Day in the Life of a Designer
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This was originally written as a March 2019 blog post for Charlotte AIGA.
I remember being in school and day-dreaming about what life would be like once I was out of school. I would be working with real clients on real projects with real deadlines and with real money (yay!). I don’t think it ever occurred to me during school what my actual day-to-day life and process would be though. In college, I would get inspired and work at the most oddball hours fueled by too many Americanos.
But in the real world, it’s 9am–5pm, 40 hours a week. It took some getting used to that I needed to be productive and creative at a set time every day. And, in addition to just designing, there are meetings, emails, timesheets, and projects to juggle. It’s a balancing act most weeks, but it’s also fun and I enjoy a varying schedule.
9:32 AM (I wish I could tell you I get to work on time every day, but let’s be real, I don’t. I’m lucky to work at a place with flexible hours.)
I get into work, pour a cup of coffee, and finally feel awake. After checking my emails, calendar, Basecamp, and Slack messages, I like to start my day by looking at inspiration for about 20 minutes or so. Sometimes it will pertain to the projects I’m working on and sometimes I just like to look at cool stuff. My favorite inspiration sites are Awwwards, Dribbble, Pinterest, Typewolf, Site Inspire, and Instagram.
Everyone in the office gathers around for our kickstand meeting. We go around and each talk about what we worked on yesterday and what we plan on working on today. (We pass around a blue microphone ball like it’s a talking stick haha.) It’s so important, in the agency world especially, to be in sync with your project managers about your workload. This meeting is a great time to let my PMs know if I have availability in my schedule to work on something or if I’m slammed and maybe need help prioritizing. By saying what I’m working on aloud to my team, it helps keep me accountable for what I’m going to work on that day.
We have a big presentation for a client later today so my project team gathers after kickstand to talk about what still needs to be done beforehand. I make some quick edits to my moodboards, provide feedback for the user personas that the client services team created, and go over the proposed website architecture.
Moodboarding and designing initial concepts for a project are my favorite part of the design process. It’s so fun to dream up all the different ways I can envision this site coming to life. I usually start pulling images for boards with board concepts in my mind but sometimes the board concepts come along later in the process.
After eating lunch, I hop on a quick call with a client to go over some confusing feedback on a trade show booth design. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to just talk to a client on the phone instead of agonizing over the right wording for an email.
We have a branding presentation to a client later this week so I squeeze in a little time to work on that in between meetings. We already have the logos designed at this point, but we're showing branded applications with this round for the first time. I grab some mockups online and start to customize them for this brand. Clients always love seeing logos dropped into applications because it starts to make the mark feel real, tangible, and personal to them. It's also a good way to show them how you envision the brand coming to life outside the logo (typography, colors, patterns, secondary marks).
I meet with our developers to walk them through a website design and talk about the styles, architecture, animation, and responsiveness. It’s really important to come to this meeting prepared. Developers are visual like designers so they appreciate any examples of animation or responsiveness you want to see on the site.
As for styles, if you don’t know anything about HTML or CSS, I think it’s valuable to take a little time to understand how a site is built. Styles need to be consistent on a website to save a developer time and headache. And if anything, learning how a site is built will give you great appreciation for developers!
Our client comes in for the personas, architecture, and moodboard presentation. This is a really cool project and I’m actually a little nervous going into the meeting because I want it to go well.
We start with personas, going over the primary, secondary, and tertiary users of this site. This is such a crucial part of the web design process because it’s so easy for us designers to just design to what we like. While that may look nice, it may not be fitting for the type of person that’s coming to this site. Personas also inform content and UI/UX—what does our primary user except and want to see on this site?
We move into architecture and the plan for this site is somewhat of a doozy because it’s a massive e-commerce site with so many offerings. We explain the main navigation categorization and then walk them through the user’s shopping journey. Even though we don’t implement search engine optimization (SEO) until the end of a web design project, we start to educate the client about how SEO works and how our proposed architecture plays into that.
Now that we’ve talked about our ideal users and how the site will be organized, we move into what the site is going to look like. We briefly go over each mood board and explain the overall feeling and potential stylistic elements. Then the ball is in the client’s court and we want to hear what they have to say about the images we’ve pulled. Sometimes clients need some coaching here and don’t feel like they can speak up. Fortunately, this client knew what they liked and didn’t like and pointed out specific images that they loved and hated. All in all, it was a great meeting and I think both teams felt a stronger sense of vision and clarity as a result.
Yay end of the day! After a massive presentation, it’s time to celebrate with a beer or two. I tried playing foosball with some coworkers but my lack of skills were an epic embarrassment. I’ll blame it on the beer even though we all know beer has nothing to do with it.