Document your process.
It’s funny, if you have been in a Design school, you probably have heard from some professors that you should document your process. “No sketches, no max grade”. Even though I’ve always questioned school (or basically everything), here’s a valuable idea that I only got to apply 5 years out of Uni, thanks to a trigger by Gary Vee.
Documenting my process has made me believe more in my service, strategize and understand myself and my business better. It has also uncovered a lot of holes that I wouldn’t otherwise have seen.
The benefits are endless and in truth, it’s not that hard to go by. It’s always harder to start doing something than to actually do the thing. You can go really superficial with your process documentation, and of course that has less benefits, or you can go truly in depth and cover all aspects. (Spoiler: do both).
“Keep all your sketches, I wanna see them all!” and “Write notes, thoughts of the moment and keep a diary!” said my wood work teacher.
Everybody in the classroom rolled their eyes. “But that’s boring and time consuming!”
I had a vague idea that it was “smart” and some sort of “standard” procedure to save my sketches, but no one had really told us why.
The what-it-seems-to-be superficial documentation, let’s say, all the sketches, a timelapse or some sort of video, photos that you can put together later on form a visual path from the start to the finish line can all have iterative learning value for you later on. No only that, but you can save it for others that want to learn afterwards.
You can go back and “check it out”, how did you do that thing, again? Most people think they’ve gotten it in their heads. Until they forget or aren’t confident enough talking about it to someone else.
Capturing the essence of your solutions, why you went X instead of Y, or that small detail in the form of writing, videos or pictures can trigger your brain later on. Specially on the moments you are stuck, when your brain seem to have filed all the goodies in the unconsciousness realm. Plus, it builds brand equity.
Here is the kind of files I have at the end of branding project:
Once the Design is ready to fire, it all begins. Sketching on the iPad has made documentation ridiculously easy to be done. However, I have yet to create the habit of documenting on the desktop. Yes… You caught me on that one. (Screen shots count too!)
Pro tip: For Mac users, you can easily record your screen and audio with the built-in Quicktime app.
Typically, I will have:
Specially at the beginning, the amount of sketches is ridiculous. I limit the note taking on the sketch “paper itself” (I work digital most of the time). That means I will make little notes to myself why that sketch is good/bad, what needs to be changed, what motivated me to pick a certain style of type, etc. This helps with the little bit of story telling that is necessary to include on the brand book as well as organize my thoughts.
If you are an illustrator, this might mean just recording while you draw. I have seen a few illustrators who like doing voice-over during their timelapses as well, explaining what’s going on the screen. It’s all valid.
I always get to know my clients, their brand and their audience before talking about any Design aspect. The conversation has more than just documentation value — I will use the information captured to craft a brand book later on — it also serves as a pre-pricing strategy.
I typically dig my way through my client’s personal history, so I can better understand their lifestyle, thus how they make their decisions. Then their brand’s history, values, mission and vision. Most of them don’t understand the concept of unique selling point, for example, and to me that’s when it becomes relevant that these “documentation” conversations I have with allow me to uncover gaps. They also realize there’s much to learn about their own selves and brands.
The funny thing is, I wouldn’t have that figured it out if it wasn’t for the in-depth documentation.
Thought pouring, chaos in the writing app. Nothing made sense. Until it did. My process didn’t exist until I finally wrote it down.
I’ve created the habit to write. Yet, not everything I write is supposed be good. And I expect it will be chaotic every time the intent is “trying to figure something out”. The key is to embrace the chaos in the beginning and find the order later on.
The in-depth process documentation process has a twist: it’s has nothing to do with capturing and captioning your sketches and elaborating on that. It has to do with the strategy behind your actions.
In a 12k words document I wrote about how my consultations would go, I outlined topics that I could foresee coming and how I could solve them. I had to write for each possibility a detailed walkthrough.
The in-depth documentation has made my work more valuable and understandable to myself. It not only made things clear as I kept writing, but it showed me that I had gaps in my process that needed to be fixed. I keep going back to that document and extending it, correcting it and well, using it to my favor. I sometimes read it for fun (I’m weird).
The truth is, you’ve gotta do both. I tell my clients that there are two levels of a business: the corporate and the perceptive. The corporate compromises the boring office life stuff your audience doesn’t need or care to hear about. Management is only fun for managers. However, if these are outlined carefully, it can boost your productivity in a gazillion percents. That’s also true if you work alone, like I do most of the time, and you don’t have to share a “way of doing things” with anyone else. This discipline helps you build freedom within your own means, because you become more aware of your actions and decisions.
The perceptive level of a brand is where the sprinkles are at. All the timelapses, background activities that involve creativity are actually interesting for the audience. Telling an audience how the illustration was done or how the photo is taken give a sense of awe: showing how something is done is amazing and oddly satisfying. And here is the best part: it builds trust. You need an individual in your audience to trust you so they can buy from you. Bridge that gap. Always ask yourself: what can they get from this?
The initial document setting is done on Google Docs. That’s right. No fanciness required. I share it with my client and we can both edit the document, even at the same time. This was personally a breakthroug when building a brand, when there is a lot to uncover. A lot that I don’t know (but should), come out of that document. I pour what I’ve learned from them in text format, make headlines and little assignments, they complete them and add up to them. It has saved hours of mailing back and forth, plus it engages us both in the same mission (the psychological value here is immense).
For documenting my creative process, I use my phone on a clasp tripod attached to my desk and the built-in timelapse feature from its camera (you can also post-edit the video and speed it up in case you can’t do that natively). I also use Procreate’s auto generated timelapse videos on the ipad and Quicktime for the desktop.
I also like to visualize the Designs on Mockups — it is received better by most non-design or non-creative minds who can’t “see” the final piece. These mockups, videos and process photos can be used later on a case study and the stills on the brand guidelines.
All in all, the documenting process has one purpose: clarity, both for yourself and your client. It’s not exactly business planning, but maybe a foundation for it as long as you go in depth. Once you manage to uncover the gaps in your process or knowledge, you are able to bridge them and expand.
Holding your process back is not going to make you lose your skills, nor have it stolen from you. The amount of people who would in fact execute it is so slim, that it’s better to deliver the value, gain trust, than hold it back and not benefit from the advantages.