Two words a designer is bound to ask themselves at some point is “Now what?”

Staring down at a mess of ideas, concepts, sketches and doodles created during the ideation stage, now what do you do with them? How do you combine, clean up, and polish these scraps into a fully functional and beautiful design solution?

We’ve discussed the process of getting your ideas down onto page (divergent thinking) whether that’s through group collaboration or isolated spitballing. Whatever the case, now comes the time to take those ideas and make them into a reality by using convergent thinking.

As we ran over in Day 1 of this course, convergent thinking is the doing process in our minds. This is the time where we allow our brains to take the concepts and ideas, evaluate them, refine them, and start to make something great with them.

Building Up Your Ideas

Once you have a scramble of papers of notes, sketches, ideas, or concepts, things can get pretty daunting. How on earth do you make a final product out of this?

The trick is to not look at this stage as a mess but as a primed canvas. You have all the materials to form a fantastic concept, you just need to look at it and use it the right way.

First step is to analyse your content. Take all of your ideas and ask yourself questions about it:

  • Which ideas address the brief the strongest?
  • Which ideas are compelling and unique?
  • Can any of these ideas be combined?
  • What do these ideas have in common?
  • Can any of these ideas be simplified?
  • How can these ideas better address the brief?
  • What is the strongest and weakest part of each idea?

Group

Once you’ve looked over your ideas and assessed their value, ask yourself which ideas have common traits and elements to them, and put them side by side.

Try to group your ideas physically if possible; color code them, put them in piles, rewrite a new list, just try to ensure that you can physically see the groups of likeminded ideas.

By grouping these ideas, you are able to create a much narrower scope and list of possible directions. Not to mention, by grouping similar ideas, this helps the original and unique ideas to stand out from the rest, helping you uncover any hidden gems.

Refine

After you have identified and agreed on one (or a handful of) specific design approaches and directions, now comes time to refine. Turn your messy doodles into scaled sketches, think seriously about each direction’s pro’s and cons, and start bringing in more detail to the ideas.

Test

By now you will have a fully refined idea – sketches of your composition, an idea of a palette, a strong concept, and a fairly clear mental image of how you want the end result to look. Now comes the time to make that imagination into a reality – test that idea.

Putting your idea onto screen can be difficult. Trying to visualise a concept is a struggle even the most seasoned artists and designers struggle with. So, if you can’t quite get it right at first, don’t get frustrated, keep at it.

You may find that an element of your sketch/idea/concept that you thought would look fantastic ends up looking terrible on screen. This is okay too (and completely natural) and this is the beauty of working on screen; you can change an element of your design with a few clicks of your mouse. So try to remember to stay flexible with your design. Your sketches and concept maps are simply a guide, not blueprints. Adapt to change and be open to it as it comes.

How to stay critical

Author William Faulkner is noted as having coined the phrase “Kill your darlings”. This expression refers to the unavoidable duty creatives face of taking the most self indulgent, precious parts of your work and getting rid of them for the greater good of your project.

Though Faulkner was originally addressing authors and the written word, his advice rings no less true for designers.

You might love the way you have designed your heading, but if it’s not working with the rest of your design, or if it’s not communicating the right message, sometimes it just needs to go.

When working with clients and brands you might have to kill quite a few of your darlings. It can take a bit of practise to learn how to design things that work best for the brief, as your immediate instinct may be to simply design something that looks good to you.

Keep your brief close at hand, keep referring back to it. Ask yourself questions as you design, and try to stay critical when it comes to chopping and changing elements of your design. If it’s not working, it’s not working. Save the idea for later use, and move along.

The Feedback Machine

Feedback is a cornerstone to any creative project that you embark on, and something that you should happily and enthusiastically seek out.

Design is subjective, there are no black and white answers to problems, so opinions, advice, and feedback are what we rely on to obtain the strongest result.

Where do we look for feedback?

Ideally, you should be seeking feedback from objective third parties. People who are not afraid of offending you by being honest. Friends or family can feel obligated to hold back on the criticisms, often defeating the whole purpose of feedback.

Instead, seek feedback from impartial, objective people. This may be colleagues, online networks, even strangers.

It is also important to find people whose opinions you value, respect and trust. This often means fellow industry professionals, people whose work you admire and people that you feel you could learn from. This feedback will feel much more valuable to you if it’s coming from a place of authority.

Another great platform for seeking objective feedback is online. There are hundreds of forums, platforms, sites, apps, and social medias for you to showcase your work on and recieve constructive criticism.

Some popular sites for feedback are:

How to handle feedback

Don’t argue. Design is incredibly subjective, so when getting feedback for design, you may not always agree with the opinions presented. However, do not argue these opinions. Note down the advice as it’s given, try to understand where it comes from rather than totally disregarding it.

Ask questions. If somebody says that they don’t understand, agree with or like a facet of your design, don’t try to change their opinion. Instead, ask why they feel this way, how they feel it could be improved.

Let the design speak for itself. You won’t be there to explain every facet of your design when it’s released to the public, so if you feel that you need to explain it during a feedback session, perhaps you need to change your design.

Be respectful. The ability to accept feedback graciously separates the professionals from the amateurs. Thank your feedbackers for their time and input and be respectful as you are given criticism and/or praise.

Remember that you’re all on the same team. Whether it’s a third party, a client or a colleague, you’re all on the same team and are all trying to ensure that you create the best possible design. Nobody is offering up criticism for the sake of tearing you down, but rather to help make your work better and stronger.

When your design isn’t looking like you imagined

This problem is inevitable. Sometimes we have goals that reach beyond our current skillset, budget, or time limit, and sometimes it’s just impossible to translate the image from your mind’s eye onto screen. In either case, when faced with this problem, what can we do?

Subtract from your design – it’s a common mistake to just keep adding or moving the elements that you do have around. But instead, by subtracting those elements gradually and minimizing your design, you’ll start to realise what is necessary and what is not.

Search for inspiration (again) – the phrase ‘go back to the drawing board’ is one usually said in anguish but it shouldn’t be. Look at other people’s work and compare it to your own. What font combinations have they used? How have they arranged their composition? Graft some techniques and ideas to your own work in progress and watch it slowly shape into something more like you originally visualised.

If you’re lost for resources, be sure to have a perusal of these databases. Extend your search beyond your typical haunts and explore new corners of the web to find fresh, new inspiration.

Start building your ideas today

Ask any designer and they’ll each tell you that they have their own method for undertaking and executing a design. Process is a very personalised thing, one man’s method is another’s madness.

So experiment with what works for you and what doesn’t. Don’t restrict yourself when it comes to ideation and don’t see ‘going back to the drawing board’ as a failure.

Experiment with your design, push it, get feedback wherever possible and learn how to let it uplift your design not deflate your ego. In no time at all your ideas will be shaping up into a fully rounded and successful new design.

Today’s Task

There are a number of different ways that you can experiment with the contents of your design to unlock better ideas. Below is a list of transformative techniques and questions to ask yourself based on a checklist by Alex Osborn.

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Today’s task is to apply at least 5 of these transformations to one of your ideas. Whether you have something on screen that you can alter, want to adjust a Canva template, or simply sketch out new versions of your idea, take one of your ideas and transform it five ways.

You may switch up the grid system, type size, color scheme, copy and minimize it, or you may use a different combination of transformations. Whatever you choose to do, get experimental. You may hate the result, or you may love it. In any case, you will strengthen your idea and vision.

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