8 Stress-Free Steps for Handling Any Graphic Design Assignment

Whether you're working on one of the assignments for the Graphic Design Success program or have landed a paid job for a direct-mail package, getting started – and staying on track – can feel like a daunting task. But it doesn't have to be. Here are some tips to help you overcome the “getting started” obstacle, get yourself in gear, and make sure you meet your deadline:

  1. Communicate with your client and, if possible, the copywriter.

    Good communication is the key to getting your design almost perfect on the first or second try. Always be prepared to have the client make changes when he sees it “in the flesh.” But you can minimize those changes by talking to him and to the copywriter at the very beginning of the project and throughout your design process. If you're not sure about the direction you're going in, don't guess. Ask if you've got it right. You'll not only save time (for yourself and everybody else), you will also be establishing your reputation as a pro … because pros are never afraid to ask.

    For example, when design pro Lori Haller begins working on a magalog, she sends a few rough sketches to the client to make sure she is on the right track. Only when the client agrees on the main concept does she get to work out the details (researching the right photo, font etc.).

  2. Read the copy first!

    This may sound obvious, but even professional designers sometimes make the mistake of not reading the copy. And, as you well know, you need to understand the copy and the product to design a successful package.

  3. Dig into your swipe files.

    Let's say the product you're working with is a weight-loss pill. To get some ideas on how to design the package – including color schemes, images, and headline fonts – look at samples in your files that deal with related subjects, such as health, fitness, and vitamin supplements.

  4. Do your research.

    Master designer Lori Haller uses a “word bank” to get her creative juices flowing. To do this, first you have to research the audience that the package is targeting and understand the emotions the copy is trying to evoke. Is your product being sold to a man? If so, ask male relatives and friends for their input. What would persuade them to buy it? Then you have to research the competition – products on the market that are similar to yours.

    Write down words that come to mind while you do this research – in terms of feelings, colors, smells, etc. – to create a word bank for the project. You will be amazed by how helpful this will be to jumpstart design ideas.

  5. Do some rough structuring.

    Once you have some general ideas about the colors, images, and other elements you want to include in your design, start structuring the copy. Highlight all headlines and subheads and set them in a bigger font size to distinguish them from the body copy. This will give shape to the copy blocks and will make the project look more manageable. If you see that you have long blocks of copy without any visual “breaks,” you might want to ask your client or the copywriter to add some subheads to make it easier to read.

  6. Next, select your fonts.

    Set up “styles” in your layout program for body copy, headline fonts, subheads, and so on. This may seem like extra work, but you'll find that, in the long run, it will be a great time saver. It will also help you make sure that the styles you use for the project are consistent throughout.

  7. Fine-tune the structure.

    Insert your design elements – images, pictures, charts, etc. Some designers prefer to do this earlier in the process, but I find that when you do it that way there's a tendency to "over-design" and clutter up the page.

    The point of direct-mail design is to make the copy easy to read – not to make it “pretty.” By adding design elements late in the process, you can make sure you use them the way they are meant to be used: to guide the eye.

  8. Give it the finishing touches.

    Once you have your design down, print out a copy, hold it at arm's length, and squint at it. Does it still look good even if you can't read the words? Or is it out of balance … not quite right? Before you consider it to be ready for your client's eyes, give it a few more finishing touches. Run it through spell-check. Eliminate any orphans and widows. Make sure you did not accidentally cut off any text. Then read it one more time to make sure the text flows easily and your design guides the eye through it.

Every seasoned graphic designer has a slightly different system that they swear by. This is the one that works for me and many of the designers I know. Give it a try!

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: December 1, 2005

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