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Planning for Design

Traditionally, “Design”, including that of the Web variety has been taught in Schools and Universities as a strict and specific progress involving stages boiling down to (typically) 1: Planning – 2: Development – 3: Delivery, but is this really the most efficient way to work? Design is such a subjective field, but do the gung-ho tactics of many designers yeild the same results as those of designers who spend their time working in “pre-design”, carefully planning their next moves?

Let’s hear it from the pros

In preparation for this article, I have been attempting to contact some of the more well-known icons of the Web Design community, in order to find out exactly how they conduct things. The responses I received were quite varied, and a couple were pretty surprising.

So actually, I’m one of those guys that don’t do much paper sketches. Especially when it comes to UI design.
Wolfgang Bartelme

Unfortunately I don’t know if I kept any of the drafts on designs I’ve completed.
Christian Montoya

I do believe using paper is incredibly important, and I’m actually about to write up a post about some of my ideas that I’ve been using. I’m actually at the point where paper rivals the amount of design work I do with my computer. In fact, at this point, I might say that paper has over-taken my computer as my primary design tool of choice.
I’ll generally spend hours exploring and fleshing out ideas before I do anything at all on the computer. Then, depending on the project and my responsibilities for that project, I’ll turn the paper version into either wireframes, a comp, or even working code.I’ve found the use of paper to be a far superior way to come up with solutions. It’s much less focused on constraints and allows me to be significantly more creative.
Garrett Dimon

Unfortunately, I’m not a sketcher. I sometimes do little doodles when coming up with ideas for logos but I tend to play in Fireworks more than hand draw.
Jonathan Snook

And the community response?

I also made a few posts on a couple of Web Design-related forums, namely Mint Pages and my.9rules notes, the replies were not in vast quantity, but at least the responses can be used as a probe into the Design community’s general consensus.

Sometimes I get a design instantly, or just open photoshop to “doodle” and *bam* it’s there. Other times, it takes a couple of weeks to brew (if I have the time) in my mind, then countless tiny sketches and perhaps a couple of large (a4-filling) sketches or worked-out drawings, and then I bring it to photoshop. I do both ways varying on the time and place.
— Kilian

I actually don’t like to sketch, it distracts me. I tend to zone out and let the idea process “sketch it out” in my head.
My Design teachers HATED this and tried to dock me points on projects for lack of “brainstorming” but the dean wouldn’t let them as my end results were on par or better than those who HAD sketched.
— RightOn

I’m a real hands-on/visual person, so seeing things befone-hand is important to me, however, I often have a hard time putting my ideas on paper. So I’ll often start sketching out (sometimes just outlining) the project/idea, then finish I’ll it off in my head.
Though, add in the fact that I’m horribly forgetful, and then you can have quite a mess…so even though it can be a hassle for me to write stuff down and sketch it all out beforehand, I usually find that my projects turn out much better once I’ve brought them down to earth enough to have them written out on paper.
— momentography

The word “design” says it all. You’re not a designer unless you create a project and follow the steps necessary to render it properly. I usually go through a stabilished set of steps – sketch, test, render, test, deliver.
— FernandoLins

Apparently I am the oddball…I don’t sketch anything…I head straight for Photoshop to begin my mockups.
I, unfortunately, have very little talent for drawing, so sketching isn’t much help unless I am away from a computer and trying to describe the design to someone. I am not saying I have NEVER sketched, just that it isn’t in my standard process.
— creativeUI

Is the design process dead?

I was absolutely shocked to find out that most of the “top” Designers I queried revealed that they did very little to no on-paper planning before jumping into a design. I might add that I myself have been a proponent for “gung-ho” design tactics, and frequently work of bursts of inspiration rather than carefully planned work but I always assumed that this method was frowned upon among the community, I thought that I would be better off with sticking to the tried and tested generic design process… perhaps I was mistaken?

Each to his own

The answer to the question of “which is better?” is anything but clear-cut, and I can only respond by pointing out that everybody eventually discovers what “works” for them, people, by nature, simply think in different ways, some (mainly those who are more creatively-inclined) are motivated by their inspiration, others (primarily the more academically-minded) rely on a structured and careful approach, and you know what… as long as the client (or the Designer themselves) is happy, we need not worry ourselves about the process itself.

I can only wish that the results of this article were a little more definitive, but in an industry as subjective as the one we work in, no methods can truly be labeled as optimal. I recommend trying your hand at working from each approach in turn, and you will soon discover which one you are more comfortable with. Even if you have been a life-time subscriber to one school of thought, only good things can come from investigating other means of production.

2 Responses to “Planning for Design”

  1. Matt says:

    This article makes me feel much better about my own process, which almost always begins on the computer. I’m not necessarily bad at sketching but I think I’ve become so accustomed to working on the computer that it is easier for me to start there. I think I noticed this most poignantly in a drawing class after I drew a line that I liked the shape of but it wasn’t positioned right where I wanted it to be. I found myself struggling with the conundrum of having to erase the good line in order to attempt to redraw it perfectly in the correct spot. If I had been on the computer I could have simply moved the existing line.

  2. Jack says:

    I have often roughed sketches onto paper to get an overall feel of the page flow, never concerning myself with the perfection of it. I just liked to see what I was going to do space-wise before getting started in the digital medium.

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