Creative Process

How Does a Creative Process Help?

The goal of a creative process in graphic design is to channel time, energy and creativity in a direction that is in line with a particular project’s needs. By its nature, creativity can be hard to harness into a predictable and linear set of stages, but it is of enormous value to do so. A good creative process for logo design and branding greatly improves the opportunity for a successful outcome in a reasonable time frame. The creative process defines and controls costs, time, effort, direction, responsibility, expectations, conversation, collaboration, and goals. Without a creative process, you are shooting at a target in the dark.

When developing a brand identity, it’s hard to predict how the creative process will go, but it is essential that every identity goes through all of the stages. An identity must be checked against goals, be refined and questioned. Graphic designer and client must be allowed time to reflect. On rare occasions, an idea generated during the initial client meeting may be the best solution, but it must be validated through a structured process to ensure it is in line with the project goals and has long-term value. Often, phases overlap, sometimes the order changes, but this never alters the need to go through the creative process as a whole.

We Both Have Responsibilities

A creative process works best if responsibilities are clear from the beginning. My responsibility throughout a project is to ask the right questions, define the creative problem, and visualize a solution. The client’s responsibility is to provide the requested information and feedback in a clear, timely, and honest way.

Words Before Visuals

I spend a lot of time analyzing the information given by a client. Along with additional research, it is distilled into mind maps and by using a dictionary and thesaurus, a lexicon for the project is created. Focusing on words rather than visuals at the beginning of a project is a more efficient method of narrowing focus. Mind mapping allows all the information to appear in one place, exposing gaps or differences in thinking, the mind map helps to define the “creative problem” and the path to the “solution.” Before any visuals are designed, a written creative direction is developed using this information, approved by the client, and then used to guide the remainder of the process.

Where Does the Time Go?

All projects are unique and the amount of time spent on the different tasks varies. I estimate that on average, 10% of the time is dedicated to customer care and management, 40% on research, 45% on design, and 5% on production. It is important to remember the client is paying for a solution and not the actual time that is spent on the particular project. Creativity has a mind of its own and I talk about this in more detail in Why Design Can’t be Billed by the Hour.

Gather, Analyze, Visualize, Repeat.

My process in its highest level: gather –> analyze –> visualize –> gather –> analyze –> visualize . . . —> delivery The creative process I use is repetitive and narrows the focus over its timeline. As information is gathered, assessed, and visualized, the space in which the solution can be found, narrows. Collecting the right information and determining that it is in line with the goals, is key to every step of a successful design process. Every project I take on moves through the creative process in its own way. You can see examples of specific examples in my portfolio. If you have any questions, please let me know.

A Simple View of the Creative Process Structure:

Gather: Armed With Purpose, research, creative brief
Analyze: Mind mapping and validation of information
Visualize: Sketching, roughs and preliminary design concept deck(s)
Gather: Conversation and feedback on preliminary design concept deck(s)
Analyze: Validation of feedback/information
Visualize: Refined design concept deck
Gather: Conversation and feedback on refined design concept deck
Analyze: Approval or validation of feedback/information
Delivery: Delivery of final files

I can usually start on projects quickly with most lasting about six weeks—this is flexible and is largely dependent on a client’s availability throughout the process. Click through to have a look at a sample project schedule of tasks, responsibilities and the time allocated.

A Detailed View of the Creative Process Structure

What I describe below is a stripped down version of the creative process I use. It doesn’t show the sometimes overlapping phases, the “two steps back and one step forward”, the “brilliant idea” that can sometimes happen during an initial client meeting. It does, however, give you an idea of what to expect and the level of commitment required.


    1. Armed With Purpose (gather and analyze)
    2. Mind Mapping (analyze)
    3. Sketching Thumbnails (visualize)
    4. Sketching Roughs (visualize)
    5. Design Concept(s) (visualize)
    6. Design Presentation Deck Presentation and Feedback (gather/analyze)
    7. Revised Design Presentation Deck (analyze/visualize)
    8. Presentation and Feedback (gather/analyze)
    9. Delivery
    10. Additional Materials
    11. Follow Up and Support


1. Armed With Purpose (gather and analyze)

The branding process should provide value far beyond the delivery of a symbol. Armed With Purpose is a discovery tool that ensures the process is not aimed at making something pretty, but a strategic exercise that demands an investment of time and effort. Armed With Purpose is an interactive PDF with questions regarding your company, audience, offering and brand. A company can’t simply hand off branding to a graphic designer and expect it to be successful. Without deep understanding and context, a designer can easily end up producing a square peg their client will forever be trying to fit into a round hole. A designer and client that spend the appropriate resources in developing deep understanding shine a bright light on potential pitfalls and illuminate the path to a solution. Armed With Purpose is a tool that:

  1. Encourages discussion about your company, its offering and why you matter
  2. Ensures clarity and consensus amongst your team and idApostle
  3. Helps in defining goals and responsibilities
  4. Helps gather information about your business, offering, competition, brand and audience

Armed With Purpose provides you and idApostle with a thoughtful, inspirational and informative document. It is the starting point for future conversations and informs the development of a clear creative direction required to develop strong branding. Learn more about Armed With Purpose here.

result: creative brief 

2. Mind Mapping (analyze)

A mind map is a diagram I use internally to organize thoughts, the project’s vocabulary (words that describe the brand, personality, emotion, etc.) goals, and other information collected about the client’s company, product or service. As a by-product of reorganizing the information in this manner, additional questions may surface allowing further clarification before the next step.

result: a mind map distilling all information received by idApostle 

3. Sketching Thumbnails (visualize)

At this point, I start to visualize solutions based on the information collected. Thumbnails are small, quick and unfiltered ideas sketched with pen and paper. The goal is to explore as many ideas as possible without becoming attached to any particular one. I do not show clients my thumbnail sketches as their primitive state can be misinterpreted and cause confusion.

result: a vast number of small sketches by idApostle 

4. Sketching Roughs (visualize)

Examining the sketches against the creative brief, thumbnails that show potential are explored further with pen and paper to a point where I am confident that time should be spent refining them on the computer using Adobe Illustrator. As with thumbnails, I do not show roughs to clients during the creative process.

result: a number of rough concepts with potential by idApostle 

5. Design Concept(s) (visualize)

Concepts are refined until they are at a stage that clearly communicates the desired message. The refined ideas are developed to explore how the branding concepts work in real life situations. While the concepts may look finished, more time will need to be spent to reach a stage where they are complete.

result: a small number of well-thought out and refined concepts by idApostle

6. Design Presentation Deck Presentation and Feedback (gather/analyze)


Concepts are presented using a design presentation deck. The deck provides context, giving real life examples of the proposed branding in use. I am a strong believer in the benefits of showing design concepts in this format over presenting a logo in isolation. The process of creating a presentation deck like this provides an opportunity to explore how the proposed branding could be implemented and, in turn, an opportunity to make further changes resulting in a stronger concept. Referring to the creative brief and taking the time necessary to reflect, the client selects one design for further refinement.

Learn more about design presentation decks here.

result: selected concept with requested revisions by the client

7. Revised Design Presentation Deck (analyze/visualize)

Changes are made to the design as well as any refinements necessary. (All requests are examined against the creative brief and creative direction to ensure appropriateness. I make sure they strengthen, not harm, the integrity of the design.)

result: Revised design presentation deck by idApostle 

8. Presentation and Feedback (gather/analyze)

The revised identity is delivered to the client as a design presentation deck. Referring to the creative brief and creative direction, the client may have slight modifications they would like me to explore further.

result: Final approval by the client or requested revisions to revised design presentation deck by the client 

9. Delivery

All final files are sent to the client via Email or FTP, including various digital formats of the identity. Also transferred to the client at this time are full rights and ownership of the visual brand identity.

10. Additional Materials

At this stage, we can begin to work on other deliverables. 

11. Follow-Up and Support

After the project is completed, I keep in touch and am available to answer any questions regarding the use of the branding.

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