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The Ultimate Guide to design-projects. Part 1: Concept creation

Design requires much time and effort. Once a project appears on the horizon, a designer has to do research, consider user scenarios, communicate ideas and test them all out. To achieve the best possible outcome, you cannot just skip any of those steps. 

Building product designs is a huge process, so let’s start from the very beginning. At Purrweb, all design projects start with the ‘Trial contract’ stage.

Trial Contract. What is this about?

A very small project with restricted time limits. It normally takes between 8 or 16 hours to get done. The core idea is to understand whether or not designers and clients look in the same direction and clearly understand each other.

This is as emotional as meeting your partner’s parents for the first time. The goal is to make them like you and not screw up

So, yes, as a designer, your primary goal is to make a good first impression. What’s under the hood? Let’s figure this all out together!

1. Dive deep into a project

Firstly, I try to understand what a project is all about. For that, I start bombarding a project manager with TONS of questions, go into details about the idea and then add them all to my Kanban board. Having all this information accumulated this way helps to faster come up with the first hand-drawn paper mockups.

A sort of quick product analysis in the result 

Quick sketching is superb when you need to determine the user’s key activities and interactions. It doesn’t look sexy, so this part of work is usually NOT what clients see. Although, such ‘ugly’ drawings help to quickly visualize ideas, communicate them (even if you communicate it with only yourself) and then start creating a more accurate wireframe.

References prevent guessings i.e situations when you keep delivering NOT what the client wants 

It’s a really good thing when clients share their own visual design preferences and show services they really like in terms of UI. The designer’s goal here is to strike a balance. In some cases, all you need is to activate your listening skills and do EXACTLY what your client asks you to do. In other cases — stick to your guns or suggest alternatives. There’s a very fine line between ‘TO LISTEN’ and ‘NOT TO LISTEN’ — to know exactly what to do a designer has to develop both design hard-skills and empathy. The latter is all about the ability to listen to what people say and read between the lines.

2. Beautify the UI part

Enough about the ‘Research’ stage. It’s time to dive deep into UI.

At this stage, a design concept is created. This is a tiny part of the entire visual design — one or two screens from the core user flow. The goal is to make clients cry from happiness communicate how the eventual visual design will look and feel right away.

To get visual inspiration, I study competitors and visually-similar products, check the way they work, analyze search patterns, sidebars and many more — Artboards in Figma are perfect for storing references. This research helps me clearly understand what colors, fonts, typography elements and icons to use.

Task-tracker designing process: Designers wouldn’t blame you for such a mess 😀 

I’ve already told you that client references are super helpful when it comes to product design. Although, it doesn’t always work this way. Sometimes there are no references at all. ‘Great! You can do whatever you want!’ — you might say. Nah, it’s never like that. Without knowing client expectations, you end up with an absolutely sloppy and unreasoned design that brings zero value to a business or end-users.

‘Please, create something beautiful’ request doesn’t work at all

At the trial contract stage, the client might be the one who wants to change the direction.

Trial-contact: Initially the client was all about web-brutalism 

Same trial-contract: Team meetings revealed that all members enjoy classic designs 

So, what’s the point?

Getting started with a design-concept is a real godsend. Memorize the following:

  1. Design isn’t the same as marriage. Tried it once and didn’t enjoy it that much? — you can easily end this relationship. Without offending anyone. Without huge spendings.
  2. ‘This is what I wanted’ happens right at the start. With a classic wireframe-based approach this stage is postponed and might not even come. In the latter case, you just jump into non-stop fighting about the UX part.
  3. Real, tangible design – this is what you can share with project partners, investors and your wife. Mood board, wireframes or ‘just words’ — none of these is good when it comes to asking for feedback.

Design-concept isn’t the final stage of how your product will look and feel like. This is a kind of litmus test for determining if the chosen direction is right for all the parties — client, designer, and users.

What are prototypes, mockups, and wireframes all about? Are they anyhow different? When to use any of them? What are their biggest pros? Our next article will give you all the answers!

Keep on reading!