Design Isn’t Magic: The Creation of Process Books

week in pictures

week in pictures

Usually, we only see the final outcome of a designer’s work. We’ve been taught to show the end result in our portfolios, glistening in its perfection. Often, viewers don’t see the in-between stages, the multiple rounds of work, the blood, sweat, tears and sleepless nights that went into getting a piece to its final state. And because they don’t, they sometimes come to the conclusion that the designer is gifted…or perhaps it’s just magic.

It’s not anyone’s fault for thinking that a project leaped out of a designer’s mind, hit the page and quickly configured itself. Think about it: really good art and design tends to look effortless. How is an audience supposed to know better if we don’t provide an overview of how the work was created?

week in pictures

Process Book by Melissa Merlet

Designers tend to develop very specific processes when producing work. Research and years of acquired knowledge are mixed with personal experiences to produce unique results. The process of creation is a designer’s livelihood and the way they make their livings so it’s understandable that they are highly secretive about their methods. If they shared all of their techniques, resources, archives and research with the world, they’d be left feeling naked. The point is to not overshare but rather to give the outside world glimpses of the creative process.

An easy way to share the backstory of a project is to create a process book. Essentially, a process book is a compiled guide that allows a viewer to see progression of a project from the beginning to end through research, rough sketches, screen shots, scans, photos, and multiple rounds of work.

week in pictures

Process Book by GD Loft

week in pictures
Why should you create a process book? If a client has little or no design knowledge, it can be difficult for them to understand how long a project will realistically take.

week in pictures

If you tell a client that their corporate identity will take a full month to complete but they want it in two weeks, they wonder why you can’t just work faster. They wonder why you can’t just speed up the process if you’re really good at what you do. If you have a process book of a similar project to show them, it will be much easier for them to grasp what the project entails.

week in pictures

Process Book by Brian Roettinger

Another compelling reason to create a process book is to have a visual guide that accompanies a project that took multiple steps and mediums to complete. I can only wish that I had documented the process of creating CD packaging for Virgin Records. Each of the 12 pages in the booklet featured hand-done collages that I created from scans and magazine clippings.

week in pictures

CD Packaging for Virgin Records, 2007

After printing out the pages of material that had been collected, I spent the next week on my floor, piecing together the panels one by one on white tagboard with a glue stick and scissors. After that process was completed, I scanned in each panel to my computer and set the song lyrics over the images. My floor was covered in scraps, multiples of each panel were created and an advance copy of the album was on constant rotation during this time. If I’d taken the time to shoot photos, snap screen shots of the in-between stages and to record the disarray my colorful, scrap-covered floor, I feel that the final outcome would be much more engaging.

week in pictures
The benefit of sharing. It’s okay to let go. It’s okay to share only what you’re comfortable with. Just share something. Chances are that people are genuinely curious about what you have to offer.

week in pictures

In reality, we need to learn to open up, to share and to help people understand that design really is hard work. They aren’t mind readers. Just like any other profession, it’s important to be made aware of the process.

week in pictures

Design isn’t magic. As with any other profession, design takes serious dedication and perserverance. I’ve sat next to extremely talented designers that I was in awe of in studio environments and I can vouch that they still spent many late nights working and having meetings with art directors, took walks to get away from the work, faced multiple setbacks and finally had a moment of clarity that pushed the project to its absolute best. And, once a project reaches its pinnacle, it’s easy to forget how it got there.

For 2010, I’ve set a new goal of creating my first process book. It takes the right type of project to really work but as soon as one comes about, I won’t be afraid to hold back. No detail will be too minute this time around.

week in pictures

Designers: Have you ever made a process book? What was your experience like?

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