5 ways to kickstart a new design project

We ask designers what the first thing is that they do when they’re faced with a new project.


Jamie Ellul, Creative Director, Supple Studio Ltd
Jamie Ellul, Creative Director, Supple Studio

Ask questions

“The first thing I do is always ask lots and lots of questions, particularly on a rebrand project. I want to know how an organisation works, the challenges it faces, why it’s successful, why it’s not, the back story, the now story – I want to find out the lot. And I like to do this face to face – the version of the brief on paper is always different to the version you get when a client sits down and talks you through it. That’s when your digging can strike gold – and that’s the real brief that leads to a unique solution to the design problem.”

Daniel Hirschmann, founder, Hirsch & Mann
Daniel Hirschmann, founder, Hirsch & Mann

Discuss with the team

“Have a conversation! One thing we’ve come to understand is that people have different approaches to ignite their creative processes. Some like to start with research, others with sketching. The method that works best for me is to discuss it in conversation. By vocalising it, images, ideas and brain-based animated gifs start pouring out, and become some of the sparks of our creative direction. We have a simple and fast ideation process that incorporates this and the other methods – so we can get the best out of all the imaginative brains in our studio!”

Morag Myerscough, founder, Studio Myerscough. © Luke Morgan.
Morag Myerscough, founder, Studio Myerscough. © Luke Morgan.

Let experience inspire

“My work is so varied that there is not one single way of starting. The work that has the most meaning to me is drawn from the experiences, words and images embedded deep in my brain, which suddenly come forward when I start the thought process. I have knowingly and unknowingly absorbed many things over the years, and sometimes not until a piece is complete do I realise why it has evolved in the way it has. It does not happen immediately – sometimes I continually think about a brief for a long time, until something in my thoughts comes forward. Anything can spark it off and when or if it will happen totally depends on the connection I have to the subject. Then I get working, often in a frenzy. This can start with a drawing and then take the form of a physical model, but equally it can start on the computer – there is no single way. Not having formulas – that’s what’s exciting.”

Dana Robertson, creative director, Neon Creative
Dana Robertson, creative director, Neon Creative


“No matter how long in the tooth I get, the first (and I’ve come to realise the most vital) thing I do when I start a new design project is panic. Well, it’s not panic exactly – it’s that anxious vertigo feeling you get when you’re just starting out as junior, which still keeps me honest to this day. Next, I write the shortest of briefs, take time to feed my brain, and then crack out quick fire thoughts as (really) crappy sketches – I put one idea on a page, stick ’em on a wall, and walk away. Then, after a cooling-off period, I revisit, and let instinct and experience do their thing – picking out the ideas with immediacy, heart, and relevance. And then it’s time for the really hard work – the crafting and sweating over tiny detail – to begin.”

Kevin Palmer, director, Kin
Kevin Palmer, director, Kin

Ask for money

“A lesson that we quickly learned was to secure an upfront payment on all new jobs before we start. As a small business, this helps massively with cash flow and also shows good intent from both sides. We then host a kick off workshop with the client, where we roll out a large sheet of blank paper and go through the brief, the problems, solutions and initial ideas. The client will know their field of work better than we do, and by working closely together right from the start, project direction and concepts then have a joint ownership going forward.”


What’s the first thing you do when you start a new project? Let us know in the comments section below.

Latest articles

What to look out for at Design Indaba 2019

Ann Crabtree, Alice Rawsthorn, David Droga and John Pawson are among the international speakers at this year’s Design Indaba festival, which takes place next month in South Africa.