Before you launch InDesign, do this

Author: Robert Giorgio

How many times have you found yourself staring at your InDesign file, wondering what to do next? Many times, designers get excited about their first idea and leap right to the computer. This is often warranted. Urgent deadlines and multiple projects demand efficiency. But instead of rushing to the screen, you should pause and clarify your objectives. And the best way to do this is to first write down your ideas and sketch them on paper.

If you slow down and make your thoughts visible on paper, you will be more productive and creative. This doesn’t apply only to designers; anyone who needs to solve problems will benefit.

Here are three reasons why you should write and sketch first:

  • 1. Clarifies your thinking
  • 2. Enables quick generation of ideas
  • 3. Allows you to iterate your ideas

It clarifies your thinking.
Years ago, I learned an important lesson from my dad. Whenever he faced an important decision or had to solve a problem, he would write it down on a piece of paper. The physical act of writing focused his attention and crystallized his thinking. Research suggests that writing on paper activates more regions of your brain than creating on a keyboard. Visualizing his thoughts made the problem more manageable and actionable.

I learned that I, too, thought clearer, spotted connections, and developed better solutions when I put pen to paper before accessing the computer. Now, when I face a design problem, I follow suit. I jot down my ideas and externalize my thoughts. The issue I’m working on becomes clearer, and I gain focus.

It enables quick generation of ideas.
Once I clarify the problem I’m seeking to solve, I crack open my sketch book. I draw multiple options. Saving time is the main difference between using the computer instead of paper to create layouts. If I’m drawing wireframes for a website, it’s quicker to visualize the text placement, information hierarchy, and the overall layout compared to the computer. Or if I’m brainstorming logo ideas, I can generate pages of concepts in a matter of minutes.

When you begin on the computer, you tend to censor and prematurely fixate on certain ideas. There is a place for refinement in the creative process, but not during brainstorming. You need to be quick, uncensored, and free to explore all of your ideas, even the unexpected ones.

It allows you to iterate ideas.
Now that you have several sketches and ideas visualized on paper, it’s time to take a closer look. Back to the logo example. Which ones look interesting? Which ideas solve the problem? Your rough drawings won’t always hit the mark on the first try. But, if you squint at them, you may see elements that show promise and require more exploration. For example, you observe intriguing shapes in a few of your initial logo sketches. What happens if you combine some of those elements from option A with option B? What if you redraw the letterforms so that they interact with the icon more?

After playing with these ideas, you will have options that are ready for further development. Now is the time to shift from pencils to pixels.

The next time you’re tasked to develop a design, create a campaign concept, or solve a problem, resist the impulse to jump to the screen. Even if you spend 10 minutes exploring the problem on paper first, the investment will be worth it. You will emerge with a clearer focus, more diverse ideas, and a selection of options to take you to the next level.

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