The finished product is the manifestation of all the thought, development and care you put into a project. It is not, however, what you should jump to instantly. It shouldn’t be your immediate goal. It is the process you go through—the thought, development and care—that you should concern yourself with the most.

The difference between an amateur and a professional designer is thought. An amateur is someone whom the client’s words are gospel. They will produce what a client asks for in the brief, using layout, font, colour and imagery suggestions without hesitation, giving them exactly what they were asked of. A professional will give a client what they need. They will view the brief as what a client understands their needs as being and will see the suggestions given as a starting point to get an idea of what said client is after in feeling and thought. An amateur will leave a meeting and begin to act. A professional will leave a meeting and begin to think.

Always ask questions

‘Always ask questions’ is something I found my self scrawling in my notebooks while studying. I wanted to remind my self that there are no stupid questions and that sometimes acting the fool, never taking anything for granted, can strongly work in your favor. And there are so many questions to be asked; of your client, of fellow designers, of the audience and, most importantly, of yourself. Why am I using this photo? Why these colours, these fonts, this layout, this paper, this look? Should it be simple, complex or more elegant or this or that? Should it be bigger, smaller, should I use a photo or an illustration? Or purely type? Is this the best I can possibly do? The best that can be done for this problem? Does the client even need to say this and show that? These types of questions are the crux of the design process. Through asking questions, you push your ideas through evolutionary steps—you push them to the next plateau of your creativity—helping you get a better understanding of what will work, what is obvious and most importantly, what the core goals you should be aiming for actually are.

You’ll find yourself considering outcomes you wouldn’t have
unless you sat down and let your curiosity blossom

By questioning everything about a job, you force yourself to look at it differently and you’ll find yourself considering outcomes you wouldn’t have unless you sat down and let your curiosity blossom. Chances are, the first idea you have for any mark you make may very well be the obvious for yourself, as well as for others when faced with a similiar problem; not something you want when you are selling your original creativity. By looking at your original idea and asking yourself ‘how can I expand on this? how can this be said better? Smarter?’ you’ll start to push your ideas through their evolutionary stages. By expanding upon your first thought, breaking it down and rebuilding it over and over, you’ll give it a maturity and elegance.

Grow your ideas

Every sketch you make, every note, every piece of research done, will be the soil from where all your ideas will grow. Every book you read, movie you watch and sound you hear, will be the sun that warms the earth. And every questions will be the sustenance that water provides. Lack any of these elements for too long and it’ll be harder for any ideas to grow. Too much of any and you’ll smother the seeds. The more you actively grow your ideas, the easier it’ll become—the faster you’ll hit that much loved ‘this is it’ moment. Your process will become more refined, your questions more poignant and answers more relevant. At first, your process will take time and there are parts of it that won’t get any faster – easier, but not faster; research for example. But the generation of ideas, specifically relevant ones, will definitely speed up. From the research you do for each job to every image you see, especially the portfolios of others from all over the world, you’ll start to understand what ideas are the obvious—you’ll learn what’s been done before and what ideas you should throw out.

The more you actively grow your ideas, the easier it’ll become


There are numerous stories of those who can come up with a solution almost instantly, out of thin-air. Paula Scher’s Citibank logo is a prime example. The story is that she sat down in the initial meeting and by the end, had sketched the logo for this multinational corporation, as if with no effort or thought. However, the truth is it took longer than the amount of time it took to scribble the logo out, it took her life, up to that point; ‘it’s done in a second and in 34 years and every experience and every movie and everything of my life that’s in my head’.

Paula Schers' original sketch

Some of us are born with this intuition, this originality, in the bones—or at the very least, the courage to believe in our intuition. In a Hilmancurtis video in which Scher talks about her work, she says that she isn’t one for process—it isn’t how she works. This could be an example of what to aim for. Everything you experience, every creative thought, should work towards your understanding or perception of quality and originality, so that you can produce elegant solutions without an exhaustion of effort.


The product will come. Don’t be afraid to spend a considerable amount of time in the development stage. The amount of time you spend may reduce as you grow as a creative, or it may get longer, but the more time working on your creative process, for the job at hand and for yourself, the better the all your work will be. The more likely it’ll be something special for you, your client and the audience.

Process isn’t something you should confuse with time

Process isn’t something you should confuse with time. Process is something that exists independently of time and space. Early in your career, you may spend a lot of time working on your process, but the more time spent, the stronger your instincts will become—you then need to learn to trust them, as it is your instincts that make a job belong to you, be identifiable to you. They’ll allow you to know and feel when a solution is the right one and get you to that place effortlessly. Your instincts are sharpened by every experience you have. By the process you go through—by being and seeing. Always ask questions so you can cut swiftly with your process-sharpened intuition that is the blade.


Picasso, Paula Scher, and the lifetime behind every second @ 37 Signals
This is a great article that was written in 2004 about charging clients (hourly vs lump-sum). It’s where I got the information about the Citibank logo and Scher, as well as a few other similiar stories (Picaso, an engineer and a technician). A good read!

David Airey’s Logo Development
Here is an article on the development of the logo for the popular blogger.

Design Secrets: Layout: 50 Real-Life Projects Uncovered
This is a great book that shows the sketches and notes that go into some fantastic projects.

The Anatomy of Design: Uncovering the Influences and Inspirations in Modern Graphic Design.
This is another great book (would we expect anything less when ‘Heller’ appears on the byline?) put together by these two very knowledgeable creatives. It gives examples of work and the pieces that proceeded them in style, idea and context.

Worlds Best Logos & Brands: Citibank Logo
A good article on the Citibank logo and where I pinched the napkin sketch Scher did.

Rube Goldberg machine
What a better example of process than the good ol’ Rube Goldberg machine? Comics can be found here, the well known Honda Accord Euro ad here and a Cadbury Creme Egg machine here.