Great Design is Process Driven: A Step-by-Step Guide

One phrase often overheard in our office is - “I didn’t wake up today and think - I can’t wait to get to work and design an awful website!

At Sherpa, we try to create award winning work every time we take on a new opportunity. That said, there are many factors that need to align before top notch creative goes out the door.

As I look back on some of the most successful creative projects we’ve worked on, I think of a pitch for Travel Manitoba we did a few years back. While we didn’t win the work, we presented a well thought out, beautifully integrated multi-channel campaign. We managed to have all the stars align and performed what I think are the key steps of ideal execution.

Graphic Design Options

First, let’s be honest. Everyone knows, time = money, and budget is the main driving factor for most projects. What was unique about the Travel Manitoba project, was that it was for an RFP, so the budget was completely dependent on how much time we chose to invest. This work happened to fall within a stretch of downtime, so we went all in! After everything was said and done, we put in excess of 6 figures of time into the pitch. I will walk you through our process.

Step 1. Defining the challenge, and market research

This step was well defined and given to us in the RFP from the people at Travel Manitoba. They outlined their goals for Manitoba, their struggles, and how the campaign creative would need to fit with Canada’s overall tourism initiative. They outlined the different archetypes of travelers so we could think about the unique ways to target the different types of people. They also gave us a few examples of where the bar was set in terms of creative. This was a great catalyst for us to put our thinking caps on!

Step 2. Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a great way to generate a large quantity of ideas in an environment where everyone’s ideas hold the same weight. We brought the 3 senior creatives into the Sherpa boardroom, and went to town writing phrases, ideas and the things that we found inspiring about Manitoba and reflected on these ideas within the defined scope of Canada’s tourism brand umbrella. When we looked at all the ideas together we started connecting the dots of common themes. This helped us come up with our big idea “You’re Welcome”. We felt it was a winner because it had a double entendre play; advertising our great province for its friendly, inviting people, but also displaying a bit of swagger; a response to the amazing experiences they can have when they visit here.

The Design Brainstorm Process

Step 3. Moodboarding & aesthetic research

Most designers like to start a project by looking for inspiration in various places. Whether it is a flea market, their record collection, books, design blogs, or even just taking a walk, a good designer knows that inspiration can strike at any moment. Now that we had a great headline and theme for our campaign, we could start thinking about how we wanted it to look. We knew we wanted to showcase how stunning and vast our outdoors are. We also wanted to promote our amazing arts & culture. The quest for imagery was on! We started looking for big, exquisitely shot images that captured either the beauty of the scene, or the spirit of the people within them. All with the goal to help the viewer relate to and aspire to be a part of that scene. Next, we started looking at inspiring typography, textures and colors. These feelings are quickly captured digitally and assembled in a series of collages of images, fonts and colours.

 

Step 4. Design & concept Development 

We were ready to start the fun part! Through the moodboarding stage we found some samples of hand rendered type we thought would be ideal for the “You’re Welcome” tagline. The goal was to inject some personality and a sense of humanity that would be impossible to replicate with a computer-generated font. We did dozens of hours of photo research to find images that would stop and hold the viewer. We then paired it with copy that illuminated the scene. It the end, the outcome was that you couldn’t read the ad without having the desire to be in that place at that time. Once we felt we had a handful of solid designs we rolled out a bunch of designs to build the campaign out. We then created the various requested materials for roll-out (website, outdoor, collateral, as well as supporting ads for the hunting and fishing part of their business).

Step 5. Focus groups or A/B Testing​

After we did all this work, as a group we thought it was great, but nothing will tell you the success of a campaign like getting feedback from people who haven’t poured their blood, sweat and tears into it. You need impartial third-party opinions. For Travel Manitoba, we didn’t have the time (or the budget!) to conduct a full focus group. Instead we conducted a poor man’s focus group, by sending the creative off to trusted family and friends, the type that wouldn’t say “Ohhh, that’s nice!” to spare our feelings. Overall the reception was great, and we thought this was our campaign to lose (spoiler alert - we lost it).

 Design Work 1

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 Design Work 2

Other Variables:

In a perfect world, the creative team gets the budget (time) they need to deliver and a flexible timeline to take the appropriate steps listed above, and flesh out all possible solutions. The Travel Manitoba campaign took us roughly 4 weeks, and we put in solid 60 hour weeks. If this was the real world, and not just a pitch, we would likely have more time for preliminary research, and get the proper insight from the client before starting, rather than a multi-page PDF as a brief.

Design work 3

One of the downfalls of the RFP process is you don’t get the opportunity to establish a relationship with the client. To do great work, you need to understand the brand’s personality, and what makes it tick. Great design is subjective; after all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But, we’ve found that great design is no accident. It is the output of a well-defined process, that given the right amount of effort, is guaranteed to drive our client’s desired outcome.

Design work 4

 

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