Design Student Diary – Process Makes Perfect

I’ve officially concluded my fourth week of school at SDSU! Getting to this place has been one hell of a journey and I’m pleased to say that so far it’s been well worth the struggle.

The graphic design program at State is intense. We work on a handful of portfolio worthy projects and are challenged to meet industry standard expectations. Even though I’ve been working as a freelancer in the design field for over 5 years, I’m still constantly learning and being challenged by these courses. As I work on each project, I’ll be posting about my process, some insight I’ve gained, and any tips I think might be helpful to other novice designers.

In my Graphic Design II class, we’ve been working on branding a neighborhood in San Diego. I was lucky enough to be assigned El Cajon Boulevard, which runs right along where I live, so I’ve become pretty familiar with the area.

If there’s one thing State has taught me, it’s that process is incredibly important. I had to learn this the hard way last semester when a project I worked my butt off on was given a D+ just because I skimped on the sketches. Since then, I eat, sleep, and breathe the early stages of developing a design. Here are a few of the steps I’ve been following for the process of creating a brand:

Process Makes Perfect

1. Gather References & Inspiration

Probably a good 50% of my time designing is spent on gathering inspiration and becoming acquainted with my subject. Seeking out visual stimuli gets my creative juices flowing and studying the content sets my brain in the right direction for developing a proper design. For this project, I walked around El Cajon Blvd with a camera in hand, snapping up all the reference images I could to inspire the feel of my design. El Cajon Blvd is a historic route, shaped by the evolution of the automobile. On every street corner, retro style signage point to auto shops, and neon lights evoke the nostalgia of an era when driving was for entertainment and not just convenience. I wanted my design to embody this throwback to old cars and 1950s drive-thrus.

2. Create Sketches (and lots of them)

I sketched at least 30 combinations of cars, old signs, typefaces, and whatever other retro insignia I could imagine. Sketches are a huge part of the early design process and the amount of effort you put into the exploration of your idea truly dictates the final result. Your first idea might be great, but there could be an even better idea lingering on the tip of your pencil.

3. Make Variations

I don’t do this all the time; in some cases, time just doesn’t permit it. But giving yourself a variety of “semi-finished” designs may open your eyes to something you overlooked in your sketches. I was originally going to go with my first sketch of the car at a slight angle, but after sketching a few other versions in Illustrator, I actually found that the last car I sketched translated the best as an icon. After I decided on my icon, I made several more variations with type and then even more with color. Exhaust all your efforts until you find the one that works the best without a second thought.

Even after all of that, I’m still working on several revisions of this design. This project is a work in progress for the next couple weeks, so I’ll make a new post when the design is finished! Stay tuned!

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