines of communication and building a foundation of mutual understanding.
If the planning phase is about operating from the same pool of business knowledge, the exploration phase is there to establish the visual equivalent. Saul Shapira, who built a grocery store empire in the 50s, was often quoted saying “You don't have to be smart; you just have to know who to copy." Originality lends itself better to artwork than it does commercialism, and I do my best to work from popular models rather than abstractions and theory. We work together to curate a collection of media that are reflections of the thoughts, feelings, and patterns you want to see in your own project. I then collate this giant mess into a visual brief that is succinct and accurate. It better be, because it becomes the basis for the rest of the creative work moving forward.
If we’re working on a digital project, wireframes are the next step. Wireframes are skeletons of designs that demonstrate how users will interact with the site and what content they will see where. They’re key to correcting user experience flaws before the interface design layer (how it looks graphically) makes the product difficult and time consuming to revise.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how the design phase works, other than it follows a schedule and there is an outcome. There’s a bit of magic involved, and if there weren’t I’d be in marketing, not design. Design work, especially on larger projects, goes through multiple rounds of revisions. Prepare to be both excited by the potential and then overwhelmed at how much rigor is involved in working out the details.
Development is handled through partners and managed by me. Unfortunately, the development process is where everyone wakes up to a certain extent and realizes their website is a real thing and no longer exists in a protected garden of good intentions. Web dev is a lot like an ice sculpture: the first broad strokes are actually smashes with a hammer and then you work your way through the process until you’re polishing the surface with a cloth. As with all things, it takes 20% of the effort to get 90% of the way there and then the other 80% of the time you spend sweating over minutiae.
I work consistently with two development partners, Yuji Tomita and Timmy O’Mahony. Both develop primarily with Django. If you’re not familiar, Django is a development framework; it’s behind big time web apps and websites like Instagram and TheOnion. I mention this only in case you’re wedded to a certain technology stack. For reasons too personally traumatic to explain, I insist on only working with Yuji or Timmy when providing development services. I’ve been hurt too many times before.
Bar none, this is the most difficult, most overlooked, and often most important phase of any project. There are very few designers with an excess of time, budget, and diligence doing consistently mediocre work. Yet there is an abundance of it in the wild. You encounter it every day of your life. Why? Because designers and clients aren’t able to close the deal. After the design phase, where everyone laughs about how bad the old design was and how good the new one will be, work gets hard. And then it gets harder. You just want to launch, you want the project to be over, you want your vacation to start yesterday. We’ve all been there and most of us stop there. “Fuck it, we’ll do it live,” we say. I see the evidence of this all the time, from Fortune 500 companies and coffee shops alike. Once things get difficult and boring people start to cut corners toward the exit.
I’ve personally struggled with this phase of the project in the past, but after too many projects ended in the same way, I vowed, “Never again.” And I ask all of my clients to do the same. At the crucial moment at which point the work is no longer fun, it’s essential to redouble your efforts and refocus your vision. If details need to be overlooked, overlook them intentionally. There’s a difference between not being able to afford something and not considering it in the first place.
Leave nothing to chance and always finish as strong as you started.