Decoding Design: The Parts of the Process

Decoding Design: The Parts of the Process

You’re looking over a proposal for your design project. The designer has it all spelled out, but you’re not sure what it all actually means. What is the difference between a concept and a revision? What can you actually expect them to provide at the end of the project? Today I’m decoding some of the lingo involved in the design process to help make this a little clearer.


an idea for the direction that a project can go.
The designer takes in all of the info about the project, your target market and branding, any budget or production constraints, and comes up with a few concepts that meet all of the requirements, each in their own way. Depending on the type of project, you may be shown anywhere from 2 to 5 or more concepts. These are usually accompanied by a brief statement explaining how the concept addresses all of the points the project is meant to hit. It is customary to choose a single concept (direction) to pursue for the rest of the design process.


an updated concept based on requested edits.
As much as every designer would love to get a concept 100% perfect out of the gate, usually there are a few edits that need to happen. Perhaps text has changed, or a different photo is needed, or that shade of blue just isn’t quite right. When a client views a concept and provides feedback, the designer will condense that down into edits that need to (or can be) made, and present a revised concept. Professional designers will designate how many rounds of revisions are included in the project fee.

Draft / Proof

a rough or unfinished piece meant to show a concept or revision fully enough for presentation and feedback, without yet being finalized for production or handover.
This can take the form of a low-res file digitally (usually a .pdf or other easily viewable file) or an untrimmed sheet from the printing press if you are further along in the process. All concepts and revisions are usually shown in this manner, before a design is finalized.


the actual file(s) that the designer delivers at the end of the project.
What format those files will take should be spelled out and agreed to in the contract beforehand. Generally designers do not hand over their layered/editable Adobe files, but only work-ready files tailor-made for the use designed for, i.e. files that can be uploaded to the web or given to the printer immediately. For example, if a designer is creating images for social media for you, they will delivered flat, finished image files (.jpg or .png) rather than a Photoshop file. The only standard exception to this is for logo design, when the vector Illustrator file should be provided. If you need access to the Adobe file for your project or a template you can update and use on your own, that should be discussed with your designer up front, before work begins.

Did that clear up the parts of the design process for you? What else could use decoding?


Two Types of Designer-Client Relatiionships

Two Kinds of Designer-Client Relationships

“The client may be king, but he’s not the art director.”
Von Glitschka

Here’s a simple truth about design work and clients:

There is often a difference between what the client says/thinks they need, and what is actually right for their business.*

A good designer will steer the client towards the latter, with advice, design reasoning and visual examples. They will use their expertise to help the client arrive at a better design solution that helps their business. They will push back (politely, logically) against ideas that won’t serve the client well. This should be the reason a client hires a designer in the first place, for that expertise. This is also why someone with more years of experience has a higher fee, because they’ve built up that expertise over time.

A less useful relationship is when the client stubbornly refuses any expert advice, and wants the designer to follow their instructions without any alteration or input. The designer, in accepting such a project/client, is reduced to a production monkey. They’ve allowed their expertise to go entirely unused and wasted. The client will grumble about the fees, because they don’t view the designer as an expert, only as someone with Adobe who will push the mouse for them. And they would be right, if the designer allows this type of arrangement.

I strive to be the first type of designer. That’s the kind of client relationship I like. I want to provide great design work to my clients, that helps their businesses succeed – that goal is good for both parties.

As a business owner, which type of designer would you rather have in your corner?

*This is not to belittle the client. They are an expert about their business and its specific products or services. But they are not an expert in design, which is why they bring in outside help.

Natural Place Card Alternatives for Your Event

Whether you’re throwing a wedding, a holiday party or a charity gala, one of your biggest concerns is that everyone has a good time.

And while a lot of factors are under your control if you’re planning the event, one major factor isn’t: the people. Even a small dinner party of 10 people can include some personalities that just don’t mesh well. When you’re hosting an even that has 50, 100, or 500 people, the chances of social conflict go up exponentially. And if you’re in charge of the guest list, you probably already know the most likely problem areas. No on wants to hear Aunt Betsy harangue Aunt Carol about her lifestyle choices in the middle of the wedding toast, and those two CEOs involved in litigation should probably be kept separate when steak knives are at hand. Promises of good behavior can go out the window when emotions or alcohol levels are running high. A judicious exercise of social politics is called for, in the form of a carefully planned seating chart.*

Once you have the seating chart sorted, you have to let your guests know where they are supposed to sit. Enter the place card. You’ve seen them. Flat or folded bits of paper, tented next to wine glasses or laid atop plates. They may even have fancy calligraphy and laser cut outs, or clever holders. There is nothing wrong with these approaches, and in fact a simple paper place card is often the most budget-friendly option, or the easiest option for someone overwhelmed with party details.

But maybe you’re looking for something a little different than the norm. Maybe a more unique approach fits better with the cause you’re raising funds for, or the style of wedding you’re dreaming of. Maybe your event has a theme that calls for a more nature-inspired touch. I’ve rounded up 20 natural alternatives to the traditional place card that might just spark some inspiration. Take a look:

Stone & Rock Place Card Ideas

Add a little geology into the mix.


Sea-Inspired Place Card Ideas

If you can’t go to the ocean, bring the ocean to you.


Woodsy Place Card Ideas

Rustic without resorting to burlap and lace.


Wild Place Card Ideas

With a little help from the animal kingdom.


I’m a bit of a nature girl at heart, so these really speak to me (and I’m kind of mad I didn’t explore this route for my wedding! Hindsight). The great part about a lot of these ideas is that if you have time to comb your local bit of nature and decent handwriting, you can DIY them no problem. Some of these would also double nicely as a party favor with a little tweaking. And who doesn’t like a two-fer?

What do you think? Do you prefer traditional place cards or something new? Any nature-inspired ideas I missed?


*As someone who has wrangled an event with 75 people and certain Problem Combinations, I can tell you with authority that a seating chart is necessary for a smooth evening, as headachy as it might be to set up.

**I also thought of antlers and flower petals/live flowers as place cards (where the writing is actually directly ON those items), but Pinterest didn’t yield any results for those. Be the first and let me know!

Creative Wavelength: Instagram Edition

New year, new Creative Wavelength round-up! And I think we’re about due for another round of Instagram favorites, so I have a whole new batch for you to check out. These people are all doing amazing, beautiful, creative things, and documenting the process for our enjoyment. Take a look.

Full disclosure: these are not straight screenshots, I cherrypicked what ‘grams to show based on what I’m most a fan of.


arielealasko does beautiful textured woodwork kitchen items and sculpture – with hand tools!!



I love the #bestiary series by rossbruggink, where he illustrates creatures from mythology.



monkeybusinessproject gives me designer envy with this ongoing series of really clever word experiments.



eugenia_zoloto creates intricate, delicate paper cut artwork that constantly amazes me (and that I would never have the patience or dexterity for!)



georgiestclair blends flower petals with her watercolor illustrations to create light and beautiful artwork.



These incredibly detailed drawings by miss_swindler stun me every time.


⇒ And of course, you can also find me on Instagram, over at studioguerassio.

What are your favorite artsy accounts to follow on Instagram? Point me at ’em!


Color Theory: Black

Color Theory: Black


Tonal Value: Neutral
Opposite: White

“I’ve been 40 years discovering that the queen of all colors was black.”
— Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Black is the ultimate dark color.

Or really, the complete absence of color or complete absorption of light. It contains no shades in its purest form, but is required for all other colors to have depth and variation of hue. It was one of the first colors used in art, when neolithic cave painters used charcoal to adorn rock walls. It’s also one of the four primary colors in the CMYK color model (the K for Key). Black is a color that works in almost any design- it adds contrast and makes other colors stand out. Because of this high contrast, black ink on white paper has long been the standard for printing books, newspapers and other documents. For the same reason, it’s also the most common combination used on computer screens.

Black is full of opposites, too. On one hand, it is a slimming color: as clothing it will make a person appear skinnier, and as a paint color will make a room look smaller. Conversely, black also implies weight: people will think a black box weighs more than a white one. We also see this dichotomy when it comes to representation of people. As the opposite of white, it’s often used to indicate the villain in stories, and is the stereotypical color that lonely or antisocial people wear. But, on the reverse, the color black is also strongly associated with sophistication and power- tuxedos, limousines, judge’s robes, and priests’ attire are all typically black.

And that’s just scratching the surface. Here’s a more comprehensive list of black’s varied meanings:

Meanings / Associations


Elegance / Sophistication / Dignity
Discipline / Self-Control
Sexiness / Seduction
Rich Soil / Fertility
Functionality / Practicality



Mystery / Secrecy / The Unknown
Formality / Convention
Contained Emotions
Night / Space / Darkness
Power / Authority
Rebellion / Goth / Emo
Witches / Magic



Death / Mourning (Western cultures)
Evil / Fear
Intimidating / Unfriendly / Unapproachable
Depression / Negativity
Bad Moods


I’ve personally always been a fan of black just for its versatility- both in my wardrobe and in my designs. It can be paired with anything, making it the workhorse of the color wheel as far as I’m concerned. It’s useful to evaluate the strength of a design, too, particularly a logo; if it works presented only in black, it will work when color is added. Though of course sometimes no additional color is needed, such is the strength of black on its own.

If you want to see some examples of the many ways it can be paired and used, check out my neutral color board on Pinterest.

What does black make you think of?


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About Amanda


Amanda Guerassio

From freelance designer to studio owner, I've been a self-employed, independent graphic designer for over a decade. I love helping people find the right visual voice for their businesses and projects. Let's talk!