The Creative Process

Written & Illustrated by Kar Rosen


This was written in mind to be as general as possible, as the creative design process can be used in any creative process, from comics, to prototypes to books and more! 

Much of the references shared are meant for traditional design, but I believe their lessons can be spread to beyond just visual art or product design– it can be used for just about any project that involves creating.

Creating is hard

Just like anything else, it’s something that requires effort and there’s a process to that effort. But understanding that process will definitely help you be a more mindful and efficient creator in the future. It’s a skill any creative could use and if you use it often and enough, it will improve upon. 

The beauty of this guide is, you can be freshly new to a hardened veteran and get something from it.

As you can see, it’s a bit of a cycle.

You have the first part of the part of the cycle, where you develop the idea and prototype.

Then there’s the Reiteration Loop, where the bulk of your process actually is. This involves researching, improving, getting more feedback, and building and rebuilding upon newer information.

Finally, you have your last stage of refining, final feedback, and deploying your project.

And then you have the option to improve upon it after or to start again.

So let’s break it down, and explain each step in the process a little further:

Everything needs to start somewhere! 

This is where it starts.

Ideation simply means thinking out, plotting, or brainstorming. Getting your ideas out of your head and onto paper! 

At this moment, it’s quantity over quality; there’s no such thing as a bad idea! Just get them all out and sort them out later.

This is where  you make moodboards, notes, storyboards, or thumbnail sketches if you’re visually inclined, wireframes, workflow charts are good for apps, pseudo-code for programs, et cetera. 

This is the point where you make something: you can help get your ideas across for your initial feedback. 

If you have trouble with too many ideas? Try to pare it down to 5-6 ideas after looking through everything. Don’t be afraid to get rid of some ideas at this stage; or at the very least keep them on the backburner.  Keep the others on the side–  they may not come in to play now, but they could be used later.

This is also the best time to start your preliminary research. Research is important in all aspects. Whether or not this is reference images, looking for similar media, or collecting questions or ideas. It varies depending on your project, but do your research! 

Remember to keep everything for documentation!

On the topic of starting off, you should also have a rough idea where you’ll end. More or less. It is okay if you don’t entirely know with certainty; you may change your ideas as more information comes to you.

But deadlines are important.  Not all projects have deadlines, but most do. 

Even if you don’t have a definite start and end date, you will hit milestones in a project, and you will be juggling this with other elements of your life.

Time management is not only important in creative work, but life in general. Everyone has their own system or methods of time management. As you go on you will learn what works for you and develop your own strategies.

You have your ideas, you’ve done some research, looked for inspiration…

So now here’s where you start putting it together.

 This is your first iteration (or version) of your work, which is in turn a concise organization of your focused ideas! 

This is your pitch, your basic ideas to lay out for feedback. This is your sketches for your visual art, rough storyboards for your comic or animation, for writing this is your story summary or outline, for apps and sites your paper wireframes, in coding it could be a wireframe or pseudo code. Anything to get the idea across.

 You might have heard the term Proof of Concept— this is the stage where you develop that.

Let me be clear on this: your prototype is going to be really wonky and unrefined at this stage

Nothing is ever entirely perfect on the first try. You’re going to forget features, functions, details, ideas, and then some. It’s totally normal and this has happened to everyone and anyone who has made something. Your work is going to go through many changes during the course of the project, and you will have the opportunity to add and experiment those at a later point!

This is probably one of the hardest parts in the process. 

No one likes to give feedback, or feels awkward giving it. 

However, critiques and feedback are very important to the design process. This helps us get out of our own heads for a few moments and see perspectives we may not have thought of.

Many of the products and media that exist weren’t just the work of one person; they were a team effort built on feedback and reiteration (but more on that later).

Even if this is a personal project, it doesn’t hurt to get feedback either! Maybe with a few trusted friends, a teacher, mentor, anyone you might think would be great at helping you improve. (Even if it is personal, it’s nice to have fresh eyes.)

3-5 people is a good number to consider. Otherwise, you might have too many ideas trying to dominate your project and hindering instead of helping your creative process.

Regardless of the kind of project, it’s smart to take notes– especially when the feedback is good. Or if the discussion leads to you coming up with an idea to explore next. 

And don’t think you need to take all feedback. You can respectfully disagree with some things. However, it is worth it to note that critique down and possibly test it going down the line. You may change your mind on it later.

As for giving feedback, everyone has their own ways, and you’ll find your own. It’s just like any other skill; you’ll need to give feedback to get better at it. 

For me, I like to share one thing I like about it, and ask something about the process. Then politely suggest in the next iteration to think about experimenting with…whatever you wanted to critique. 

You can also add if it reminds you of some other artist/thing, and if you can provide a link, share it. It might work as good inspiration.

Furthermore, if you know where the person is struggling and may know some good tutorials, this is also a good time to share them as well.

Great! You now got your feedback. 

Time to take all the information and improve upon your idea.

You might want to make different versions incorporating many new ideas, but try not to fall into the dreaded design creep— 

Design creep is when a project is started on a small and reasonable scale, but over time just one more innocuous detail or idea is added until  the project becomes difficult to finish reasonably, or in time– or where you make too many options and overwhelm yourself and your team.

 Keep to the rule: 2-6 versions should work, but keep notes on others to experiment on in the future.

 This is the first rough draft in some cases, the preliminary sketch– not polished but you start seeing your project forming up into something more than just an idea.

This is a little weird because while we have our prototype stage, design-wise this would be where your Prototype would be made– a roughly functional version (iteration) of your project.

Now we reach what I call the Reiteration Loop:

I like to call it this because while the creative process is on a whole another cycle, this is the part where you will go around many times as you improve your work. Just like going about a roundabout but in the feedback terms.

This part can repeat several times over the course of a project and because of this can be considered the bulk of the process.

This is the stage where you take all that feedback and go back to doing research, playing around, experimenting, and improving. 

This is the best time to test out things based on feedback you liked, and even those you didn’t.

 I hate to break it to you; sometimes people you think are wrong, may have a point. No one likes being wrong, but acknowledging this leads to learning and improvement.

On a similar note, this  is also the best place to fail.  Failure isn’t scary, it’s part of the process.

 You will learn to embrace it over time and the sting will lessen. Mess up, be wrong! Learn from that and make it better! Fail Hard, Fail Fast, Try Again!

In the words of Ms. Frizzle: Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!

Part of making mistakes and getting messy are the ideas you are really enthusiastic about, but may be the weakest or work the least compared to others.

 If you’re a writer, you might have heard the term Kill your darlings, meaning you may have to remove something you liked and worked hard on in order to improve your story.  

To make it more creative-neutral, this is where you can test out whether or not this idea is viable, whether it be a plot point, or a function, or a particular layout. 

Sometimes the things we love hurt the project, and it is a bummer to cut it out. It may just mean it’s not working in this particular project. You can always save it for another project.

Your creative projects also shouldn’t need to be a slog. There should be something enjoyable in your work. Play is definitely a key word here. Playing around with ideas is valid experimentation.

Just as Adam Savage says:

(While most projects here aren’t scientific, the sentiment remains. Document everything.)

So while it is important to keep in mind to have fun, it is equally important to document your goof offs, and be mindful to design creep and deadlines as well.

On to the next stage of the loop!

So you took your chances, made some mistakes, got a little (or a lot) messy, killed a few darlings, and documented the process…

so now what?

Using your information you got from experimenting and playing around, you develop your next version of your idea. 

Whether this be the next version of your project, your next draft, a slightly more interactive demo, or rough cut of a film, this is where it gets a little bit better, and a little more functional.

Once you have your next reiteration ready, it’s time to revise…

with more feedback.

Now we reach the final stage of the loop.

It’s not too much different than the initial feedback, save that these people are experiencing a slightly more improved and sophisticated version than the previous one.They are building upon everything shared each time you wind up in this stage of the loop. 

This is especially important for those developing products people will be using– User Experience is very important.  Surveys, user tests, and user interviews are also valuable as well.

Then you take the newly revised information garnered from this point…

…and go back to the Experimentation phase again.

As said before– you’re going to go through this loop several times on your creative journey. This is the way of creating things.

Once you’ve been through the loop enough times, you should have enough information, feedback, and reiterations to start refining your project towards its final form. 

This is where you polish up, start addressing bugs, and fine tuning everything. You still have time to jot down a few more ideas for feedback. But otherwise, you’re basically on track to finishing your project!

This is also the best time to start gathering everything up to this point that you plan to use for documentation. This could be for a class project, or for your own portfolio. 

Having the stages there to see shows how much work was put into this project and is great for you and others to have a reference should you need to repeat this for a similar project– or improve upon it at a later time.

Depending on your project it may be called something else; Final Cut, Beta Test, Minimum Viable Product, et cetera. 

However, don’t worry if it’s not 100% perfection. 

Despite the Final in the title, it’s really not quite the final iteration. This is the best time to get your documentation on point. Videos of things working, polished product photos, and more.

Coders,  I’m going to call you out at this moment…because it’s really important. Make sure your code is annotated– there’s no such thing as too many notes

You may not be the only person working on this in the future, or in the future you may forget everything.

Author’s anecdote: I can personally attest to having many coding projects I thought I’d remember and didn’t annotate.  After revisiting them 4+ years later, I was completely lost.  So it’s a good idea to make  any notes clear and as easy to understand as possible.

More feedback, you’re wondering? Yes! I said this was a very important part of the process. 

But luckily this is the final feedback– unless your project is something you plan to improve on. Then you’re going to be doing this even more. 

This is a great way to show your progress and to get those last minute kinks out. 

Remember when I said get your documentation on point? This is why. You might end up with hiccups, the dreaded It worked yesterday! problem. 

We all know live demonstrations are better, but a video works just as well.

Don’t panic, you got this. Take note of what folks say. If your project’s having any issues, you can fix it up before you’re ready to deploy and build upon what info you got previously. 

Take it all in stride; this isn’t the first project that had a hiccup, and won’t be the last

After fixing up your last hiccups, or tweaking your project based on final feedback, you’re ready to launch! 

Post that art, publish that writing, push that Crowdfunding, make your app live! 

Again, nothing is perfect. I will keep on saying that until you get sick of it.

 But it’s the truth. 

You’re going to find typos, or tiny flaws in your art, or you’ll still find new bugs in your code, or a whole list of things you could have improved but forgot/didn’t notice…

…And that’s where the next step comes in. 

Hey, some projects aren’t over once it’s out there! 

You may go back to the loop to improve and revise and make it better, particularly with products and apps, and games. 

You’re going to be improving it as many times as you wish to support it. 

But once you’re done and satisfied…

New day, new projects, same process

You’ve experienced it before…and you’re going to experience it again. 

And again. And again. And again.

It’s a cycle, that’s how cycles work! 

But now you’re more cognizant of it, and can make for a better timeline in your next project. 

And the next. And so forth, and so on, ad nauseum. 

If you’re any type of creative, you’re stuck here. 


(But never fear– you’re in some very good company!)

Other References:

The Creative Process PDF


  • The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition
    Don Norman
    ISBN-10: 9780465050659  |  ISBN-13: 978-0465050659
  • A Book About Design: Complicated Doesn’t Make It Good
    Mark Goneya
    ISBN-10: 0805075755  |  ISBN-13: 978-0805075755
  • Another Book About Design: Complicated Doesn’t Make It Bad
    Mark Goneya
    ISBN-10: 0805075763  |  ISBN-13: 978-0805075762
  • Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability
    Steve Krug
    ISBN-10 : 9780321965516  |  ISBN-13 : 978-0321965516
  • Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
    Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
    ISBN-10: 0061339202  |  ISBN-13: 978-0061339202
  • Just Enough Research
    Erika Hall
    ISBN-10 : 1937557103  |  ISBN-13 : 978-1937557102
  • 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People
    Susan Weinschenk
    ISBN-13: 978-0321767530  |  ISBN-10: 0321767535
  • Drawing Ideas: A Hand-Drawn Approach for Better Design
    Mark Baskinger & William Bardel
    ISBN-10: 0385344627  |  ISBN-13: 978-0385344623
  • Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
    Scott McCloud
    ISBN-10: 006097625X  |  ISBN-13: 978-0060976255
  • Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills
    David Sherwin
    ISBN-10: 1600617972  |  ISBN-13: 978-1600617973
  • Success through Failure: The Paradox of Design
    Henry Petroski
    ISBN-10: 0691180997  |  ISBN-13: 978-0691180991
  • Creative Confidence
    David Kelley and Tom Kelly
    ISBN-10: 0008139385  |  ISBN-13: 978-0008139384
  • Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
    Ed Catmull
    ISBN-10: 0812993012  |  ISBN-13: 978-0812993011
  • Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality
    Scott Belsky
    ISBN-10: 1591844118  |  ISBN-13: 978-1591844112
  • The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
    Twyla Tharp
    ISBN-10: 9780743235273  |  ISBN-13: 978-0743235273
  • The Power of Creativity: A Series for Writers, Artists, Musicians and Anyone In Search of Great Ideas (Book 1)
    Bryan Collins
    ISBN-13: 978-1520879888  |  ISBN-10: 1520879881
  • The Power of Creativity: An Uncommon Guide to Mastering Your Inner Genius and Finding New Ideas That Matter (Book 2)
    Bryan Collins
    ISBN-10: 1521170134  |  ISBN-13: 978-1521170137
  • The Power of Creativity: How to Conquer Procrastination, Finish Your Work and Find Success (Book 3)
    Bryan Collins
    ISBN-13: 978-1521298053  |  ISBN-10: 152129805X
  • The Dance of The Possible: A mostly honest and completely irreverent guide to creativity
    Scott Berkun
    ISBN-10: 0983873143  |  ISBN-13: 978-0983873143
  • Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
    Austin Kleon
    ISBN-10: 9780761169253   |  ISBN-13: 978-0761169253
  • Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad
    Austin Kleon
    ISBN-10: 1523506644  |  ISBN-13: 978-1523506644
  • Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!): How To Unleash Your Creative Potential by America’s Master Communicator
    George Lois
    ASIN : B00CF5WLIM  |  ISBN-13: 9780714863481

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