How to Work Harder Better Faster Stronger

by Jenna Bantjes

As designers, creating an exceptional piece of work is not just about the final product, but about how we got there.  Our job is more than just making things look good- it’s about being informed, asking questions and making decisions based on the answers.  Only by considering all options can we find the best one. We call this process.

Here are some pointers to help you develop a solid working process:

Get all of the bad ideas out of the way

At the beginning of a project, brainstorm immensely. Write down every idea you have. Consider all possible questions and answers pertaining to the problem, and weigh them with your peers. Loosely sketch if you need a visual to explain an idea. Create zone diagrams- sketches that show where areas of content will go- to get initial ideas of layouts. The idea here is not to get stuck on the first thing that comes to your mind, but to weigh all of your options, throw out the bad and work with the good.

Brainstorm all possible solutions before designing anything.

Brainstorm all of your ideas before designing anything.

Gather your materials– this is a two part step

Part 1– Gather inspiration. Create a folder of imagery, articles and screenshots of UI/UX elements, typography, buttons, etc. that might be appropriate to reference for the project. Tools like Pinterest, Gimmebar, and Kippt work great for organizing images and bookmarking reference material.

Part 2– Gather real content. Encourage your clients to send you any copy/images/videos etc. as early on as possible. Working with real data makes sketching and wireframing easier and a lot more accurate. Without real content you are merely guessing at possible solutions and speculating conclusions instead of decisively formulating answers. While stock photography and lorem ipsum can help set the tone and may work to get direction approval, using production content will help influence your design decisions and ultimately lead to a more cohesive, well-informed piece.

Consider your audience

Define who you are targeting, why they would want to use your product, and how they would want to do so. While this is largely speculative, identifying user types and considering personas will help you realize your user’s motives, ability, and ultimately allow you to create a more customized tool that best suites their needs. If possible, speak with potential users in person and get their feedback, as this will strengthen your understanding of their persona type. As soon as you have a prototype ready, find people who are interested in testing your product to get feedback as early on as possible.

Keep it simple

Whether sketching on paper, in Photoshop, or in code, keep your mockups and application as simple as possible. Toss out any ideas that don’t work early on so you don’t waste any time with them. Keep your client involved on all aspects of the project so they can see your thought process and be wowed by the solutions you come up with. A pixel-perfect mockup may look great up front, but if it doesn’t address the users needs or desires, it is not going to be successful. If you need to, use pieces from your inspiration folder to save time conveying an idea– just be sure you are explicit that the work is not yours!

Start simple- Know when not to use a tool or add complexity.

Knowing when NOT to use tools/features/plugins is just as powerful as knowing how to use them.

If you get stuck, stop

When working on a design, it can be easy to waste time, or spend it on the wrong things. If you feel yourself getting stuck or spending a lot of time on one thing, stop what you are working on and walk away. Go for a walk, get a coffee, or work on something else for a while. If it’s been a long day and your deadline allows– sleep on it! You’ll be amazed how often solutions can come to you in your sleep. Let your brain rest. Answers come easier when you’ve had time to refresh.

Move to code as soon as possible (if possible)

Some people may argue with me on this one, but I stand behind the mentality of moving to code as soon as a project allows (if your front-end skills are strong and the project necessitates it). At this point in your process you should already have created your user personas/flows, sketched some basic layout and zone diagrams, worked out low-fidelity wireframes and have your content/imagery ready to go. Working in code saves time in the later stages of a design since you only have to make a high fidelity mockup once. It also allows you to work mobile-first and/or responsive more easily, making sure all elements are important and can work together no matter what screen size you are on. And the final result is a working prototype that can be tested in real-time– a win-win situation over all.

By developing a solid workflow process, you will be able to save time, focus your effort, and simplify your work. While the suggestions above may help you get started on the path to a productive workflow, everyone works differently and should refine their process accordingly. View each new project as an opportunity to work better. Be open about the way you work and feel free to talk about it with others. Leave a comment with your suggestions and helpful tips!

About Jenna Bantjes

A graduate of the Art Institute of Boston (and the winner of its annual Graphic Design Exhibition), Jenna joined us through our apprentice program. Before...