Designer secrets for speed of execution

It’s now about ten years that I started designing stuff. Through these years, I developed some tricks to get quicker results. Today, I can get a first batch of design solutions faster. Here are some of these methods. I  borrowed some from other artistic practice and other from other designers.

Create a mental pattern library

Long term preparation

My brother is a jazz pianist. In such a music style improvisation is a key skill. He explained that to be a great jazz pianist you have to learn by heart hundreds of patterns. These patterns are like templates in design. These are predefined pieces that he knows work well together. A good improviser can mix these patterns and find the best transitions between them. The musician feels safe. He knows that he always has a good backup plan. Because he has a large pattern collection, he can try new things out. 
I think that as designers, we should use this method as an inspiration. We should force ourselves to build a mental pattern library. This collection would contain pieces of design, layout, animations that we know work well. When we are under a lot of pressure or under the constraint of time, we should use our backup plan.

Ask people what they expect

The smart designer

The next trick seems dumb, but it’s one that is powerful: ask your client what he expects. Usually, expectations are simple to meet for designers. So start by doing what people expect from you. Even if it’s not the right solution it helps to show to your client or boss that at least you listened. When you show a better solution, clients still love the idea they asked you about. So show this idea first because people can’t see the extra value if they don’t see the start. Starting by what people expect is interesting because you have something to build on. You can then simply iterate on that solution. Remove elements, re-arrange elements or add new ones. Tada! You already have four variations without any other help.

Set a mind plan

Think before doing

Sketching is great to plan pieces of design. But you should also plan the design process. What should you research and analysis before starting? How much time do you set yourself for these tasks? I call a mind plan this moment where you define for yourself the different steps that you have to take. When you have the plan, you can start. If you start to design without having a mind plan you can lose yourself in the details. A mind plan is like the content table for a book. It helps to structure the big topics that you have to cover. And this, even before you start writing or designing the first elements.

Set timers and take pauses

Constraints are good

If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I would spend 6 of those hours sharpening my axe. — Abraham Lincoln

A good mind plan needs a good timetable. Before you start to define the time you can use for the big steps. As seen in the quote above, you can finish the same task in a short or long period. Usually, the difference is on the time you spend for research or analysis. When you set for yourself a timer, it helps you to stay focused. A timer forces you not to care too much about the details. The more important feature of a timer is the breaks it produces. At the end of a task or timer take a break. Taking a break takes your nose off the work, and you gain a new vision of what you are doing. I like to call that the toilet or shower principle. When you are doing something else and by habit you suddenly find a solution to a problem. Great and quick designers take breaks because it’s then that they design.

Build quick moodboards

Inspiration vs curation

Today designers use the word «inspiration» as an excuse to hang on websites like behance or dribble. These designers seek for inspiration. But in fact, they are just zapping designs as they would do with TV channels. The right way to do it is to curate moodboards. 

Don’t look for inspiration, but build it. 

When building a moodboard with purpose, you select, refine and reframe different elements together. Good moodboard creation is like building visual mind maps. You structure thoughts, not pictures. That is even stronger when you curate moodboards under the pressure of time. 

Sketch before starting

Plan visually

Service designers and strategists sketch their thinking before starting anything tangible. All kind of designers could use simple sketches or storyboards to know the basic variations they want to build. That gives you a way to start without being under the pressure of the white sheet syndrome.

Keep the incremental changes and remix

Be a DJ not an artist

Another method to build faster many options is to keep the incremental changes. That means for each big step you create a new version of your design. It helps you to come quickly back to something that was better. It helps to stay on the same piece of design too long without getting anything at the end. And when you have different versions of your design you can start to act like a DJ. Sample, remix parts and build new versions in that way. You will get new variations that are pretty creative faster