An itemized list of procedures that accompany each design project is not something every graphic designer always thinks of, but it is helpful to revisit this topic periodically, especially when a designer is struggling to think of an idea. The following are the typical steps that I take throughout each new design project.

#1 Meet with Client

In my position, this is not always possible. Because of the sheer number of projects that come across my desk at any time, it is more efficient for the sales representative for my team to meet with the client and then relay the information to me. However, when I do accompany the sales rep to meet with a client, it is always tremendously beneficial to the project. 
Questions I ask the client typically are: 
1. Describe your business. 
2. Describe or display any advertising or design that you have seen similar companies use 
that you admire.
 3. What is your client demographic? (age, gender, financial status, etc…) 
4. Write down all pertinent information – i.e. if it is a promotion for an event, what is the time, venue, who will be there, etc… 
5. What art work exists that can be used (logo, photos, fonts, etc…). Often a client will not realize that they need to provide the original artwork for a logo or a specific font that they use or even how to acquire such things.

#2 Immediately write down & sketch initial ideas and impressions

Often, the best ideas will present themselves immediately – this is a sort of intuition that designers build with enough experience. They may be undeveloped ideas and require a lot of work, but the spark is what’s important.

#3 Research

After the direction of the design has been determined, research design work that is similar to the ideas that you have developed thus far for your project. There is a multitude of great ideas and information readily available on the internet. See my article on great graphic design related web sites if you need some sites to get started at. I have also acquired a pretty decent collection of graphic design related books and magazines that are always inspirational to leaf through whenever I feel the need. (Print, HOW, GD USA, STEP, Photoshop User, and Computer Arts are a few great magazines). While looking at the various design work that you will come across, pay attention to the artwork used, font choices, color schemes, textures, etc… anything that you see in that you feel would work for your own design. This does not mean that you should copy the designs that you come across during research, but rather, gather inspiration from them. 
Create a project folder and within that folder create a folder labeled “ideas” in this file, store copies of designs or artwork gathered from the internet. Also create a notepad document and keep on it any ideas that come to mind during the research process.

#4 Sketching and concept development

I find ideas will more easily flow from the mind if they are done on paper instead of on the computer. Make multiple sketches, with notes, color ideas, font ideas, artwork ideas, these should be quick yet still legible. It is helpful to keep a sketchbook handy at all times because great ideas can come very unexpectedly. Concept is what makes a design great, whether it be for advertising or business card and stationary design. What is truly memorable are those designs that have clever concepts. For a good example, check out this list of great business card designs and see how their concepts play into the identities of the businesses.

#5 Gather artwork

Within the project folder, create a folder labeled “art”. Gather as much artwork as possible that you feel could be used in the design. This includes photos, illustration, or any other design elements such as vector shapes and color swatches. kuler.adobe.comis a great site to find beautiful, user created color schemes. For artwork, I recommend Shutterstock or IstockPhoto. For quality free user uploaded photos, I recommend stock.xchng.

#6 Design Specifications

I use Indesign to layout every design. Photoshop and Illustrator are used to create elements within the design. In Indesign, first create a new file with the correct dimensions, number of pages, bleed, slug, margins, etc.. It is very annoying to have to rework a design if the dimensions ever change, so make sure you have them set first.

#7 Typography

If you have a general idea of how the artwork is going to be laid out, you can create boxes that represent where the artwork will be. However, it is most important that the typography is laid out and works well first, before any artwork is added. This will often dictate what the artwork will look like, so don’t be too rigid on how the art will be laid out because you may need to alter that idea based on how the typography fits into the space. Typography is the most important aspect of any successful design. Graphic design needs to be able to be read and understood. It is only when there is a good balance between this, the design concept and the artwork is a design truly ever successful.

#8 Artwork

Artwork generally needs to be manipulated in some way in order to work well within the design, whether it be as simple as color correction or masking out the figures or elaborate effects, the original artwork as it is rarely suffices. The ultimate goal of the artwork should be to compliment the typography and never take away from its integrity. In fact, artwork is truly successful when it draws attention to the typography.

#9 Prepress and Proofreading

Check and double check the file before it goes to the printer. Print out multiple proofs, if it is on a specific stock – use that stock to print out proofs. The specific stock used will always change the look of the design. Check the color settings, check the resolution and file size, check that all artwork and fonts are copied in the project folder and attached correctly to the file. Zoom in and check the design extremely close up to see if any pixels are out of place. Proofread for grammatical errors and spellcheck Finally, give the file to a trusted colleague to proofread. It’s amazing what mistakes can be missed even after a design has been worked on for a long amount of time and it’s always embarrassing to have the file come back from a client because of grammatical or spelling errors.

#10 Presentation

The presentation of a design should always be professional. It should be prepared in advanced and rehearsed. Professional dress is a must. There should be several mock copies readily available for the client and one copy mounted on boards for presentation. Simply emailing a .pdf of the design will not suffice because the client will never get a true idea of what the final product actually looks like once printed.

Each design process is of course different depending on the project or the client or the circumstances. The time line for each project is also always different – from a couple of days to several weeks or months. However, this general outline which I have laid out is a good basic view into what a designer typically accomplishes during each project.