As I near completion of my fourth class at University, one of the fundamental factors in all classes, is the design process. The design process refers to the steps you take to reach a final design. The way you approach this can vary between every person. My process involves; mind mapping/rough notes, research, inspiration, sketching, recreation in Illustrator (or other applications), the refinement and finished result.

The design process is a journey which relies on your ability to communicate your ideas. A collection of written and visual inspiration, allowing development of your artistic project.

For this post, I have included examples of my design process for a University project. The project involved the creation of three paper plane designs. I have included the completed design and process of one plane.

1. Mind Mapping / Rough Notes

Mind Mapping and rough notation is the process that allows you to branch out on a starting theme or subject. You are able to draw new connections you may not have considered before.

The initial stage of my process begins by exploring ideas connected to my starting point. The starting point may be a word, concept or even a feeling. I then think of as many different associations as I can. Sometimes I may even scribble any random thoughts I have.

Examples of mind mapping / rough notes

Design Process Mind Mapping Design Process Mind MappingDesign Process Mind Mapping

(Please excuse my horrible handwriting and spelling! 😮 )

Mind mapping allows you to join the dots between your starting point and pushing it as far as you can.


2. Research

Research involves the process of looking at and studying your subject. Understanding how it works, why it works and any other relevant information.

The level of research that I undertake depends on the purpose of the project. If the project is for an academic reason I will usually do more research then a personal project. In my project on the paper plane, I looked at the history of paper planes, how and why they were/are used. I then looked at my chosen theme, flightless birds. Examining bird environments and the reasons attributed to their lack of flying ability.

You don’t have to write an essay while doing your research, but it’s good to have a basic understanding of your subject. Doing this early can prevent you from having to do any major changes later.


3. Inspiration

Inspiration involves viewing visual sources, to assist in the development of your ideas. It’s important to note that when examining visual sources they are for inspiration only. You should never copy an existing design or image.

I gather my sources in mood and Pinterest boards, allowing quick reference to many images. Sometimes I may gather 10 images, other times 60 or 100. The number of images you gather depends on the subject/s you are working with. A more complicated design may have many points needing inspiration.

For my paper plane design, I looked at inspiration on paper planes (especially those with custom designs), penguin photography, penguin illustrations, and arctic climates.

Example of mood board (and references)

Design Process Mood Board


4. Sketching

Sketching is the process of creating quick sketches to capture the basic concept of your intended design. You do not have to be a talented traditional artist to create sketches and they do not have to be perfect! The most important thing is that your sketches capture the basic ideas of what you want to create. Even if produced in rough pencil or marker.

The number of sketches created depends on of the level of detail in the desired work. Sometimes I may only create a very quick sketch. Other times I may spend more time looking at different angles, and variations of the subject.

In the paper plane design, I created sketches of penguins. This varied in realistic representations to the more cartoonish versions. I also began to sketch my design into the applied prototype. Which looked at the design in a functional setting (when folding).

Examples of sketching

Design Process Sketching Design Process Sketching Design Process SketchingDesign Process Sketching


5. Digital Creation

Digital Creation is the process of digitally constructing your design. This may involve recreating a sketch in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator or similar applications. All the ideation and steps taken so far gives you a great head start in knowing exactly what you want to create.

When creating an artwork digitally the method involved depends on the desired outcome. Sometimes I may use the pen tool to trace a sketch. Other times I may work directly with shapes to build the design. There is no rule on how you can create your design, it’s all about creative exploration.

In my design for the paper plane, I approached the digital reconstruction in a technical way. I used actual measurements to first make a guide for each section. I then created the specific designs or shapes for each part. I used clipping masks to make sure that nothing intercepted. Finally, I applied any extra effects that enhanced the design.

Examples of Digital Creation

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Design Process Digital CreationDesign Process Digital Creation


6. Refinement

Refinement is the process of improving, editing or modifying the design. Perhaps you received feedback with suggestions on how to improve certain features. Or you discovered something needed changing.

When refining a design, I generally consider if the design is meeting the intention. If I believe that there is room for further adjustments I will make them and review. Some refinements might be small changes (such as curves) while others may be major changes.

In the paper plane, I made several refinements to the design. First I modified the center of the design so that it was more symmetrical. Second I transferred the design into Adobe InDesign and created an A3 layout. While not included here, the design for the A3 layout also followed a design process. This involved; planning and exploring ideas, visual research and inspiration, sketching and the creation and refinement of the layout. The folding instructions were also created under the same process.

Examples of refinement

Design Process RefinementDesign Process RefinementDesign Process RefinementDesign Process RefinementDesign Process RefinementDesign Process RefinementDesign Process RefinementDesign Process RefinementDesign Process Refinement

7. Completed Design

Woohoo. You did it. Celebrate how awesome you are. 🤗

Design Process Refinement


This is my design process. It doesn’t mean that it’s the right creative process, your’s could be completely different! The design process is a journey in finding a way to express and develop your ideas.

If you have your own design process, I would love to hear about it in the comments or view your own blog post.


💬 Design Process Questions

  1. Do you have a design or creative process?
  2. What is your favourite part of the process?
  3. What part of the process do you least enjoy or avoid?