Posted 30th November -0001 | By Shannon Wright, Creative Manager

When beginning a new design project, whether it be a website, a logo or a brochure etc., the main challenges always lie within the problems brought to the table...

When beginning a new design project, whether it be a website, a logo or a brochure etc., the main challenges always lie within the problems brought to the table...

The role of a designer is not simply just an artist who draws nice pictures. A designer is a problem-solver... a thinker. Somebody who is delegated with the task of creating design solutions that are fit-for-purpose, and meet the specific needs of the client and the user. So how might a designer even begin this task?

As humans, one of the most important and key things to us is visual perception, and it is the purpose of a designer to build and mould their audience's visual perception through the means of design in order to create a meaningful and sustainable product.

There are many key stages within a design process that all aid a designer towards the creation of this successful product for their client, and one of these key factors is something I would like to talk to you about in more detail: Research.

Without an in depth exploration, or even at least a basic understanding of your target audience or users, there is no way you will be able to create a successful piece of sustainable design. The key word here is understanding. Understanding and empathising with your user allows a designer to build a story, a design story. A journey that takes your user step by step through the visual perception that you have created for them, and in this understanding we begin to see the design start to take a more real and meaningful form.

So how might we begin this critical research stage of every project? Here are a few stages that always have, and always will be part of the foundation of my own design journey for when starting any project...

1. Ask the questions

Your design project should always start with a face-to-face meeting with your client, and in this meeting you should ask questions and get to know them. Get to know their business, and how they came to be, understand what it is they do and where they are headed or want to be headed. This information is key as you get a feel for what is it you need to achieve for your client, and what it will mean to them if this product is a success. What you design needs to meet the needs of this person, this company and if you don't know them, how could you possibly begin to understand what you need to do for them?

2. Follow the story

This is where you get to delve deeper... after meeting your client you are now in a better position to start understanding them and the user, but you now need take things one step further. You need to look further into the answers given to you to try and gauge the current visual perception of your client, user and the current design climate, and what the problems are. Is there currently a gap in the market? What else is out there? What's not working? Talk about your findings with your team as well... I talked about collaboration briefly in my last blog post, collaboration is always a key factor, and the perhaps the main factor in any design project.

3. Understand the audience

Next you need to conduct some user research to get in the mindset of your target audience. What makes them tick? What are they looking for? How do they make decisions? These are all important questions you need to consider. By understanding who we need to talk to with our design we can then make informed decisions about how to target them. With this, we can begin tailoring the message, the culture and the visual perception to suit the audience's needs.

4. Analyse the competitors

What are the competitors doing? It is important to understand what is currently out there to give you a sense of awareness of your surroundings, and who are your current challengers. However, although this important, you should never make a critical design decision just primarily based on the competitors. Just doing something because your competitors aren't doing it may in fact not solve the problem put in front of you. A design decision should be based around whether it is right for your user, not just for the sake of beating your competitors. This is obviously a goal, but if it is the main goal then you will never be different, you'll always be chasing the challenge. Become the challenger.

5. Involve your user

No matter what stage you are at with a design project whether it is at the beginning or at the end, you should always ask your user questions. Does this work for you? Do you understand it? Testing and feedback is probably one of the most critical parts of any design journey, as you are putting your design within the live environment and seeing how it fits. This also goes for the stage after a project is "complete"... a project is never truly complete. As the market is always moving and challenging, continuing the testing process allows you to continually help your client, offer improvements as things progress and keeps the relationship going.

Thanks for reading! Catch you next time...

Written by Shannon Wright, Web Designer at ExtraMile Communications.

At ExtraMile we try to take an hour out each week to look around us at what others do and to gain inspiration and to admire people's creativity. Each post in this series is one staff member's take on the world of web, design and things online. We hope you enjoy it.

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