How a Designer Thinks

Hello! I’m Chris and I’m a designer for Kapowza.

Photo by Micah E. Wood

Photo by Micah E. Wood

As a creative team member, I’ve often been asked how a designer thinks: ‘What do I refer to or keep in mind while working on a project?’ or ‘How do I even go about beginning a designer?’ Well, here are just a few of my thoughts and feelings on what it’s like to be a designer, and how my brain works.


Getting Started

It’s all about thinking and knowing how to put the different pieces of the project together. For me, I see design as a form of problem solving. I ask myself, “ What am I designing and how will it solve the client’s problem?”

A lot of thought goes into who is going to see it and how it will be seen. I ask myself, “how can the care and craft I put into the piece be receptive to others?” I then let those questions be my guide.

It’s important  to note that because I’m creating for clients, the design isn’t for me, it’s for them.


On the Process of Creating for Clients

Client work is absolutely a collaborative process, communication is key. The client relates to us what they want, and we go from there. I can sum up my creative process in three steps.

Step 1:

Once we have the project in hand, I’ll start sketching, drawing a quick layout in my moleskin notebook. For me, translating from sketch to screen is comfortable, but this will vary for different designers.

Art and copy go hand in hand. In an ideal situation, I’ll have the copy when beginning the project, so from there I can see what I’m working with and how I want to lay information out. Depending on the project I may work with multiple programs, however I always start with a grayscale mockup draft, then use a grid system to lay out copy, applying visual hierarchy.

Step 2:

From there, I figure out where the images and color will go, applying any other visual elements within the body of work. I see how it works within the copy, and if I come across any issues, I’ll make suggestions. Sometimes copy has to be cut, and that’s where collaboration becomes essential between the copywriter and I.

Step 3:

The project begins to wrap up. We ship the work, and then make any additional changes/edits from there.

Throughout the entire creative process, who is going to be using the project and how they will use it is always front and center in my mind. Who else will see it besides the client? If I were the company asking for this piece, would I like what I’m receiving? Applying a direction to help strengthen the piece and certain amount of care and level of attention is critical.


Separating Personal Creativity from What the Client Wants

Knowing this is a company, I know that every piece I create isn’t going to be fun. What I’m creating directly correlates to someone’s livelihood and the quality of their brand. As long as there is no moral disagreement with the project, I’m creating at their will. I believe this is why companies have brand guidelines and standards. Now, if I have a certain relationship with the company for whom I’m doing work, I’ll feel comfortable enough to suggest changes, but I realize that I come second, and they come first. It’s tricky, but it’s important to find a balance between what you’re designing and what they ask for.

I have run into creative differences with clients in the past, especially when it came to copy changes and certain aesthetics. One time, we created a series of infographics for a company that then wanted another style. There is nothing wrong with this, however It’s difficult because infographics take a lot of time to make. Creating a different style is a lot of work, which is costly on time.


Designing For Myself

Design is my job, but also my hobby. I’m here and I do work, but it’s not necessarily the work I do when i go home. My style outside of the agency is more experimental & personal than commercial.

To help myself grow as a designer, I enjoy reading and being aware with what’s going on within the community. What design trends are in? What can I learn from other designers? How and what are designers within other agencies and companies doing? Being a designer, or at least self-educating yourself outside of academia, requires discipline and continued research.

I’m really big into print, user experience, and motion. I like making posters, small books, and web concepts. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy creating show posters and flyers for local musicians in the Baltimore area. I love aiding in their visual representation.

Personal Thoughts on Design

Awareness and education are so important. This always in the back of my mind when I’m designing, whether for work or for myself. I keep myself aware of the design community, not just the ad community.

Instagram helps to see what’s happening with certain designers, studios, and agencies.  There are various websites (GDUSA, Typewolf, AWWWARDS, etc) and books (Lettering & Type, Grid Systems In Graphic Design, etc) that have also been very helpful. I believe a certain level of respect and modesty is required when addressing other designers, when addressing other designers’ work. It can be toxic to feel like you're better than someone else or at competition with someone. I strongly believe we can all learn from each other within the design community. As a person of color in the field of graphic design, I feel very strongly about this as we’re not well represented. This is by no means intentional, however, that is changing with education. As I grow in the field, I want to be a resource for minority designers while growing that ideology.

A Little Advice for Other Designers

Become content with what you’re doing and learn from those around you. If you’re a working designer, grow with the company but continue to grow within yourself. Don’t stop designing for you once you leave school. Be receptive to feedback, and find people who will be honest with you that you can lean on for feedback.

Design is ever-changing — and I think we see that all the time — so continue to self-educate and practice.