5 Steps to Get Your Design to Not Suck From the Get-Go

Great design can miss the mark in devastating fashion. It happens all the time.

A package design doesn’t consider the client’s production budget.

The voice talent in a television spot has an offensive accent in another culture.

You decide to go sea foam green with the accent wall in the living room while your husband’s away on a business trip because you liked a super cute owl pillow you saw at Target. I’ll leave that between the two of you.

Bad design can’t be prevented. But, it sure as heck can get off to a better start for you.

This post will tell you how.

1) Trap Inspiration

I don’t mean moments of inspiration – the “aha!” moments. I mean the little things. There is a foundation to be laid for inspiration. Creativity can be planned, albeit loosely. It’s not so romantic a thought, I know. However, when inspiration strikes, you may not need it in that instant. That’s fine. You will.

Why not be intentional about that open hour before a meeting or random thought at a stop light to invest in your future works of design? What inspires you? Taylor is often pinning and dribbling.Mark backpacks and flies RC helicopters. I exercise. Play with my kids. Read. Listen to music too loud.

Whatever it is…jot down a note. Voice record your thoughts. Bookmark it. (I’ve been really hot on Pocket lately…not to be confused with the microwaveable turnover). Snap a picture. Trap it for later.

2) Research

You don’t have to write a dissertation to throw your hat in the ring for most design projects. But a little research is going to go a long way to qualify you and/or your company as the right talent for the project.

What is the state of your client’s industry? What are the pains of your client’s customers? What problems does your client solve? Are they solving them? Is someone else better at solving these problems? What’s next? If any, what parameters are there in which your design should be contained? Is your client’s product or service new in this space? … You get the idea.

Thank heaven for Google. Can you imagine if Dewey Decimal was still our best system for cataloging and finding information?

3) Ask Your Client

There is a prevalent myth that asking questions shows ignorance. Will you agree to help me exterminate it? Asking good insightful questions of your client early in the process is never wrong. Then, listen for answers. Don’t just listen for literal answers. Pay attention to hesitations and lack of confidence in responses.

If you’re working with someone who doesn’t have the authority to provide a final approval, you better learn that now, too.

If you don’t understand their response, ask again. Pride and ignorance have no place in your design. Show patience and respect for the discovery process – the same will be extended to you and it will pay dividends by ensuring your design project stays on target.

SIDE NOTE: While we’re on the topic of communication – just because you can tweet, private message, text or IM your client/boss/support staff doesn’t mean you should. Most often face-to-face interaction and phone calls still beat out the loss of context offered by other methods.

4) Commit to a Process

I confess. I’ve done it. I’ve gotten frustrated with a client because they kept asking for additional edits. They were breaking process, wasting time, invading my profit margin – and the only one to blame for their ignorance was me. I hadn’t set the stage.

How are you going to take your client through the project from A to Z? How long is it going to take? Are you getting approvals at various milestones along the way? What is your client’s budget? What marks do you need to hit for the project to be worth your while?

Do yourself a big favor and make absolutely certain your client understands what is required of them to ensure you create an incredible design.

5) Go!

What’s the hold up? Get to it! You were made for this! Create something amazing that helps your client sell more iWidgits, makes your professor say “Wow!” or sends YouTube into a frenzy. Push yourself. Have fun!

What lessons have you learned in working with your clients on creative execution? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

This post originally appeared on Element Three’s blog.