We have been posting tutorials pretty much every week for the past 6 years. We believe tutorials are an amazing way to learn how to use the software we need to do our design work. But as you can see, software is just a part of the design process, important but without a good foundation and design principles you won’t be able to translate a good idea into a cohesive design...even if you are a master of Illustrator, Photoshop or any other software.

With this in mind we wanted to go a bit deeper in terms of the tutorials we post here on Abduzeedo. Our goal will be to alternate tutorials showing techniques and how to use software with posts on the theory behind the design process.

For this first post we want to talk about the first step of a design work. From understanding what the project is all about, to briefing. This is probably one of the most important parts of the creative process because it’s how you will set your strategy in terms of what to explore.

The first priority when getting a new project underway is to understand exactly what the project is about. I know it might sound obvious but it’s a little bit more complicated. Below I’ve listed a few important questions I ask myself prior to embarking on a certain design project :

  • What exactly is the product or service I will be working on? Can I explain the product or service to other people clearly and concisely?
  • Who will be using the product?
  • What the audience accustomed to and what we think would be better if we used this product ourselves?
  • What is the vision the company has for their product or service? How much are they willing to commit in terms of radical changes?

What’s the product or service?

Having a deep understanding of the product you will be working on is vital for your design work. Not only because it gives you the information you need to start designing but this tactic will also give you the motivation to challenge yourself in creating a better product or service overall.

If you think about personal projects, we always do things we like because we challenge ourselves to learn something new while making our ideas come true in our personal work. We have all the motivation we need to do that. We control the whole process of the creative process.

For professional projects it is the same, once we have an idea of the scope of the project and the possibilities we can strive and innovate. Otherwise frustration ensues and we end up chasing our own tail.

“A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.” - Dieter Rams

Who will be using the product or service? What is the audience accustomed to and what do we think would be better if we used this product ourselves?

We always mention this in our posts or any event we have the chance to speak at but it’s the number one rule for any designer: Who is your audience and what’s the problem you are solving for them with your design?

Drawing another parallel with personal projects. When we are doing work for ourselves we are our own audience and that gives us freedom to do things we want or apply our personal style.


Rawz - personal project to help users share their inspiration

With professional work it is different. That might be a bit of a controversial statement but I believe when designing something for a particular audience we have to understand their needs and the best way to reach them. My personal style might be completely useless. The same applies to trends. As Dieter Rams says “Good design is long-lasting”. Make your design useful and efficient. Trends come and go and if you make yourself a product of a trend you might be useless as well.

“It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.” - Dieter Rams

What is the vision the company has for their product or service? How much are they willing to commit in terms of radical changes?

Gathering all the information about the project is not only mandatory in understanding the product or service but also enables a clear idea of what the company you are working for is willing to commit to the design work. What is the posture towards radical changes?

Questions about marketing and branding strategies is very important because this will give you hints on what to explore in terms of design but also on how to justify your design decisions.

A lot of frustration we hear from other designers is that people they are working for don’t understand the importance of the change in colors or attention to minute details, or even radical changes such as redesigning from scratch.

In really I believe it’s not that they don’t get it, they just need a good reasoning behind such change. In the end, design is not art but business and it has to be treated like that. Innovation comes from change, but we designers find that through iteration, A/B testing, interviewing the audience and a bevy of other ways to justify our work based on real data.

Here are some simple questions that the super talented designer and branding expert Roger Oddone usually ask his clients:

  • What's the name of the company/ product?
  • What service do you offer?
  • Who are your main competitors?
  • How does your service differ from them?
  • Who is your target/ existing audience?
  • Do you have any benchmarks?


Corporate and brand identity Taiama by Roger Oddone


Corporate and brand identity Taiama by Roger Oddone


Corporate and brand identity Taiama by Roger Oddone

Clearleft, one of my favorites design studios, has a very complete design brief that they share on their Web site. You can download it here

With all this information, we hope that you will have all you need to start your creative process and move to the second phase: Research and Inspiration. Stay tuned for more on that topic in our next post....and as always, if you have anything to add to this tutorial, please don’t hesitate to share with us here via comments and external links.

About the author of this post

Abduzeedo is a blog about design. There are all sorts of articles for those who want to look for inspiration. Also you will find very useful tutorials for the most used applications out there, with a special selection of Photoshop Tutorials and Illustrator Tutorials. Of course there are other softwares conteplated like Pixelmator, Fireworks, and web design tutorials.