A visual communicator aspiring to create playful and dynamic design solutions.

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If the design problem starts with creating a logo, improving a product, or a need to design collateral pieces such as a brochure, being able to define the problem in the early phases of the creative process will give insights into the actual problem to determine ideas for a better solution. A client might ask for a new logotype, but the designer finds that a new name or icon will communicate better with the target audience. Or the client asks for a brochure about a new product, but the designer discovers that a promotional event, website or marketing plan will work better for the client's needs.

The list below are techniques that designers use to define and/or question the problem in the early phases of the design process to generate ideas and concepts for successful solutions.




This process helps designers to come up with initial concepts at the start of a project. It can be done with lists, sketches, and diagrams and can bring out even the strangest ideas. Brainstorming in groups without censorship will give more opportunity for unexpected ideas to surface. Setting a time limit, or quantity limit will help to create more productive results.



By starting with a central term or idea, the designer explores associated concepts or images. The designer branches out from the central idea to create a web of associations. Each branch can represent categories which are colored differently and then subdivided into smaller subcategories. 

My favorite mind mapping app to use on the go is called SimpleMind+ and it's free to download!



A designer can gather data through observations, interviews and questionnaires to explore how people interact with the design. Rather than interviewing clients or target audience by phone or email, interviewing them face-to-face will allow the designer to gather additional information such as body language and emotion and helps to connect the designer to the participants behavior and beliefs.



The focus group gives the designer an opportunity to test the effectiveness of a design with the target audience or end-user. By carefully planning the questions to ask the group with an open-mind, the designer can discover helpful information and feedback to move forward with a design. 


Visual research is used to analyze content, communicate points of view, and to generate ideas by creating mood boards. The mood board is a collection of visual data representing different areas of a particular client, product, or service. The designer looks at different aspects of a brand to analyze repetitive patterns, trends, vocabulary, color, or consistent product features. The visual research can provide ways the client or service can differentiate itself from the competition.

The brand and market orientation matrix with examples of evolutions of different brands.


The matrix diagram uses an x/y axis for two different value scales. They are used in branding, product development, packaging, signage, logo design, interior design, and more. From new brands to rebranding, designers can use the matrix diagram to look at where the brand sits in relation to similar companies or products. 

To create a brand matrix, the designer generates a list of elements in the subject area such as products, culture, events, or objects. The elements could be brands, people logos, products, personalities, etc. After creating the initial list, create another list of opposites to organize the material such as high/low, cheap/expensive, informal/formal, etc. Then plot the elements in your list on the diagram and look for meaningful patterns such as a cluster in one area of the matrix. 


Rather than promote a specific product, the brand book is used to inspire brand loyalty and understanding by communicating the brand to editors, investors, business partners, and consumers, as well as helping the company to understand itself. The designer of the brand book uses shapes, colors, textures, typography, photographs, and words to create a mood representative of the brand. It's a way to visualize the life story and personality of the company, organization, product or service. 



By observing the environment where the project is to be built or designed, gives the designer an understanding of how the design will interact with the environment. The designer needs to observe and photograph the area, considering how the design will be viewed or possibly obstructed by other environmental factors. Understanding the physical and social context of the environment will give the designer insights into how to design the best possible solution for the area. Other surrounding graphics or elements could cause confusion or cluttering of the landscape if not taken into consideration.



The creative brief is a concise statement of goals for a given project. It serves as a checkpoint throughout the project to inform the design process. The designer provides the client with a questionnaire to help them articulate the goals of the project. With a combination of research by the the designer and client, along with the initial questionnaire, the designer or team is able to define the essence of the project and start developing solutions to fit the project's goals.

Download the FREELANCER WORKBOOK to help guide you in starting your freelance career in any creative field! This printable PDF guide includes 7 pages of checklists and prompts including setting up your business, project management, brand identity, sketching, marketing, and selling.

Feel free to share examples of ways you have defined problems in the comments below!