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design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

Planning for Design

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

There is a knack to getting off to a good start on a project. And when it all seems to flow logically from one task to the next, you generally get the most out of an idea. It all comes down to the way you interpret the brief, and what order you do the various tasks in during the project.

And this is the idea behind the HND Graded Unit. The students choose a specific brief (or write their own in Year 2)and then follow the flow of the design process through to completion. At each stage, a Tutor has a 20 minute feedback session with the student - no instruction is given - and the onus is on the student work in a self-directed manner. The project should last about four weeks.

The Design Process
The design process reveals itself naturally. Try, for example, to verbally explain what you did on a project to someone who knows nothing about it. Then write that down. It appears like a linear narrative, and you will be able to identify tasks and milestones, or key stages, even if you were unaware of them during the project. The design process is all there in your head, it just needs to be formalised.

In some studios, this formalised approach is examined in a 'post-mortem' - a sort of review meeting where each stage of the work is examined and its strengths and weaknesses are extrapolated from the actual work. A report gets banged out that points to where things could have improved the product. Not only is this great in the team environment, but as an individual, working on freelance briefs, the same methods can be applied, albeit in a more relaxed way.

It has its fans and it has its detractors. But you won't produce great design without good working methods. And you won't improve your working methods unless you can analyse them and make adaptations. And to analyse how well a piece of work went you have to know what happened during the project. So good tasking is imperative, and this invariably requires an Action Plan.

Sample Action Plan
The students are encouraged to break down their project into discrete tasks. A good suggestion is to base everything around a Gantt Chart. The advantages of this are that you can show tasks as happening concurrently, and milestones and deadlines become more flexible. The downside is that you need to be somewhat disciplined in the way you work, and trust that creative ideas will appear at the required times.

Here's the example.

INTERPRET THE BRIEF
RESEARCH 1: CLIENT/COMPETITOR ANALYSIS
RESEARCH 2: SOURCING, TYPOGRAPHY, VISUALS, COLOURS
DEV 1: TOOLS, RESOURCES, INITIAL CONCEPTS
DEV 2: MOCK-UPS, DEMOS, FIRST PASS
DEV 3: SECOND PASS
PRODUCTION : FINAL PASS
PRODUCTION 2: PACKAGING FOR PRINT
PRODUCTION 3: DELIVERY/EVALUATION

This list can then get converted into a Gantt chart, and the various stages can overlap as required. Exact dates can be shuffled back and forward, and you can keep a good check on how far you have progressed. Having a visual reference point for when a task starts or ends is also a lot more intuitive than looking at a date in bold typed on a written page.

For more on planning, check out a brilliant article in Smashing Magazine - An Effective Strategy To Estimate Design Project Times