Over the course of my career I’ve occasionally suffered from – what I can only imagine many other designers suffer from as well – the fear and self doubt that sets in when you’re stuck in a design rut and your deadline is quickly approaching. It’s in these moments of anxiety that you start second guessing your career choice and wonder how so many other designers make it look so easy.
This has been an inevitable pattern for me up until about 10 months ago (give or take). Though I’ve always seemed to end up producing a design I was proud of in the end, this troublesome mental state was something I just couldn’t seem to shake, regardless of how much I enjoyed the project’s subject matter.
In a moment of passing reflection I recently realized that it’s been awhile since I’ve experienced this feeling. It then dawned on me that my workflow process has also changed a bit as of late in order to better accommodate some of the lager scale projects I have been working on. After some contemplation I could only conclude that there is a direct correlation between these two factors.
So what is this new alteration to my process that has helped rid me of design rut anxiety? Planning. That’s it… planning. I know, I wish it was more climactic as well. Regardless, the common trait that’s been shared with my last few projects is that they’ve all required their fair share of planning (more so than usual, that is). These projects have been less about their visual appearance (though it was still an important factor) but more focused on how they functioned; the complete user experience, if you will.
Though I’ve really enjoyed planning out some larger scale websites, there’s certainly less instant gratification. It takes quite a bit longer to pull all the moving pieces together, but the trade off definitely comes in the design phase. By the time all of the planning is complete and I’m actually ready to start adding legitimate style, I’ve not only had a ton of time to subconsciously (and consciously) come up with ideas, but the initial planning has essentially done a lot of the work for me.
My finished wireframes have become more detailed than they ever have. I still start very simply with gray boxes labeled appropriately, but as I make revisions I start to subtly add more distinguished styles. This, in particular, has become noticably helpful. While I’m still technically in the planning/wireframing phase, I have much more freedom to explore options and gain momentum without feeling over committed to anything. Once I’ve got a full set of streamlined wireframes and I’m ready to start adding real styles, the transition is extremely smooth. I’m able to really hit the ground running because I’ve already got some solid direction ready to go.
Long gone are my days of staring at blank canvases while cursing the approved wireframe structure that I am just now realizing won’t transition well to a visually pleasing design. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with design for this very reason. Lately, however, the love portion has heavily outweighed the hate. That alone has added years to my life; I’m certain of it.
I’m excited to take this more exhaustive planning approach and apply it to some smaller size projects. Though the logical train of thought would suggest that the planning phase should shrink at the same rate that the project size shrinks, I will continue to utilize this process for the sake of keeping my sanity in tact. It might take up some more time in the beginning, but if it saves me time and headaches in the final stages then it will arguably always come out on top in the end.