Over the weekend, a reader asked me, “What do I do when there’s just no inspiration? It seems like I find myself waiting around for a good idea, and that doesn’t always work with my deadlines.”
Today, we’re going to identify and recommend a standard process for designing logos and identities. If you trust the process and show up to work, inspiration will come along at some point.
Part One: Analog
1. Put your computer away. Get a sketchbook. Don’t leave home without it. Use it. Archive it. Get another one. Never. Stop. Recording. Ideas.
2. Research. Ask questions. Leave no stone unturned. Understand what you’re designing, understand your product, and understand why people will want your product. Understand what you’re selling. Hint: It’s not the product itself, it’s the association that people are buying. They’re purchasing belonging, they’re buying an image, they’re contributing to a close family, etc. They have their own reasons. Find out what they are.
3. Get some elbow room. Identify a core concept or two, often related to what the product or service is or does. Branch out and play word association, word-mapping every possible direction and combination you can muster. It’s on the outskirts of these wordmaps that non-cliche images begin to take form. Draw lines and make associations that others might not at first.
4. Pick out the strongest two (three at most) directions which both lend to simple visual representation and can be adapted to speak to the ultimate end goal of the message they’re selling (not necessarily the product, but the hook of the product). What can you combine in ways that are unpredictable? Each idea is a design. Each design can only have one idea, one thing that you’re trying to communicate.
5. Sketch, sketch, sketch. Do it in pencil, do it in pen. Start in one color. If you can’t distill it down to a single one-color image, then you don’t have the concept fully formed yet. You need to be able to nail it down without gradients, drop shadows, transparencies, or any other gimmicky shortcuts. These often just cover the fact that you don’t have a good design. (Also, it’s helpful to have a one-color choice for printing reasons). You can also create two-color and full-color versions, but start with just one.
If you had to spraypaint your idea on the side of a building with a stencil, crop circle it into a cornfield, or carve it into a tree, it should be doable. The only way to do this is to start in one color.
6. Simplify and solidify. You need to be able to scale the identity. It needs to look just as great in a 1″x1″ spot on a business card as it would on a giant billboard advertisement.
7. Go decide what font types would match well. You want to narrow it down before going through specific fonts, as you can quickly lose focus of the clean-cut concept while scrolling through a billion random typefaces.
Part Two: Digital
8. NOW you can go to the computer. Begin with your symbol, if applicable. Go straight to Illustrator with your sketches, and put in the time to nail a good digital copy.
9. Pick your typefaces after your concept work, after your tracing and illustrating. Always, always, always put in the time to customize the type. Your kerning isn’t going to be great right out of the box.
10. Get away. Never, ever do your big work in one sitting. As your eyes become accustomed to your work, small mistakes begin to creep in. After a while, you start to miss them.
Try sleeping on it. Go for a run. Get away for a while. Not only does it give your eyes a rest, but the subconscious mind has a way of working out small issues that the conscious mind can’t quite nail down. This really helps with the minor intuitive connections and connotations that give your work the extra little strong connection that really makes an impact.
Bonus 11: If your work is trendy, SCRAP IT and start over. Go back to step 4 and see if you can’t come up with something more solid. Strong work is timeless.
Not only is it a copout to deliver something trendy to a client, but some purists consider it downright unethical. Why on earth would someone trust you if they paid you for work that’s going to have to be replaced in two years? Would you ever purchase a new car if you knew that the transmission would need to be replaced after 200 miles?
Trendy design isn’t strong design. It never has been, and it never will be.