The Calculated Creative

Graphic Design Workflow

While every project is unique, following the basic workflow stages provides structure for developing designs that are strategically-grounded, aligned to brand objectives, and tailored to audience needs.

The graphic design process is much more than just making something look visually appealing.

It's a thoughtful, strategic problem-solving process that moves through several key phases.

From initial research and planning to final production and evaluation.

Understanding the typical graphic design workflow provides important insight into how visual solutions are developed to meet client goals and target audience needs.

There's 6 key stages of a standard graphic design workflow.

Including important steps at each phase that lead to creating effective and successful design solutions:

Research and Planning

Planning is a crucial first step.

Start by clearly defining the goals and objectives of the design project with the client.

Research the target audience and market to understand user needs and preferences.

Gather brand strategy documents or style guides to inform your design direction.

Conduct competitive analysis to see what aesthetics, layouts, and visual styles are working well in the industry.

Look at past campaigns and projects that were successful or fell short.

Identify key performance indicators to evaluate success.

Map out all project requirements and expected deliverables.

Outline the scope of work and get agreement from stakeholders.

Create a project timeline accounting for reviews, revisions, and approval cycles at each stage.

Define budget and resources needed to complete the project.

Concept Development

The concept phase explores possible design solutions.

Start by brainstorming ideas with your team, creating mind maps to visualize different directions.

Develop mood boards pulling together visual inspiration, color palettes, typography, and imagery that feels aligned to the brand.

Sketch rough drafts and iterations moving from broad conceptual ideas to more refined ones.

Create wireframes and mockups that demonstrate possible layouts.

Present 3-5 distinct concept options to client for consideration and feedback.

Have a conversation about what is working or not working in the concepts.

Take time to refine the concept that resonates most, ensuring it aligns to brand strategy and project goals.

Get formal approval on the final concept before moving into design development.

Design and Execution

Now it’s time to execute the approved concept and develop finished design files.

For branding projects, design the logo, typography, color palette, and other brand elements that will define the visual identity.

For publication projects, design the layout, templates, and styles for key pages and sections.

For digital projects, create wireframes for site navigation and flows, mockups for visual layouts, and prototypes for interactivity.

Iterate on designs based on feedback from internal team members and client.

Ensure consistency across all touchpoints where the brand appears.

Follow brand guidelines and obtain approvals on important elements like logo usage.

Execute final files in required formats suitable for production.

This may include digital files like PNGs, JPGs, GIFs as well as files for print production.

Maintain well organized layers and groups in working files for future edits.


Before starting production, double check that design files are print-ready or web-ready based on project specifications.

Package files neatly with supporting documentation on usage guidelines, mappings, and specifications.

For print, outline requirements like materials, finishes, binding, etc.

For digital, provide specifications like image sizes, resolutions, fonts, and plugins needed.

Review technical feasibility with developers and engineers.

Conduct final review meeting with client to walk through final designs and files.

Secure all final approvals and sign-offs from stakeholders before production run.

Production and Delivery

Work closely with production teams to ensure designs are produced accurately with quality output.

Review proofs and samples at multiple checkpoints, providing approvals or flagging issues to address.

For printed materials, review color proofs and press checks closely to match colors in final production run.

For digital projects, thoroughly test sites, apps, or software across devices and browsers, fixing bugs.

Oversee production timelines and delivery to meet deadlines.

Once final product is approved, deliver files, assets, documentation, and usage guidelines as defined by project scope.


Check in with client after launch to gather feedback on the effectiveness of the design project.

Analyze metrics like sales, traffic, or engagement against stated KPIs.

Identify areas of design that are performing well.

Look for opportunities to optimize and improve future design projects based on findings.

Retrospect on the collaboration process for lessons learned.

Documenting evaluation findings closes the loop so learnings can be applied to subsequent design cycles.

This ultimately helps improve the efficiency and success rate of future design projects.

The Takeaway

The graphic design process is iterative.

Moving through interlinked stages of:
- Research
- Ideation
- Refinement
- Execution
- Production
- Evaluation

Skipping steps can negatively affect the end result.

Effective graphic design requires thorough planning and clear communication with stakeholders at each milestone.

While every project is unique, following the basic workflow stages provides structure for developing designs that are strategically-grounded, aligned to brand objectives, and tailored to audience needs.

An organized workflow and readiness for ongoing iteration leads to better design solutions.

Stepping back to gather learnings in the evaluation stage closes the loop, providing insights to fuel continuous improvement in future design cycles.

Make Your Work
Suck Less

Pulling back the curtain on the creative process to help make your work a little less terrible. A 3-minute read delivered each week on Monday morning.

The Calculated Creative

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