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A Designer's Guide to Planning, Goal Setting, and Doing Things We've Never Done

You’re tackling something you’ve never done before, and you’re terrified … Welcome to the club! It is a thrilling, awkward, fumbling mess, and we are so excited you’ve joined us! You’re probably wondering where to start, so we’ve come up a basic summary of how this will probably go down:

Step 1: Panic, probably.

Step 2: Get really clear about what you are after

Step 3: Design and edit

Step 4: Develop and finalize

Step 5: Execute

Step 6: Hold your breath and gain honest feedback

In the design world, the above steps have slightly different terms and specific tasks associated with them. Here at Uncommon, we want to give you a glimpse into how structuring our creativity into a process serves us and, ultimately, our clients. Using both Katie and Sal’s experience in the design and event industries, we’re giving you the nuts and bolts of the design process and showing you how you can apply this to just about anything!

Before we get started, let’s make sure you have a few tools ready in your back pocket. After all, you are doing something for the very first time. And it is going to be a total piece of cake, you are going to nail it on the first try, and if it doesn’t work out, you are an utter and complete failure … see how ridiculous it sounds when someone else says it?! Okay, so when you hear the small voice in your head say it - which she unfortunately will! - we have a few things you can have ready for your rebuttal. Right now:

Take five minutes to write down things you have already accomplished across different areas in your life. This simple list will be a great go-to when self doubt inevitably creeps in.

Have some fun putting together an emergency encouragement plan! Put together a go-to playlist that lifts your mood, have a friend you can call for a pep talk, and think of a quick activity you can do to give yourself a small win and keep your momentum going. Know all the words to your favorite rap song? Let’s hear it! Love organizing? Alphabetize your spice rack or tidy up your nightstand drawer … we’re talking super quick, simple things that help give you a sense of accomplishment and a boost of confidence.

Streamline other tasks so that you can put them on autopilot and dedicate more brain power to this new endeavor. Basically, do what you can today for who you want to be tomorrow. Prep a few easy meals to have on hand, put timers on your social media accounts to limit the mindless scroll, or take a note from Steve Jobs and keep your outfits super simple and interchangeable.

Now! Designers ...

Design Process

Concept: In design, this is where it all begins. Before we make any decisions whatsoever, we create a solid concept. We take everything we know about the initial vision and then we transform it all into a clearly communicated presentation we regularly come back to throughout the life of the project. While we may be talking about big picture ideas, we need to be aware of our most important parameters! For instance, understanding the volume of a given space, as well as what budget is on the table, will influence how we set the project direction in this early stage.

The objective of this phase: Mostly, the conceptual phase is a process of gaining clarity and defining what the project will look and feel like. In design and event planning, we present the concept to the client for buy-in before we move into the next phases.

The tools we use: This will require a LOT of initial research, brainstorming, and collaboration to ensure that all of the involved parties are on the same page. The concept needs to be defined clearly and supported by images, descriptions, and sometimes physical materials that truly support that larger objective of the project.

How you can apply the concept phase to other things:

- Let’s say you’re beginning the home-buying process. This is the perfect time to define what features are most important to you, to research your ideal neighborhood, and to pull images of what you want your home to look like. This is also a great time to consider the pros and cons of hiring professionals to help you in the process.

- Let’s say, on the other hand, you are starting to make jewelry and want to eventually sell it online. The “concept phase” could be when you learn about anticipated costs, research what sales platforms are available, create initial sketches of jewelry pieces, and begin to brainstorm how you can brand your new product.

- Other notes: Use your resources! Find professionals when needed, and also find trusted sources online so you can have information at your fingertips. The point of this phase is not to get overwhelmed in all of the details; you can always earmark things to come back to later. The point is to get started!

Schematic Design: This is where our ideas really take off!

- The objective of this phase: At this point, we have the direction we need to turn concepts into applied solutions. And, we continue to gain feedback from peers and from our client along the way.

- The tools we use: In commercial interior design, this is when we begin construction documents. At the end of this phase, we have a schematic set of drawings graphically showing things like floor patterns, ceiling layouts, and the first draft of drawings for features like custom fireplaces. To supplement this, we also begin to select schematic materials for the building. To be clear, this is an earlier part of the process, but all of our effort needs to be on designing specific solutions within a specific space.

- How you can apply the schematic phase to other things:

- Imagine you are starting a new education program. This phase is when you might select the professors you want to have, purchase your supplies, and get a handle on both your class schedule and your study schedule.

- What if you are instead making a big move to a new city? This is where you have already honed in on your neighborhood, and you are considering the many things you will need when you arrive. When Sal and her husband moved from Milwaukee to Seattle, she created a Google Doc of coffee shops, salons, mechanics, grocery stores, and anything else she could think of. Honestly, this approach may not be for everyone - it stressed her husband out a bit! - but it put Sal at ease knowing that, with so many unknowns, there were at least some things she could get ahead of.

- Suppose you are planning a wedding. The schematic phase is when you would be putting your element boards together and honing in on the vendors who can help you achieve the day you want. If you want more insight into this process, check out our Wedding Planning 101 Blog Post

- Other notes: This is likely where you’ll begin to see for yourself how viable your initial concepts are. If - and when! - you realize that something is not working out as intended, do not panic! This is bound to happen at some point, and it is a good thing that it is happening now, rather than later.

Design Development: This is when things really take shape and when you dig into the fine details of the project.

- In event planning, this is when we make final product purchases, we finalize schedules with our vendors and on-site teams, we create notes and detailed plans for where and how everything is assembled on the day, and we gather all of the supplies we need to create our installations on site.

- The objective of this phase: This is the (just about) complete picture of how our design will actually take shape in the real world. This gets presented to the client for finalization, and then it is time to execute!

- The tools we use: To keep ourselves organized, we use Google Docs and Spreadsheets to track any and all information we need. To create plans for event installations, we sometimes utilize Google Sketchup, which is free software that you can use to build and model just about anything digitally. For our Uncommon wedding clients, we use our in-house Wedding Guide document, which helps us capture all of the information we need. At this point, that information is all filled in clearly and ready to go!

- How you can apply the design development phase to other things:

- What if you are starting a business?! This is when you would be finalizing your business plan, creating terms for suppliers and other partners, and purchasing the equipment and supplies you need to get started. In addition to these logistical tasks, you are continuing to research your new industry and reach out to your mentors for guidance.

- Let’s say you are having a baby. This would be when your nursery is set, you have organized the gifts you received from your registry, and your hospital bag is packed. This is also the time to keep things in order at work, because it could be go-time at any moment. You are essentially as prepared as you could be before the big event of welcoming the baby into the world!

- Other notes: Your details are really coming together here, and now is the time to make any last-minute adjustments. Your vendors and other sources are finalizing decisions, so be sure to check in with them often throughout this phase. Always make sure that you have buy-in from any fellow team members on the elements that are most important to the overall vision.

Execution / Install: AKA, do the darn thang!

Yup! This is when the rubber meets the road. You are putting your ideas into real action now. Take a deep breath, remain flexible, and get excited for this to come to life!

More Documentation, More Feedback: This part will vary depending on what field you may be working in, but essentially, this is what happens in the moments following your executed plan. We are keeping the enthusiasm alive, getting our ducks in a row, and learning in real time.

- The objective of this phase: Honesty, regrouping, and the chance to improve! We reflect again and again in order to continually improve our performance for future projects.

- The tools we use: We gather honest feedback from our client (either verbally or written), we validate our mileage and organize our receipts, we review any project photography, and we record lessons of our own that we can refer back to.

- How you can apply this phase to other things:

- This one is pretty self-explanatory. No matter what your new endeavor is, find a group of people you trust who will provide you with honest feedback. It is so valuable to see things from another person’s perspective, especially when you are trying something for the first time!

- Other notes: This is where the magic happens! Our professional development is really at its peak in this phase. Plus, our Uncommon client relationships are solidified in this final phase of the process, so don’t overlook how important it is!

In the end, your ideas are yours to bring to life. Our hope is that these insights give you a way to build a framework and give you the confidence you need to really get after it. As Chris Pratt says,

“Apply constant pressure for as long as it takes. It will break before you do. Go get it.”

Design on!

The Uncommon Team

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