Everyone has heard legends about artists and designers that envision their perfect creations in their head and then execute them exactly.
I am not one of those.
Instead, I guess and test – or just test – until something looks okay, and then refine it further.
I learned this process from creating wooden abstract sculptures. Additive sculpture is a method for creating sculptures by adding to something until it is complete. The opposite is subtractive sculpture, in which you remove material to create something (ie. marble sculptures). While some create additive sculptures by first having a vision and then creating it with an additive method, it is easier to just take pieces and see how they look beside each other and attach them. To do this you start with a pile of stuff, and pick from the pile.
Here is a photo of my first abstract wood sculpture (from art fundamentals at university), and a view of the abstract sculpture studio where you can see the piles of wood.
So, how would you apply this method to design? By starting with a pile of stuff instead of a blank page. The pile of stuff are the project requirements, the content the client thinks you maybe should include, the current visual identity of the client, information about the target audience, comparative analysis of other similar work, competitor analysis (of your clients competitors), your client’s visual preferences, etc.
From there you ask questions, learn what are the essential pieces, and the right tone and visuals for both your client and the target audience. Then you play with those elements on the page (in your software of choice). Use this method to create three solutions that you can show for feedback. For me this usually means I have four or five that I’m working on, and I pick the best three. The feedback you get will help you either pick one, or somehow combine the options to create the final design.
Tip: Getting the proper feedback through a critique is very important. It is one of the best tools to learn how you can improve a piece of art or design. This will also help you improve as an artist or a designer over time. I am not going to explain how to perform a critique here. If you would like to learn more about that in Lesson 5 Module 3 of Graphic Design Fundamentals explains critiques in detail (and you also get to see awkward footage of me in a few staged critiques with my old graphic design projects).
So, in conclusion, you don’t need to start with a blank page. It can be better not to. Start with a pile of stuff, whether that be a physical pile of supplies, or just a mental list of requirements.