designer process / by breanna rose

I’ve decided to start a short branch off series from Be Free, Lance entitled the “Designer Process.” After sharing some insight into my own process and receiving feedback + more questions, I thought it would be fun to walk through everything, step by step. Every designer has their own way of doing things … and I’ve certainly tailored / changed up some things over the past few years, so each post in this mini series will talk about general steps and some of the ways you can work with a client!

The first thing I like to do with any new project is to get everyone on the same page in terms of strategy and how to best move forward. And in order to do this, I give each and every client a little homework. What this includes is six mini exercises that are fun + simple for the client to fill out before the project really gets going. Each of these worksheets are subtly setup to specifically target different aspects within a business. We go over things like ownership fears, timeline details, goals, dream customers, and aesthetics … all in a creative way. By the time these questions are filled out, I’m left to decode a clear design strategy.

I always tell me clients to answer these questions from their gut, and while it can sometimes feel like information overload, it’s amazing to see just how clear a path the client has outlined, sometimes without even knowing it. As I run through their notes, I’ll write down + highlight words or thoughts that come up more than once. And in no time, complete ideas are formed and the groundwork for design is created.

From there, I create a short summary of what I’ve learned and present it to the client. This serves as a verbal checks and balances for us to make sure we’re on the same page. Usually, it’s kind of like taking a personality test and reading through your results, which is always a fun time!! And if there are any words or phrases that don’t feel quite right, we’ll talk about it and make any necessary changes. That’s the great thing about this first step … it really brings the designer + client together in collaboration and establishes trust.

  1. Anything to help “decode” a person’s ideas! Do you ever have problems with a client shifting their design views midway through the process?

    • breanna says:

      Before I started up with these more in-depth questionnaires, I just had a simple one pages. I found that it didn’t decode enough and clients would switch up their aesthetic midway, which was always a problem. THIS time, the extensiveness of the homework in the beginning almost always ensures the correct aesthetic. It only really becomes a problem if the whole idea of the business changes midway. If that’s the case, we’d have to start from scratch!

      Things of course will change a little bit here and there, but it’s usually nothing dramatic. :)

  2. Kory says:

    I’m so excited about this series! I’ve been working on cleaning up my process, and it always helps to hear what others are doing! It’s so neat that you have your clients fill out worksheets to help you get a clear idea on their project. I have one (super) short workbook that I have my clients do before I give them a price to help see if the client and I vibe well.

    Can’t wait to hear more! :)

  3. Angel Y. says:

    This exercise seems like an amazing way to kick off a project. Strategy is such a huge part of the design process so it’s always neat to see how other designer’s decipher their clients.

  4. Rebecca says:

    Exciting new series Breanna. I love that although I’m not freelance I can still apply a lot of this in my own work and processes. Sometimes, I need help defining what I’m doing/where I’m going. I think I’ll create a little questionnaire for myself and add it to the moodboard idea you mentioned before!

  5. alicia says:

    That’s great! I’d be curious to learn more about the questions and exercises you do with your clients. My creative brief is continuously evolving with every client but I don’t feel like I have that process 100% nailed down quite yet. I guess to some degree it will always be a work in progress.

  6. Thanks, Breanna! I’m just starting to work with a designer, as a client, and this is helpful for me, just to think about what I really want out of this project and what things I need to communicate to our designer. Thanks!

  7. That’s a great way to decode a client’s desires. As designers, we know how hard it can be to get a client to untap their true wishes in a design! I love this tip, thanks so much for sharing. Looking forward to more tips :)

    • breanna says:

      Exactly! By asking fun questions, you get answers without being demanding. :) You just tell them to answer with their heart and all of a sudden – the path becomes very clear.

  8. morgan says:

    this is great – it’s always so interesting to see different people’s perspective on the whole process and project initiation. think you’re willing to share those worksheets? I’m really interested in how you make the questionnaire more creative so that its more fun for the client and not quite so dry.

  9. Kercia says:

    Hey Bre, I gotta say am I excited for this series! I recently put together a branding questionnaire workbook for clients, but I really like the idea of adding ownership fears and a timeline. It would definitely help create good communication, make the client feel comfortable/safe with the design process and designer, and help the designer serve the client more efficiently and effectively. As always thanks for the insight!

  10. Hey Bre

    I love the concept of the questionnaire, and I agree that personality tests are so fun! Can you be a little more specific about what you ask potential clients that lead to in depth answers rather than just yes or no type conversation?

    • Jaclyn says:

      Hi Breanna,

      So excited about this series! I’m wondering the same things as Chelsea: What types of exercises are these?

  11. jo says:

    Ooh, more insight into your process, yes please! I use a workbook by The Skool, which is very comprehensive. It can be a little overwhelming if someone just needs something simple done, which in turn affects people’s motivation to go through the exercises. Do you adjust your exercises based on the project?

    • breanna says:

      Oh that’s interesting! I’ve never heard of The Skool, I’ll have to check that out. :)

    • breanna says:

      OH! PS. No, I don’t typically adjust my exercises because they are very general and anyone can answer them. Sometimes, questions don’t apply to certain clients and I tell them to simply omit those ones. ;)

  12. Bryce says:

    Awesome. Thanks for sharing … are you going to post any of the creative questions you ask? : )

    • breanna says:

      Thank you! I’m not sure yet if I’m going to post any of the exercises I use because it’s a big part of my process and very specific. I may dive into more detail, just haven’t decided. :)

  13. Joao Baffa says:

    I really like your insights and description of process.
    Thanks for sharing!

  14. Vanessa says:

    Love this Bre! Can’t wait to see more of this series :)


  15. Love this. I’ve started doing something similar with my mentor clients and it’s so, so true that the path they need (want, desire & should) is right there; it just takes an outside eye to be able to discern it. (And the good questions to flesh it out, of course!) Bravo lady!

  16. Can’t wait for the rest of this series! I enjoyed reading the first article and look forward to future posts :)

    Chase Miller
    The Smell of Summer – A Boutique Surf Lifestyle Blog

  17. juliet says:

    love this type of post. can’t wait to read more!

  18. Anna says:

    Thanks for sharing, Breanna, this is a great post! Did you use any resources (websites, books, etc) to develop your exercises or was it all through trial and error with clients?

  19. […] week, I started my mini series on the process of a designer, so today we’ll move right along on to the visual checkpoint […]

  20. Adriana M. says:

    Awesome series! I was wondering myself how other designers work. For me, “deciphering my client’s needs” is the most excruciating! I don’t like anything about it & it frustrates me a lot. Because it’s so hard for me to pinpoint exactly what they’re looking for when their tastes & preferred styles are all over the place. This is really helpful. :)

  21. Britney says:

    Nice response in return of this question with real arguments and telling all on the
    topic of that.

  22. Wow. This is brilliant work, Bre. Seriously — I love hearing (and seeing) how other designers (or just people, in general) work. And I can tell how much thought and time went into making this strategy of yours work. Really amazing! You have definitely inspired me to find similar ways to make this work for myself. :)

  23. Brittanny says:

    It would be interesting to figure out a way to adapt this process for a photographer.

  24. […] far in my mini series on the Designer Process, we’ve talked about strategy + visual checkpoints, which is sort of like tailgating. They are important and fun – but not […]

  25. Felicia says:

    I don’t believe some clients should be given homework.

    I’ve given my clients “homework” : a basic questionnaire and I ask them to collect at least 10-15 images that they feel represent their brand/business. Usually, I ask that they complete this within a weeks time, but usually it ends up taking the client three weeks! I repeatedly ask them if they need any help and I usually get no response or they say “I’ve been too busy”.

    How do you prevent your clients from taking too long, when you give them “homework”?

    • breanna says:

      Hey, yeah – that’s tough. I just make sure my client knows that I can’t move forward until they fill out my exercises … and I usually give them an ultimate goal to have these finished so we can “stay on track” towards all deadlines. :) Usually that works, but like you – I sometimes get people who take their sweet old time! It’s something I’m seriously considering inserting into my contract somehow. Just am not sure yet how so. xx.

  26. christine says:

    I was wondering how you present the notebook, i.e., is it printed or digital?

    If printed, is it difficult to get them to send it to you?

    If digital, do your clients fill it out online or via some kind of PDF form? I like the idea of presenting something more polished to the client, but I also want it to be easy for the client to fill out and send back. Thanks!

  27. Lillian says:

    I understand you probably aren’t comfortable sharing the exact types if questionnaires you give since it’s such a big part of your process, but do you have any resources for those of us looking to develop something similar?

    Love this series! My freelance work has really started to pick up lately and I’m trying to really streamline the process on my end for my clients. Really helpful stuff here.

    • Kaye says:

      A post about how to go about developing the appropriate questions would be awesome, without sharing your worksheets of course!

  28. this is exciting! love the inspiration… especially that font!

  29. emily says:

    hi breanna! this is amazing – can you share the sorts of questions or your questionnaire?? i find it challenging to be succinct with this – is less more? is more, more? i am dying to see the sorts of questions other designers ask and i am also really wondering about the proposal process – but thats something else!!

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