By Michelle Barnett
23/05/2021
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How do we develop initial design ideas?

“Where do you get your ideas from?” It’s the classic question all designers get asked. And sometimes the ideas do just strike out of the blue! But most of the time, the ideas we create are carefully considered and the result of a process. We’ve written before on How to develop a brand identity, so let’s assume the clients have already got past that stage.

So how do we do it?

1. Identify the audience

The first thing we need to do is pin down the audience we are designing for. The more specific we can be about who we are talking to with our design, the easier it is to work out what to say. This part of the process is almost always done together with the client, who (hopefully!) know their chosen market better than anyone else. Higher Holcombe, for example, are a rural wedding venue in Devon with a classic barn and outdoor space. The wedding market is huge, so having a niche like this enables to make our design choices much more specific.

For a web design project or a brand strategy, it’s really important that we have a good grasp of the job that our work needs to do. We also need to decide what we want the reaction to this work to be. Are we trying to be informative? Entertaining? Inspire an action? Each of these necessitates a slightly different approach when we start putting the design ideas together.

2. Select graphic styles, fonts, colour schemes and concepts that could work

Research is a key part of our process. By looking at lots of examples and case studies, we can quickly zero in on approaches that have been effective, and also those that haven’t! We also want to make sure that we don’t accidentally re-create something that already exists. Inspiration doesn’t come out of nowhere, and it’s important to ensure that we are properly referencing where our sources have come from.

This stage is about considering concepts. What kind of energy and impression do we want to portray in our project? And, with that in mind, what tools are available to us in getting that message across? We’re looking for methods and deign structures that will communicate that concept in a way that our chosen audience will connect with.

There’s often a decision to be made about how literal or subtle to be when designing around a particular name. Sometimes small references are enough, but at other times it’s worth being blatant. Performance company Helter Skelter wanted to lean strongly into their circus imagery, depicting the magical worlds they create at their events.

Helter Skelter laptop

We also need to be aware of design tropes and trends, whether we follow them or not. Following a trend too closely can mean that once that trend evolves into something new, the design looks dated. However borrowing selectively can help communicate the message of the brand, because it uses a visual language that its audience is already tuned into.

3. Determine brand elements

The graphic style we go for is also hugely affected by the design outputs we will need to produce. There are questions of scale to take into consideration. We may need to think about making several different versions of the design so that we have something that fits nicely on the narrow upright shape of a wine label and also the broad horizontal shape of a lorry.

Where is it being used? Questions of scale are really important (web, print, digital, social media, tangible assets such as company vehicles of signage). Charnwood Brewery has a large number of brand assets, from beer glasses to bathroom signage.

Selection of photos of Charnwood Brewery brand assets

After our initial elements are put together, we display them in a moodboard to get client input. Often they’ll have an idea of what their brand should be, and by combining their vision with our expertise, we can create ideas that really embodies that brand.

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