Design Thinking to Mood Boarding: 6 Commonly Used Design Processes to Try On Your Next Project

Whether it’s designing posters, banner ads or producing graphics and illustrations, each organization’s design process may not look the same.

Design Thinking to Mood Boarding: 6 Commonly Used Design Processes to Try On Your Next Project
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Your favorite magazine, a billboard and all those digital thank you cards and wedding announcements.

Every one of the products your customers engage with or use every day has gone through a systematic design process to improve their experience.

Good design means customers don’t have to think about “the hows” of interacting with what you’ve created, and that your messaging and visual identity powerfully come together.

But as the ways in which customers interact with brands evolve, so to do design processes. Here’s a walkthrough of five approaches to design, and their pros and cons.

The basics: Traditional design process

The traditional method of design involves seven stages executed in linear sequence:

  1. Study: Your team determines what problem to solve.
  2. Research: Involves a deep dive into the mechanics of the problem.
  3. Brainstorm: Throws out solutions to the problem in rapid fire, and no potential solution is off the table.
  4. Sketch: Your team transforms ideas into visuals.
  5. Concept: Your team solidifies ideas and fully outlines concepts.
  6. Revisions: Your team recalibrates based on a focus group or user feedback.
  7. Conclusion: Key stakeholders approve and sign off on the project.

Pros: A linear approach means the design process is straightforward. Plus, the documentation created during the process usually gives your team more insight to improve future projects.

Cons: Because of its linear structure, the time from ideation to execution and beyond can take so long that your company might not be nimble enough to react quickly to changes in the marketplace. Trying to adhere to rigid timelines also can lead to project delays. The process also can be so siloed that teams who should be collaborating work too independently of each other.

One of the most popular practices among creatives and designers, Mood boarding stems from the process of ideation. Mood boards are found in both physical and digital forms, filled with images, text, visual references, and textures to help visualize ideas and concepts in a “storylike” perspective. They are meant to transfer the right mood and bring the emotions expected from a product, and also one of the most effective ways to collaborate and share ideas. One of the quickest and easiest ways to create your own mood board is by collaging in Photoshop.

Pros: A visual approach is likely the fastest, most client-efficient way to showcase design concepts. Mood boards not only save time but allow a more seamless flow of communication between your team and clients.

Cons: Unlike other more robust processes, mood boards don’t show the detailed timeline of an end project. If your boss or client is looking for more research or data, the visual approach might not be the most effective process for detailed-oriented projects.

The old school: Double Diamond Model

Developed by the UK Design Council, this design approach is called the Double Diamond because of the process’s shape: it looks like two diamonds attached at one node, or intersecting point. The cinches of the diamond, or sharp edges, represent diverging and converging aspects of the design development process.

Beginning with a problem, the four stages in the Double Diamond model first involve a diverging discover/research phase, where participants dive deep into exploring all aspects of the problem. From here, the group converges to a define or synthesis stage, where members agree about where to concentrate their efforts. The third stage diverges yet again to ideate potential design solutions, before finally converging to a point where the team delivers the final solution during the implementation stage.

Pros: This structure leaves plenty of room for diverse ideas. This allows cross-functional teams to work together, which leads to more transparency.

Cons: Since there are so many points of divergence, it might be easy to get lost in the rabbit hole of research. It takes discipline to corral teams and to manage their time effectively.

The future-centric: User-centered design

User-centered design is an intensely customer-centric approach. This approach integrates customer needs into practically every stage of the design process. Much like the other design processes, user-centered design involves four distinct phases — understand the context, specify user requirements, ideate, and test. However, it leans on extensive user surveys up front to develop a clearer picture of the needs that design should address. User-centered design holds users much closer to the design process, frequently leaning on them and a variety of other stakeholders for input. The UX design process is now easier than ever with Photoshop and Adobe XD seamless integration. You can easily create a wireframe to map your process and share with your team and clients.

Pros: The customer-centric approach means a greater chance for easy adoption. Since context is an important part of this design process, you can consider a wide variety of use cases, increasing the likelihood that what you create engages a larger audience.

Cons: Balancing input from multiple stakeholders is a challenge. There’s also the temptation to increase a project’s scope, which can lead to delays. But sandboxing, a process where you clearly define a project’s requirements can help.

The “seasoned”: Design sprint

Although not strictly like its agile sprint cousin in the coding world, a design sprint puts your team through a five-day intense design challenge to address a small aspect of an overall problem, whether it’s launching a new logo or deciding on the visual direction for a big-budget ad campaign. Your team goes through five distinct phases — map, ideation, decide, prototype, and test — and tackle each phase during one of the five days. Slightly longer, or even more intense sprints, are an emerging trend among design teams.

Pros: This approach addresses one of the biggest challenges in the design process — time. Since your team can collaborate for a specific period, you’re much more disciplined in working toward a final outcome.

Cons: The fast-paced nature of the process might not leave enough room for all promising ideas to get enough air time.

The philosophical: Design thinking

The design thinking process essentially looks like a marriage between user-centered design and the Double Diamond approach. Popularized by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, also known as the d.school, this iterative approach has gained more traction even if its broad parameters are somewhat loose. Before the usual define, ideate, prototype, and test phases, this method first includes an “empathize” phase so you can shadow customers and understand their needs before hitting the ground running.

Pros: Breaks down silos in companies and facilitates idea exchanges from new avenues. The model is flexible enough to adapt to almost any idea.

Cons: Since the process is loosely defined, it’s easy to get lost along the way without clear outlines or goalposts early on.

Which design process is right for you?

There’s no hard-and-fast rule about the design process your organization should use. But as the platforms in which brands engage consumers to continue to change, it’s important to be nimble. Regardless of how design processes evolve, you should stick to one important premise when it comes to design — the needs of your audience always come first.

We want to hear from! Share your favorite design process or tell us about your own design workflow @creativecloud #Adobedesign.

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