By Frank Brault, Industry Product Specialist at Vectorworks, Inc.
With 2016 now in full swing, many of our resolutions for the year may have already fallen by the wayside. However, becoming a more efficient designer doesn't have to involve a big change — you can start by simply looking at your design process in a different way. Here are a few things I’ve learned while designing over the past 30+ years to help you improve your workflow.
#1: Ideas are Cheap
Back when I was a student and I took my first real design class, I thought I created the most perfect designs there ever were. I had the ideas instantly and worked tirelessly all week to execute them. At my design critiques, however, I received surprisingly negative comments, and I had a really hard time letting go of my first concepts. But as it turns out, that feedback was the start of a lesson that I learned over time: Design projects always have a period of transition before they really get rolling, and your initial idea isn't always the best answer. When you are a designer, there must always be other ways to approach a solution that achieve the needs of a particular project, group, and time.
#2: Define the Problem Before You Try to Solve It
Every design is the solution to a problem. Designs always turn out better if you define the problem with your team as the first step. It seems obvious, but coming up with a statement of the problem and how you are going to address it is critical to success. The statement doesn’t have to be in any particular format or medium; rather, it just needs to be created in a way that everyone understands, enabling each team member to respond and contribute to the solution.
#3: Do Your Research
Virtually every design problem has been addressed in some way at some time in the past. Once you have defined yours, look up examples of how others have solved your problem or similar problems. Make it your job to find those previous solutions, so you can acknowledge and take advantage of discoveries that came before. This research isn’t to copy the designs of the past; rather, it's about learning from the way that others have dealt with what you face. Remember that each solution has different parameters, and that yours will be unique and better as a result of this essential design step.
#4: Stick With the Concept
Come up with a concept statement that everyone agrees with, so that the goal or end result you're striving for is clearly articulated. Then, be sure to communicate ideas in terms of the concept statement. If you make a practice of working out each aspect of the design and conducting each conversation in this way, then the audience will be able to understand the point-of-view of the approach, as well as the problem that the design solves.
#5: Have a Reason for Every Choice
I once had an epiphany when asked why I put some element where I did: I always want to communicate my choices in terms of the concept statement with which everyone is working. This idea enforces the discipline of conscientiously working with the concept at every level. It gives a remarkable clarity to decision-making. Where possible, you should be able to explain a design choice to your client from the point-of-view of the agreed-upon conceptual goal. So, the conversation is about supporting the concept rather than why you placed a particular design element where it is.
#6: Most Things Take Longer Than Expected
Design, and especially collaborative design, is messy business. Things don’t always go the way they seem they might. No matter how long you think it will take to get something done, unexpected events make the project take more time. When this happens, either the deadline must be extended or something must be done differently to deliver on time. At times like these, it is a practical skill to be able to evaluate what can be eliminated or what can work as is without affecting the final result negatively. If you practice this skill regularly, you'll learn to be nimble under the duress of a change in schedule or other emergency.
#7: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Besides being a snappy quote that I hear a lot, this last lesson garners a place in my list because time and again, the best projects get that way when the group possesses the ability to work together toward a common goal. In my world, design is a collaborative endeavor. I am always working with other people on a project. On the best projects, everyone works toward the same idea. The conversations are dynamic, non-partisan, and have lots of deep integration with everyone’s input piling on. When it’s working right, every team member has a perspective that can refine the project in ways that can’t be accomplished by any single person. And that interaction makes your projects a fantastic experience for your audience and clients!
These ideas may seem obvious, but taking the time to think about them before you start a new project can yield surprising results. Happy designing!
This article first appeared in our bimonthly academic newsletter, For the Love of Design.