9 Effective Ways To Optimize The Graphic Design Process

9 Effective Ways To Optimize The Graphic Design Process

Having a solid graphic design process will help you deliver better designs. Once established, you don’t need to think about the next steps each time you’re working on a new project. Just follow your approach. Then you’ll be able to focus on the most important aspect: graphic design.

Although the graphic design process is relatively standardized, there are ways to improve the workflow. We compiled a list of 9 steps to optimize the design process: one hack per step of the workflow. But first, let’s have a look at the different stages of the graphic design process.

What is the Design Process in Graphic Design?

The graphic design process describes the different stages of a design project. It can be broken down into four sub-processes (definition, creation, feedback, and delivery) and consists of 9 single steps. This approach can be used for almost every design project:

The graphic design process consists of four phases (definition, creation, feedback, and delivery), which can be broken down into 9 steps. (Design collaboration tools can help you cover all of these 9 steps.)

This approach can be applied to nearly every design project:

Definition Phase

  • Step 1: Creative Brief
  • Step 2: Graphic Design Research
  • Step 3: Brainstorming / Mood Boarding

Creation Phase

  • Step 4: Sketching
  • Step 5: Design Building
  • Step 6: Refining

Feedback Phase

  • Step 7: Presenting
  • Step 8: Revisions

Delivery Phase

  • Step 9: Final Delivery  

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Graphic Design Process Steps

1. The Creative Brief

The first step in the creative graphic design process is the creative brief. It helps the designer learn more about the needs of the client. This step is critical since the designer needs to gather as much information as possible about the client, his or her company, and his or her project expectations.

The creative brief is the foundation of the project, and it will significantly affect the following steps. If you’re interested in learning more about developing this kind of brief, read our article about the 10 points that every creative brief must contain.

How You Did It in the Past

Often, the creative brief is developed via email or phone. This approach has two huge disadvantages:

  • The graphic designer needs to structure the information after gathering it.
  • Data might get lost.

How You Should Do It Now

Luckily, there are ways to simplify the creative brief process. You can use tools like Jotform, which allows you to create simple forms that can be shared with your client.

You can enter all of the information you need into them, and you’ll be able to store this data within the tool. If you need to review the initial answers, you can easily log in and check the submission (at any point in the project).

.Creative Brief

2. Graphic Design Research

If you’re asking the right questions, the creative brief offers a lot of valuable information. Regardless, there are always topics that you shouldn’t include (such as competitor designs), since you need to (unbiasedly) analyze them on your own.

The goal of the research step is to learn more about your client’s competitors. Your rivals’ designs can be good sources of inspiration. You shouldn’t copy them, but analyze what works, what doesn’t work, and how you can make improvements. Ultimately, you want to be different but learn about the common tones and styles.

How You Did It in the Past

You probably used a simple Google search to research your competitors, which is definitely still an option. But in most cases, you should use alternative resources and as much data as possible.

How You Should Do It Now

The first step is to get a comprehensive list of competitors (if you haven’t asked for them in the creative brief):

Graphic Design Research

Second, analyze the competitors:

  • Check their website and blog
  • Check out their design work by looking at their logo design, website theme etc.
  • Check their press mentions and interviews
  • Check their social media channels (such as Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn)
  • Sign up for their newsletter and download their eBooks

3. Brainstorming and Mood boarding

Once you have a good understanding of your client and his or her competitors, it’s time to generate design ideas. You can use a pen and paper to map out the purpose of the design.

What emotions and thoughts should you use as design triggers? What’s the message of the design? Of course, brainstorming means that you’re coming up with a lot of ideas. But keep your main focus in mind while shooting out designs.

After gathering some ideas, you can create a mood board that will allow you to gather your ideas. You can also use our mood board template to create your first digital board.

How You Did It in the Past

It used to be tough to generate and prioritize numerous ideas. Of course, since you’re creative, you come up with a bunch of concepts. But a fresh perspective may have been missing from them.

How You Should Do It

Nowadays, you should use design platforms like Dribbble, Facebook groups like Advanced Graphic Design, Slack communities like Designer’s Talk, or also Q&A portals like QuoraThey will give you inspiration, validate your ideas, and help you prioritize. You could analyze existing designs, ask questions about preferences, or just introduce your design idea(s) and wait for feedback.  

Moodboard Example

4. Sketching the Graphic Design

Now it’s time to build on your prioritized ideas and start sketching. Often, you still won’t use a computer for your sketches. And you definitely don’t need to sketch online.

How You Did It in the Past

You were curious about your ideas. But since it’s 2018, you directly converted and digitized them.

However, working on computer designs means exposing yourself to distractions, such as your latest Facebook notifications and LinkedIn messages. Remember, they won’t help you deliver on time.

How You Should Do It Now

Instead, start offline, which will help you concentrate and remove any digital distractions from your workplace. You could use a large sketchpad and your favorite pens, which will allow you to minimize distractions and optimize your productivity and focus. If you still want to share your early sketches with the client, use an app like Adobe Scan or Tiny Scanner to digitize your “offline designs”.

Offline Sketching5. Graphic Design Production Process

After you’ve shared your best sketches with your client, he or she will provide you with initial feedback. Now you can (finally!) start working on the final designs. At this stage, it will be important to come up with different variations of designs.

That way, you’ll allow the clients to choose between existing designs. To build these designs, you’ll probably need a lot of different graphic resources;  you shouldn’t create everything from scratch.

How You Did It in the Past

You’ve searched for specific design elements on stock websites, and paid for them individually. Afterward, you had to ensure that the author was credited. It was a cumbersome process, and the choice for resources was quite limited.

How You Should Do It

These days, you can use a platform like Freepik or another suitable graphic design tool which provides you with access to more than 500k resources for free (and even 1m+ if you become a premium user).

Here’s a huge advantage: You don’t need to pay for resources any more. Just pick the elements you need, and use them.

Free Graphic Resources on Freepik

6. Refine Design

Let’s face it. Your clients will always have plenty of feedback and change requests. In other words, you’ll need to start refining your designs. But before presenting the designs to your client again, you can ask other people for instant feedback.

How You Did It in the Past

You probably showed your design to friends and family, in order to get their design feedback. I would definitely advise that you continue engaging in this tactic.

You only need to keep in mind that they (probably) aren’t designers, so they see your work from a completely different perspective. That difference can be good, but it could also result in worthless feedback.

How You Should Do It Now

Don’t stop asking your relatives and friends for feedback, but also present your work to designers. Similar to the brainstorming phase, you should get active on platforms like Behance, and share your work with professionals. In addition, engage with other community members.

Give and take. Provide feedback, and you’ll get feedback.

Refine Design

7. Presenting

The way you’re presenting your work will affect your number of revisions, as well as the related feedback. Of course, it also depends on your clients. Being able to tell a story about your designs will help you influence and convince your client.

How You Did It in the Past

Presenting your own work can be difficult. Often, you’ve finished a new version of your design, and just sent an email like this:

“Hi Fred, I’ve attached the latest version. Please let me know your thoughts about it.”

However, if you only changed color, it might not be enough context—even if you worked on it for hours.

How You Should Do It Now

Take the time to properly present your work. Of course, you can’t schedule a one-hour meeting every time you change something. But schedule calls for design milestones and important changes.

Use these meetings to tell a story about your design. A story? Yes, you read that right. If the New York Public Library can tell a story about their new logo, you can, too.  

Concentrate on presenting the process of your design. That way, your client will better understand your work.

Here’s the huge benefit: Even if your client has another opinion, your presentation will explain your perspective, which could convince him or her of your idea.

8. Client Approval Process

In most cases, you’ll get a lot of revision requests and plenty of unstructured feedback. Hence, you must gather the feedback, structure it, and implement the needed changes to establish an approval process. Easier said than done.

How You Did It in the Past

Normally, revisions and feedback are handled via email, which often results in hundreds of emails. If you don’t have a good method for structuring new feedback, you’re lost.

How You Should Do It Now

Online proofing tools such as Filestage can help you structure feedback and speed up your review cycles. You can upload your designs, and invite your clients to review them. Then they can directly comment and markup your files. After implementing the requested changes, you can update a new version, and the feedback cycle starts afresh.

Client Approval Process

9. Final Delivery

Congrats! You delivered the final design(s), and the client is happy. Time to send out an invoice.

How You Did It in the Past

You opened your Word invoice template, adjusted the numbers, and saved it as a new file. Definitely, one way to do it. But it could be easier. You could get some additional, useful invoicing features.

How You Should Do It Now

Make sure that you’ll get your money as quickly as possible. This assurance requires creating an invoice asap. So forget about your templates. Just use a tool like FreshBooks, QuickBooks, or Xero.

Then you can simplify your accounting work and connect your bank account. That way, you can manage and track all of your transactions within the software. You can then reconcile transactions on a daily or weekly basis, in order to make sure that you’re matching your projects and payments.

Send out an Invoice


Of course, every tip in this article won’t suit your situation. But even if one piece of advice helps you, this article was worth the effort. Processes and workflows aren’t sexy topics, but their impacts are often undeniable.

Have you implemented other improvements? I’d love to hear more about them in the comments! 

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