3 Steps To Unlock Designer Block

Gave a talk this morning to the final year undergrads at USM. I had wondered what to talk about when I was invited last week by Goh, a long-time friend who is with the USM School of Arts.

My talk to final year USM undergrads
My talk to final year USM undergrads

In the end I decided that final year students need a wake-up call especially as they are graduating this year and will be out in the job market for design jobs.

I could’ve spoken about web design but this talk is not about me; it’s about giving them some pointers about the real life out there. (They are currently exhibiting their final year design and art projects at the Dewan Utama Pelajar until 13 March. You can drop by for a look around at their work which will be graded by their lecturers.)

So I spoke about PMS – the 3 steps I’ve used in my own work and business. PMS is an acronym – PROBLEM, MESSAGE and SENSE.

If you have these 3 steps and follow them accordingly, you will be able to be a designer of calibre.

1. Know the Problem

First every student/designer must identify the limitations and challenges of their project, no matter if it is a commissioned project or a piece of assignment given by the faculty.

The limitations here could mean design parameters. If you are designing a postcard, what are the limitations? If you are designing a poster, what are the limitations? If you are designing a book, what are the limitations?

Limitations could mean budget, type of paper, type of available machinery or it could also mean, can it be produced given the time and cost constraints?

If you depend on the printing company to print your postcard, can their printing machines print the kind of postcard you’ve designed? If you are using a projector, do you know how far the projector can be used before images get blurred? What is the best size for a postcard and how to use the card optimally?

All these need to be thought about BEFORE you start designing. You probably need to speak to those in who’ve done it, or who can help you. Either way, you need to give this some serious thinking. When you are working as a designer, you don’t have the luxury of time (unlike university where you get 2 weeks or more to produce your design) so you need to think first before you launch into design phase.

2. Get Your Message

If your design work has no message, something is wrong. Every design piece has a message, even if it is a community campaign. Know what message you want to send out before you start designing.

Can you say what your message is briefly? And if you have a message, what should your audience do once they see this message? Are they supposed to do something? If they are, tell them. Are they supposed to visit a website, buy something, exchange a coupon for a freebie? Are they supposed to contact you? What do you want them to do once they get your message?

3. Evaluate with Sense

Once you have completed your design work, take a step back and evaluate your work with your five senses. Is it visually pleasing? It is disturbing? Is it easy to understand? Is it practical? Is it cost-effective? Also, use commonsense to evaluate your work.

I use this 3-step method to design websites for clients. If you follow these 3 steps, you can eliminate any designer’s block. You don’t have to wait until the last minute for your ideas to suddenly appear.

Design is about providing a solution – it is about using your best design skills to help your client communicate their message in the best way possible.

Let me know if you go through similar steps when you approach design work or if you have something better.

Note: By the way, we’re on the look out for web designers. Check to see if you fit the bill and email us if you do.

Other helpful design articles:

1. Are you a narcisstic designer?

2. Plain vanilla works every time

3. When simple brings in money

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