How to Streamline the Design Process Part 1


If you do not have a firm structure to your design process, are tired of feeling frazzled and need to inspire your clients to be as invested in their brand's process as you are...this is for you!

I have to admit that every time I had a child, I didn't have much of a structured system of design, other than the beginning, middle and the end. I grabbed time in between naps to design and then I would send proofs to my client after the kids were in bed. Since I had three children in four and a half years, I was in survival mode. Period. Can you relate?

I got tired of living like that. 

Now that the dust has settled and they are old enough to have schedules, and my hormones have settled down so I can think clearly, I have learned some helpful things. It all boils down to taking the time to put a solid system into place, and I am going to show you how I did it!

Branding boards and Questionnaires

This was a new concept for me.

When I went to school in the mid 90's, my teacher would turn the light switch on and off to teach us how to save. There was no auto save. Now, designers, fresh out of school, are creating brands and websites with structured systems that are efficient and beautiful. 

I was so hungry for a good system that I have followed countless blogs, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, you name it, I read it. Quietly learning…and raising my kids.

What I found was a brainstorming system that is a work of art in itself and makes for a great part of the presentation to the client AND for your portfolio. They are called brand inspiration boards, which then leads into the clients' own branding board, as well as questionnaires that follow a timeline to make this all possible. 

How to Start the Process

I used 17 Hats as my project management program when I first started freelancing, and stuck with it for 10 years. It was easy for me to set up right out of the box. This is not an affiliate link, just a link for you to see if it is a good fit for you. Everyone is different.

Another option is Dubsado. This is the new favorite of all types of creative freelancers and to be honest, if I was still providing 1 on 1 design services, I would be using this. Why? Because it was created by creatives for creatives and gives you more for your money AND has amazing support. 

To get started, you have a free trial that is free until you reach three clients. That is nice because there is no time limit! If you have more than three clients, and you love what you see, just click the link above and get 20% off your first month...on me!

The other great thing about Dubsado, is that there are easy plug and play templates for your invoices, lead forms, on-boarding forms, contracts and questionnaires. Their help center is full of videos with screen shares, that show you exactly how to use each aspect of their program.

Ready to get started?

To start: I have created a list, so that you know what needs to be included in an effective client questionnaire.

How to Create Effective Questionnaires

Ten Things That Should Be Included in Your First Questionnaire

  • How is the name of your client's business spelled and how should it be presented on designed pieces.

  • Do you need to create a tagline?

  • Is this a rebrand or a new brand?

  • What is your mission statement?

  • What is the vibe you want your new brand to have?

  • What kind of typographic style are you looking for? Hand lettered, script, thin, bold, etc.

  • What services do you offer? Be specific.

  • Who is your competition and how are you unique? Have them detail their skill sets that sets them apart.

  • List 5-10 words that are descriptive in nature, such as whimsical, romantic, vintage, creative, etc… You get the picture.

  • Who is your ideal customer?

*This is just a jumping off point, to get you started. Set the timer for 10 minutes. Write down all the questions you think will help you better understand the needs of your client. Great! Now onto the fun stuff, which brings us to step 2.

Give Your Clients Assignments: Inspiration Board 101

  • While you are going over the questionnaire, have your client create a Secret Pin Board on Pinterest.

  • Send instructions through your project management system, on how they can create a secret board.

  • Then, have them choose images that represent the colors and feelings they want their own brand to have. Have them pick images that get an immediate, positive response, without second guessing. Remind them that this is a brainstorm session and there are no "wrong" pins. I always suggest using the "wow" factor or the "oh, that is so pretty" factor. Those are definitely pin-able. Is that even a word?! It is now!

Create a Branding Board

After all the information gathering, this is one of my favorite parts!

  1. Create a template in InDesign, Illustrator or Canva, that your branding boards will be built on. If you want some ideas go to Pinterest and search the "branding boards" or "inspiration boards" title, to get an idea of how you want your template to look.

  2. Make a secret board with the client's business name and start pinning.

  3. Search the theme of your client's business. Find colors, textures and fonts that fit the adjectives of the brand. Pin away!

  4. Craft a branding board on your template with the images you adore!

  5. Write down photo credits for each image used on your boards in your project planner. Be sure to include these when posting the boards on your website, if available.

  6. Put the final board that you have designed, on an unlinked page on your Squarespace website designated for each client. You can probably have client pages in Wordpress too. You probably do this in Dubsado. Find the solution that works best for you and the platform that you are on.

  7. Email the client with the link to where your branding board is waiting for its big reveal.

  8. Schedule a time to go over the boards via Skype, phone or google hangouts.

  9. Make any changes to color, fonts and vibe.

  10. Make sure to be clear in your contract, about how many revisions can be made to the brand board.

Now you are ready to design!

If you have a new client that you are on-boarding now or you just want to be ready to impress yourself and your next client, I created a professional on-boarding kit for freelance brand designers. Click the image below to clear away the mystery of all of the administrative details with your own branding contract, welcome page templates, branding client questionnaire for print and web. I recently hired my amazing lawyer, Ticora Davis, to craft an iron clad branding contract that you can customize to fit your business. For way less than what you would pay for another professionally prepared contract for creatives online, you will receive all that you need to start a project without any worries. This also pairs perfectly with Dubsado.


You could literally be up and running with a solid freelance graphic design business in a week's time. I mean, I remember going way too long without a solid design process, impressive on-boarding process ( I didn't even know what that was!) and contracts that made me the boss from the start. If things are not feeling right with your business, your design process may be what needs tweaking. Just follow the steps above and you will be well on your way!


Have you ever used brand boards on Pinterest for clients before? How have you streamlined your branding process? Let us know in the comments below. I always love hearing what other designers are doing and what has worked for them.





Jean Coelho