Content Strategy

Does design just happen?


Jason Clark
Jason Clark

on 4/3/2009

No matter how much outside inspiration I try to gather when doing the design aspect of my job, in the end I always feel like the design just happens. Things seem to come together when my files are a complete mess & I’ve got 50 or more layers of crap that I’m not using.

As a bit of background on the method that we’ve found works best for us here at VIA, I’ll present to you my workflow when we sign on a new client.

Meeting the Client

As the designer, I’m not typically brought into things until they’ve signed on & we’re ready to kick off their project. I like to go in at this point to meet everyone, to get a feel for their personalities and talk to them a bit about the goals they have in mind for their web presence. What is the point of this project? To sell widgets, to have credibility in your industry, to get people to sign up for this or that or maybe to get them to walk into your store? There could be any number of answers to this & this is a very very important thing to understand before I get started with their Information Architecture.

Information Architecture

At this point, I will take the copy that has been written and the navigation that has been roughed in and I tear it apart. I move this here & that over there and I’ll try to come up with the best way to present the information to the end user. What will be a callout or in the footer instead of in the main navigation? What can I do to make the site structure more simplistic? How can I get the user to the call of action that the client desires in the most elegant way possible? This part is usually a lot of sketching and erasing & arrows pointing here & there all over their site outline. Once I have this worked out, I’ll take it to my Creative Director to work through some more & make sure I’ve got all angles covered.

What comes next?

Depending on the complexity of the site, I will either do a functional wireframe (xhmtl & bare minimum css with blocks & text and no styling) or I will work it all out as boxes & text in Photoshop. That will go back and forth a few times with the boss & once that is settled…finally…it’s time for the design aspect and I find myself in search of inspiration, yet again.

Finding Inspiration

After 11 years of interactive design I still feel like I don’t know where I get my inspiration. It’s not something I have rules for or a set plan of action regarding. I’ve tried a lot of advice from experts in the web design industry and I’m sure I’ve picked up some tricks from some great sources along my way but inevitably I end up just winging it.

Sometimes I do sketches, sometimes I look through books, sometimes I surf stock sites or flickr, sometimes and probably most often it hits me when I’m not looking for it. For instance, yesterday I had just finished my yoga class & was lying there in the last savasana, my mind wandering here & there while I tried to focus it on nothing rather than something & a prototype I had been working on popped into my head with the problem area worked out nicely. I held it in my mind for a bit so I would remember it & then let it go. This morning when I got into the office, I hammered the finishing touches of the design out. I love it when that happens! Maybe if that were a consistent result of doing yoga I could get VIA to cover the expense. I’ll work on that and get back to you.

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