Sunday, March 16
Beware of PCI - Discussion #7
Design is about the idea. It's a well know fact that the better the idea, the better the design. And our goal as designers is to figure out that idea. It's the one that pops into our head and makes us giddy. It's the one that can't come out fast enough as we desperately try to draw as fast as our brain is working. It's that one brilliant, shining, fabulous idea that will ultimately save the universe… or at the very least, make your client happy and bring them the business they need.
So what is this "idea" we all so love to talk about? According to the dictionary, it's a concept or mental impression. I like to think of it as the answer to the question "what if?" After gathering all of the information needed from the client, we need to determine the course of action we'll be following for the job. This is where the idea comes in. We're all talented individuals, that's why we're in this field. We can draw and paint and dream and imagine. What we need to do is start questioning. What if speed were represented by a bird? What if I can somehow connect the client's process into a visual cycle? What if I change the format to an unusual size to stand out better? What if I draw my own type? What if I turn the whole thing upside down and see what shakes out? What if I push to have a more illustrative logo so I can better show the client's business? You get the picture.
Let's talk about a real job. Let's say it's a logo and we've already made our conclusions on audience, final output/placement (such as web, print, billboard, etc.) and communication needs of the client. What's the next step? Believe it or not, the majority of designers do thumbnails. No, really, we do. Seriously. In my many years of experience in the design field and at the jobs I've held I, and all of the other designers I've worked with, have done thumbnails for 98% of the jobs we've done. Now that I freelance, I still do thumbnails for every job I work on. Why don't I get right on to the computer and start the job? The easy answer—I don't know what my idea is yet. In my experience, working on the computer first is distracting. I have too many decisions to make before I can get down to the task at hand. I have to decide which program to use, page size, font choice, font size, color, tool I'll use to render, etc. By the time I'm really ready to begin, I've wasted an inordinate amount of time I could have spent on generating ideas. In addition, I can pump out more ideas as thumbnails in 30 min than I could ever do on the computer (and I will gladly challenge anyone who claims "I work faster on the computer" to a showdown any day). A good designer should be effective with their time since time is money after all. Too many good thumbnails are discarded or never even brought to fruition because of PCI, Premature Computer Involvement.
Thumbnails help me think of all the possibilities, not just the ones I can render in the computer. I wouldn't bake a cake without a recipe nor would I start a design without my thumbnails. I tend to begin any job by making lists. I take the parameters of a project and write down as many adjectives, verbs or ideas that spring into my mind. I may write down five words or I may write down 3 pages of words. They consist of image ideas, format ideas, synonyms, icon representations and anything else I can think of. The words become the basis of my thumbnails. I analyze my lists and begin drawing. The thumbnails are more than just pretty drawings. They are concepts and ideas. I draw everything that comes to mind but if I can't justify why the thumbnails works, it doesn't make the final cut. Just looking nice or cool won't do, it needs to be functional. As always, you need to be able to communicate the needs of the client through your design. If it communicates AND looks good, then you've done your job.
In addition, your first idea isn't necessarily your best idea. Sometimes it takes a few rounds to suss out the best way to go about the design. Thumbnails are the quick way to determine what does or does not work. If something doesn't work in one try it a different way in another. You really like the way 3 different design pieces look—try them in one design together. Try, try ,try. It's the whole point of thumbnails. Too often a designer will fall in love with a typeface or alignment or size or color during PCI (see definition above) and not be able to see beyond it to the better idea. Thumbnails are a way to make sure that doesn't happen.
So now that you've heard my rant on thumbnails, why else are they important? Why bother doing them at all? In addition, what else can you do to generate ideas so you have better thumbnails? Where else can these universe stopping concepts come from? What do you do to brainstorm ideas?
**UPDATE After reading some comments hitting on quantity of thumbnails, I have a rhetorical question for you. I did these 2 pages of sketches for a logo. Does it make me an incompetent designer because I couldn't "nail it" within the first few? The logo ultimately chosen by the client was about the 60th one sketched. Just some food for thought…**