I have been thinking about design process recently which has forced me to consider my own process.  Over the years, I have tried and maintained many different ways of beginning a design project.  Of course they all begin with an idea but after that, how do I get that idea out of my head and into the workflow?

It all begins with a piece of paper for me. And a pen or pencil, or a marker or paint.  It rarely begins on a computer.  The computers come last.

I thought I would post a simple series on the design process tools I use in my own work.  Your process might be radically different from mine but this one works for me.  I am always interested in individual creative process. I like hearing about the tools people choose to use.  I’m a fan of sites like, The Setup.  However, in my case usually, the computational brute force is almost the last piece in the puzzle for creating.  For the kinds of projects I work on, there is a lot to figure out before an idea is even close to being finalized on a computer.  And of course, some ideas don’t even need to be worked on at the hardware level. They just need to be figured out.

So, what do I do?

I carry with me – pretty much at all times – a small, leather pencil bag that was given to me by a friend many years ago.  It’s simple, sturdy, and compact so that I can keep it in a backpack or on my desk.  It contains a whole variety of writing instruments I like.  More on “writing instruments” in a later post if I am motivated.  Probably not.  What I like to write with and what you like to write with is so subjective and personal that blogging about it becomes a pointless endeavor. What’s important is that I have what I call, “pencil ideas,” “ink ideas,” “grey-scale ideas” or “color ideas.”

Anyway, as mentioned, it begins with a piece of paper and in this case, the paper I choose to start working on is 3″ x 5″ blank index cards.  So my entire, initial design phase begins with these two components:

Pat's Design Stuff

That little pencil bag holds a LOT of stuff:

Inside a Sketch Kit

Why index cards?  Why not use a small notebook or sketchbook?  Don’t the cards get lost or dropped all over the place?  Good questions all…

I use index cards for an initial idea pass because they are fairly disposable for my quick thoughts on a problem.  When I have a big blank, permanent page in a sketchbook staring at me, I get intimidated by that permanency.  It scares me.  I begin to hold back and edit my ideas in my head first.  Who wants to mess up that nice, $20 sketchbook with a notion or a thought bubble?  Not me.  I have, over the years, learned that starting with that kind of commitment to an idea is stifling.  I hate wasting my sketchbook real estate on a notion or an inkling.  That’s where my note cards come in.  They’re the stunt double for the next level of ideation. (I had to get that damn word worked into this post somehow.)

I don’t like rubber bands.  So I keep my stack of note cards bound with a big clip.  These work better than stretching a rubber band around the deck.  Two reasons: rubber bands break and they take longer to put on and take off than the steel clips.

Card Deck

And that’s it.  The beginning of a process.