When computers and digital technology came onto the scene, a design revolution was born. Thanks to the advantages of the new digital workstream, the possibilities for our creativity expanded exponentially. But, given the complexity of learning the new programs that are available to us, many of us now find ourselves locked into a single toolset (read: Photoshop), afraid to try something different. As a result, our workflows are inefficient and not oriented to working effectively in teams.
The goal is to be creative
A well designed workflow cuts down your stress and increases your focus, allowing more time for what you want to do most: be creative.
Creativity starts with ideas.
The creative process is more than just finding the right tool for the job; it’s also about finding the best approach to being creative. Starting in the computer pushes designers down the path of putting the pixel first and the concept second. Instead, I find paper to be the best way to explore and develop a range of ideas.
A quick exercise I use to the get the juices flowing is to start sketching ideas in quick 5 minute sprints. I focus on generating as many different ideas as quickly as possible, then expand on those ideas. This is best done on paper so you think about the concept rather than the design.
Sketching is a critical part of your workflow so don’t ignore it. Drawing stencils play a big part of my process and are instrumental in helping me get ideas down on paper. I especially find circles, straighlings, curvers, and squares useful, which you can find at any local art store. If you’re a mobile application designer, check out the UI Stencils for iphone, android, and w8 interfaces. You’ll thank me later.
As an illustration major in college, my professor implored his students to start a reference library of interesting photos, textures, colors, and whatever else we found interesting. The idea was to create a massive library of photo references that you could refer back to if you needed to draw a sports car, a pine tree, or a leather jacket for example.
Growing as a designer means keeping up with the ever-shifting trends and visual innovations out there in the world, and a library of inspiration can be a useful tool to stockpile inspirational art and help to spark your creativity.
As a visual designer, I've extended the idea of maintaining a reference library and started an asset library of Photoshop files, Fireworks files, icons, vectors, textures, brushes, swatches, fonts and whatever else I find useful. The idea is to curate a collection of elements so that you spend less time searching in the future.
Just about anything can inspire visual creativity. Don't just limit yourself to obvious things like icons or UI elements; branch out and explore non-digital works like paintings and illustrations. Over the years I've collected thousands of interesting and inspiring artifacts, including fonts, photographs, textures, color palettes, and even code snippets.
Here are some places I go when I want to find new material for my library:
Tools of the trade
If you’re looking to start your own digital asset library, I recommend giving Pixa App a try. It’s a promising new application for maintaining an asset library. Pixa supports all the file types I use as a designer: Photoshop, Illustration, EPS, PDF and Fireworks files. Additionally, the fact that Pixa works with dropbox makes it an ideal tool for sharing assets with other team members.
As my collection grew, however, it became increasingly difficult to maintain it and keep it useful. Enter Evernote. Evernote excels at nearly everything I was looking for in a digital asset management application: it makes content collection, tagging, and sharing a snap. But Evernote's secret awesomeness is in search: it can instantly find text not only in tags, titles, and notes, but also, using very accurate OCR, within the images themselves.
Tell us what you think
I hope your take away from this post is that understanding your workflow is just as important as understanding your tools. The approaches I’ve shared are simple ones, but they’ve made a big difference in my own design process. Give them a try, and share your favorite tools and methods for working smarter, not harder, in the comments.