anatomy of the design process

February 23, 2007 at 3:08 am 3 comments

There are numerous steps involved in producing printed marketing materials. Being informed about this process makes you an asset to the organization. Understanding the process gives you more control and allows you to allocate your manpower and financial resources in order to maximize your budget.

Depending on the project and its scope, the design process will be more or less involved, ranging from a large collaboration among a group of specialist, or a more intimate process involving a designer and the project coordinator. Regardless of the size and scope of the project, all design jobs should have the following components; a planning phase, the design phase, and the implementation phase.

Planning Phase.
During the planning phase, the reasons for producing marketing materials are addressed. The intended audience, intended market, and message strategy are analyzed. This analysis can be performed internally, by an outside firm, or a combination of both.

A typical planning phase may resemble the following:

• Organization determines new marketing material(s) needed to promote new program, raise self-awareness or promote existing programs.
• Designer/project coordinator meets with client/organization.
• Objectives and goals of marketing material(s) determined.
• Method of achieving those objects and goals discussed and determined. This may include an analysis of market share, competitors, and strengths and weaknesses.
• Look and feel of marketing material(s) discussed. This discussion will answer questions such as how much text? How many colors are needed?
• How much money budgeted for project?
• Is a Copywriter needed? If a copywriter is needed, they will arrange times to come and interview the appropriate staff.
• Are photography or illustrations needed? If so, how will these be acquired? Will stock art be used or a professional photo shoot?

Implementation Phase:
All designers and firms have a somewhat unique design process. And the design process is often tweaked depending on the particulars and scope of the job. But in general, all designers adhere to a similar methodology.

• Design concepts are presented. Often three concepts are presented, although the number presented will vary by designer and by the job.
• Design direction is determined.
• Art direction provided if copywriters or photographers needed.
• Designer provides client with a proof.
• Edits made.
• Designer incorporates changes and provides another proof. Depending on the scope of the job, two proofs may be adequate. Frequently, there are at least three proofs and often more.
• Proof is signed off on by organization.

Printing Phase:
The time frame for printing marketing materials depends on the printer and the complexity of the job. In general, you should budget a minimum of 7 business days for a simple job like a tri-fold brochure. An annual report may take 3-4 weeks, and a book which needs to go to a specialty binder, may take more than 6 weeks. Once at the printer, all jobs go to prepress. Paper is order and plates are made, and then the job goes “on press.” After drying, it goes to the bindery, after which it is ready for fulfillment, whether that be via mail or hand-delivery.

• Electronic file goes to the printer.
• Printer produces proof for client and/or designer.
• Proof signed off on by client.
• Job printed on printing press.
• Job dries and then goes to bindery to be cut.
• After cutting, job is ready for any stitching, binding or folding.
• Job delivers to mailhouse.
• Mailhouse addresses, stamps and mails collateral.

For information on how to save money during this process, read maximizing your budget and a creative team on a shoestring. For more details about working with a graphic designer, visit AIGA’s website at


Entry filed under: for administrators, printing.

partnering with your printer

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Good Credit  |  January 5, 2008 at 2:52 am

    I mean to apply for a credit card but I really do not know which offer to choose. Rewards credit cards have been my priority but they seem to be too expensive to hold. I think I’ll have to put just every little item on the card to earn enough points to compensate for the annual fees and APRs. Rewards credit cards at

    0% for 12 months discover


  • 2. Poster Printing  |  January 19, 2010 at 12:38 am

    This is a very helpful overview of the design and printing process! It probably is wise to allow 7 days for printing larger projects. Really, though, projects like business card or postcard printing only take a couple of days to receive them once they’ve been approved for press.

  • 3. Howard Adam Levy  |  November 5, 2011 at 6:28 am

    Excellent post. From my experience designing for nonprofits, many organizations have not worked with designers before and so having a good idea of the process is essential so they know what to expect. For examples of successful design for nonprofits, check out

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