The design process can also be referred to as design methodology. It basically refers to a number of steps that a design can be broken down to from the initial idea or client request to the final printed end piece or manufactured prototype.

There are several trends to create a streamlined step-by-step approach, but it is not chiseled in stone. You can look at my preferred method and modify it for your needs.

I have based mine on my practice, research and education and it is working well for me. A great source of inspiration was the Double Diamond or the 4Ds developed by the British Design Council. The 4Ds stand for discover, define, develop and deliver.

The design process below is particularly suitable to communication design, but works for other design disciplines as well.

Here are the 7 steps:

  1. Project Analysis or Project Considerations
  2. Research
  3. Design Strategy
  4. Concept Development with Evaluation
  5. Concept Refinement with Evaluation
  6. Prototyping or Modelmaking
  7. Delivery and Completion
Design Process broken down into 7 steps by Federico Viola
The Design Process – in 7 steps – by educator Federico Viola
  1. Project Analysis or Project Considerations

The first step is to define the problem or the request for a design. Either you are approached by a client or alternatively you may get your hands on a brief through a competition or by your teacher.

  • Your first step has to be to analyse what the client needs and define a written brief. So, you need to write a short description that lists, what is required, what materials are needed, who it is for and by when it is needed. So, list the problem and what you need to design as well as dead lines or due dates.
  • Next you need to create a project plan or action plan. This is a list of each task, with a task description, allocation (who will do the task), due date and a tick box. The allocation column is not necessary if you work on your own and complete all the tasks on by yourself.
  • You should also include a section on potential problems in this project. This could be a mind map and it should allow you to see any complications early. An example could be the stability of a desk based yearly calendar, or the wear and tear of an exterior.
  1. Research

 The research stage is your attempt to learn about the design that you are about to create. You want to research these 3 stages as a minimum: competitors, target audience (or target market) and design and technology.

Competitor Research

After establishing what product (or service) you are designing for your client, find 3 or more competitors that offer the same or a similar product or service. It is good to look at a market leader as well as competitors at a similar level to your client. This can start of as a brain storm of all competitors that come to your mind or a search of similar businesses online. You may want to find competitors via an online business directory, e.g.: or by using Google. If you are not aware of many online business directories try a Google search for ‘business directory’.

You can document your brainstorm in form of a mind map and your research in form of a page including:

  • short description of the competitor
  • images of their products
  • logo of the competitor or product
  • other aspects of their visual identity (e.g.:colours, fonts, etc.)
Photo of a family by alexander41 found on
Who is your target audience? – Source: morgueFile – photographer: alexander41

Target Audience Research

When you are setting out to understand and define a target audience you are looking to recognise why this group or individual person is seeking out your client’s product or services. By understanding a target audience you understand their needs, desires and interests in a particular product. This is central in designing a product or service. We are trying to understand a target audience by looking at data of that group. These are typical criteria to collect data by:

  • demographic (measurable data: age, income, gender, culture, language)
  • psychographic (personality-related data: life style choices, hobbies, interests, political agenda, cultural traits)
  • customer needs
  • customer desires
  • frequency of use
  • geographic location

Below you will be introduced to different tools you can use to collect data:

  • mind mapping – a good starting point, mind map the various aspects of the target audience
  • target audience list – filling in a list of criteria related to the target audience
  • moodboard or visual board – this is fun: put everything related on a sheet of paper or into a digital presentation
  • character profile – this needs to be representative of a typical person in the target audience, preferably a common personality or a leader, see examples below

Finding information about a target audience might mean to actually listen in on your target audience. You can create specific discussion groups with participants of the correct demographic (age, gender, etc.) and psychographic (interests, political persuasion, etc.) profile. You can search online for chat forums or in the comments to related blogs and Facebook is a powerful resource as well.

Example of a character profile
Example of a character profile – developed for class.
Character Profile - The Librarian
Character Profile – The Librarian – FViola

Design and Technology Research

Design research is the fun part of our research and is where we want to look at inspiration for our design. This can be

  • existing products of the type we are about to design as well as
  • layouts
  • typefaces (fonts) >
  • colours suitable to the target audience, product and client business
  • textures
  • shapes

The technology aspect relates to manufacturing, finishing or prototyping methods used for the product you are designing. It is central to understand the process and materials applied in the making of the product. If you are working on a plastic component to be inserted into a dashboard of a car or yacht you may need to research the plastic manufacturing process (e.g.: injection molding). While if you are designing a pamphlet, you will need to research printing and folding techniques. So ensure to research:

  • manufacturing and other technology
  • materials
  • other aspects

I like to use Pinterest in my research and highly recommend it as it is a fun site.

Screenshot of Pinterest site showing a Pinterest board of poster designs
Pinterest Screenshot
  1. Design Strategy

A design strategy is a written statement that will help you establish what you are setting out to design. It is your chance to reflect on your analysis and research and now clearly state what your intended design strategy will be. Make sure to relate your strategy to your design ideas and link it to your research and brief.

Example: ‘I will set out to design a poster for the MUFF (Melbourne Underground Film Festival). I will use vector graphics to show a group of festival goers waiting in a lobby. They will all look eclectic and wear some retro-style clothes. The font needs to work with the MUFF logo. The poster will have a retro appeal, but look contemporary. I want to avoid designing a poster that looks dated. The layout will have a clear visual hierarchy and good use of white space. The colour scheme needs to be decided.’

You see that the design strategy is a method to plan your design, but needs to link your ideas to the brief and research. Your design strategy may be a work in progress and you may not conclude every aspect. It is a bit a cooking recipe for a design. Incorporate problems or difficulties with this project as you may have found in your Project Analysis.

  1. Concept Development

Now you can get creative by developing concepts or ideas. The preferred method is the sketching of thumbnails on paper. Use pencils or fine liners to sketch out your concepts. You need to create a large number of ideas. Do not limit yourself to only your first few ideas, but use brainstorming, mind mapping and other creative thinking tools to come up with creative and unorthodox concepts. I would develop a minimum of 30 thumbnail sketches.

Poster concept sketches developed for an event poster.
Poster concept sketches by S.Lau
  1. Concept Refinement with Evaluation

Select 3 of the most suitable and promising concepts. You may select them yourself or get the feedback of a colleague or the client. Refine the concepts by exploring variations for layout, fonts, scale, colours and shades, as well as image choices and finishes. Always include a colour scheme (options of colours) and font choices.

  • Depending on the product you may create 3 mockups to give a feel for the product.
  • Present your 3 refined concepts to your design team and client for evaluation and feedback. Choose the preferred concept.
  • You may create a style guide that clearly defines the different aspects of this design (font choices for headers, base text, colour choices, and more)

The evaluation takes your design strategy into account and looks at how well each design has achieved the desired aspects.

  1. Prototype or Modelmaking

Create a to-scale prototype in the correct finish and finalise your design.

  1. Completion

Finalise all the paperwork and files. Support your client and other third party companies with the correct information, files and support.

  • Ensure the manufacturer or printer is completing the job (e.g.: by signing off a test print)
  • Save all files into correct folders. Store the files.
  • Finalise all invoicing and payments.
  • Supply your client with all the correct files and instructions.
  • Write a completion report

Other Useful Resources

Quicksprout’s How To Define Your Target Audience

The 7 Steps of a Professional Design Process by DesignCrowd

Inspirationfeed’s 7 Design Process Steps Designers Should Follow

-ba Link to Class 5     Link to Class 3/4      Link to  Class 2     Link to  Class 1

FuSA2 Touch Display –

Design an E-Learning Resource -The Design Document

Team Task and Brief

In groups of three develop an E-learning resource that allows local prep children to improve their understanding of the English Alphabet (primary aim of project). The tool should allow the children to have as much exposure to the letters as possible. You will need to develop concepts that explore letter recognition and recreation.

The secondary scope of the project is for the children to learn to type the letters in a QWERTY keyboard.


This project needs to be submitted in digital paperformat, either as a PDF or a Word document. The sketches and flow charts as well as brain storms and mind maps can be created by hand sketching and scanning.


Get together in teams of 3 for this first assessment task. Please leave a comment on this post with your team number and the names of all team members. You will be allowed to work as individuals, but please check with me.

First Things First

The first task is to ask yourself a central question: When do you know that the E-Learning resource is complete? When do you know that this project is finished?

Write it in a sentence. The sentence should include the tasks that you will have to perform to complete this project.

Learning Experience/User Experience

Define the Learning Experience that you want your learner to have. What exactly do you want the user to experience? Describe the motions that your typical user might have when using your product.

When describing the user experience I would like you to look at or think back of a positive experience that you have had with a product. What was it that made the experience so good and how did it make you feel?

How can you integrate that experience into the resource that you are creating?

This is a far important question to answer than you may initially think. By answering this question you actually find out what your e-learning resource will or should feel like. Every decision that you will make will have to fit this criteria.


Target Audience

Define the target audience, what age group, gender, socio-economic (culture, income group, education) group are you dealing with. Next describe what a person from this target audience likes and he or she may enjoy in your resource.

You may deal with a primary and secondary target audience – who else will be important in the purchase of the product besides the end-user? What other groups of people are affected by your product?

Learner Needs Analysis

What are the needs of your target audience? Start this point of with the desired outcome: what does the learner need to learn? After establishing this you can look at what the target user will need to be able to learn.

This is a good point to brainstorm. What is it that you need to expose your learner to?


Specify the delivery platform, eg using web-based delivery, using computer based delivery, using tablets  or mobile phones, a console, etc. The operating system would be another aspect here: use of IBM-based  Windows 7, 8, Mac-based OS, Android, Linux, Open Source…

Add a minimum 1 sentence describing benefits and short comings of a specific system, software, delivery platform (eg using Flash has the disadvantage that it is rejected by Mac operating systems and more and more by Android.

Tools and Activities

This point is for research only: What tools can you currently find out there? What type of apps,  Video viewers, Sketch Pads, audio apps, games and other activities are currently available?

Consider primary tools that could be integrated into the resource. For example a Sketch Pad that allows children to draw shapes of letters that look like fruit or animals. A video viewer window for instructions or fun songs performed by other children.

Consider secondary tools that can be external and your learning resource can hyperlink the tool. You need to ensure that there is no copyright infringement.

Research hardware – are there any new developments (eg a touch sensitive modelling tool) and existing hardware product: stylus, graphic pads, tec

Learning Resource

Goals of the Learning Resource

The overall goal describes what the learner will be able to do after completing the instruction.

Content of the Learning Resource

The content describes what will be taught in order to achieve the objectives. What content will you need to include in the resource? This is just a list of points. Write down what you want to include in the resource. This could be: using video resources to explain the alphabet with sing-along-songs, or drawing instructions with an interactive sketchpad.

How will the content be presented. See example below of PBS Kids.

Create a layout concept for the menu of the overall learning resource.

PBS Kids -
PBS Kids –

Methods of instruction

The methods of instruction describe how the content will be taught. This is about the specific tools, that you want to use. Mention the use of supportive tools such as sound. Will there be a narrative (a story) told by a voice over or a character  (eg a teddy).

How is the learner informed about what to do? What type of instructions are available? Give a text example in the layouts.

List a number of 10 potential tools, and describe 2 tools and methods in detail.

Create a flow-chart for each with a step-by-step  instruction of what the learner will do in the activity.

Create layouts with instructions on how to interact with the application (eg how to move things) and instructions for users.

Create basic concepts for icons

Learner evaluation strategies (test with results)

The learner evaluation strategies describe how the learner will be evaluated to see if he or she has obtained the objectives (eg a test or a level is achieved and a new level unlocked).

Useful Links:

10 Best Educational Websites for Kids

Top Ten Educational Websites for Children

Below are examples of graphics.

Example of interface interaction - Source:
Example of interface interaction – Source:
Example of a Flowchart Image Source:
Example of a Flowchart Image Source: