The Design Process for Non-Designers

The Design Process for Non-Designers

The role of a designer is to create solutions for visual problems in medium communications that are responsive to the media the design will exist in, be it analogue (paper) or digital.

When does the design process begin?

The generally held belief is that a designer’s work begins when the designer has a clear idea of the final design.

In reality, the design process begins much earlier. The very first step of the design process kicks off during the first meeting between the designer and the stakeholders.

You can break down the design process into three stages: Analysis, Ideation, and Implementation.


In the analysis stage, there are two primary jobs a designer must execute, research and analysis.

The designer must understand the needs of the client, the concept

behind the message that s/he wants to broadcast, the target audience, and the medium of delivery.

The first meeting will typically come with a design brief. The design brief is a document that provides the designer with the base material needed to begin a project. The stakeholders must explain their needs, goals, the ideas they’re trying to convey, who they want to communicate it to, why, and how they want to do so.

The design brief is essential to make the work of a designer easier. It allows the designer to align with what the client needs. Most importantly, the design brief enables the designer and the stakeholders to align on the goals and the problems that need to be solved. When the client and the designer establish a shared definition, the design process will be much smoother.

What should a designer ask during a briefing?

The rule of thumb is to ask the client using the wh-words.


  1. Who is the client?
  2. Who is the target audience?


  1. What is the problem at hand?
  2. What is the proposed graphic solution?
  3. What are the goals you wish to accomplish?


  1. Where will the message be displayed?


  1. When will the project take place?
  2. When is the project due?


  1. Why is this project necessary? What are the main objectives?


  1. How will the project be developed?
  2. How do you plan to show this project?
  3. How much do you plan to spend on this project?

The Target Audience

The designer needs to know who the target audience is before s/he can begin designing.

The designer should collect the information needed to identify the target audience, including their cultural background, social-economic status, demographics.

Why do we need to do this?

Simply put, the same design will not necessarily work for a target audience aged 18-25 as well as it would with an audience aged 65+.

The designer and stakeholders need to revisit the design brief and make sure all the questions initially asked can be answered by the data collected.

A complete design brief will have covered the general vision or direction of the project, and information about: the industry, the target audience, commercial objectives, design strategies, project scope, timeframe, and budget.

The designer should go through the content with the client and receive confirmation that all content received is final and not subject to change. This step allows the designer to avoid future complications at an advanced stage in the process that might necessitate a fundamental shift in the design. The designer should also go over any graphic material received and ensure that they are of the right format or resolution and are appropriate for the media chosen.

The Ideation Stage

The ideation stage begins once the designer has gathered all the required material, and when the design brief is approved.

The ideation stage creates the design concept, which begins to act as the guiding principle that determines how the design develops.

Concept development might be the most challenging phase of the design process. The designer needs to organise visual elements and text, and also ensure the message behind the design will be delivered in the best way possible. The ideation process requires a lot of observation, reflection and re-interpretation.

A designer will typically present three different concepts to the client. Once the client reviews the design concepts, s/he will pick one for the designer to develop further.

To Designers: An Ode to the Pen

I typically recommend that designers use traditional means, a pen and paper, to generate concepts rapidly, develop them, and test them.

Why I typically recommend this approach is because digital work will always give the impression of a “finalised” work, even though you’re still not there yet.

Ideate by hand, develop and refine, and then execute a concept. Leave digital work for the implementation stage. It will save your client the confusion of thinking whether s/he is viewing the end-product, and you won’t have to say “it’s not the final design it still needs refinement!“.

Implementation Phase

After meeting with the client, it’s time to begin refining the selected concept and articulating it.

To designers: Prototype. Prototype. Prototype.

Before jumping into the final the design, it is best, to begin with creating prototypes. Prototypes will be much more refined than the ideation drawings and will allow you to better judge if the solution you’ve been chasing is suitable or not. If a design does not work when being prototype, it won’t work as a final design, which then means you need to jump back to the ideation stage to find a better solution.

When a prototype has passed all testing phases, and you’ve deemed it successful, you can begin placing the final touches.

To the client:

In the final few steps of the implementation stage, the designer will need to create models, mock-ups, or test-prints. The designer needs to exercise strict quality control to ensure the design can be reproduced by the client as intended.

The final document presented to the client will generally include instruction manuals on how to use the design, and this process can take different forms depending on the field of design in question.

Final Thoughts

The design process has a lot more complexities than most clients to realise. What you’ve read remains a simplified version that you can consider to be client-friendly. In reality, the design process contains more intricacies within it, and they vary between design fields. For example, web, app, and architectural design need to meet specific accessibility requirements or other construction requirements.

You must communicate the process to the client to guarantee a smooth collaboration with your client. When your clients better understand how the design process works, they’ll be more willing to play ball with you, and more importantly, they’ll be open to change in direction. Designers sometimes fail to communicate their needs, and the client ends up feeling out-of-the-loop. When you include your client and help them understand what exactly it is that you do, your relationship with them will change. Communication will allow you to turn your relationship from a contractor-employer one to that of a strategic partner.