8 ways to streamline your design process

Streamline Design Process Infographic

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8 Ways to Streamline your Design Process

When you’re living the life of a freelancer designer, your time is money – there’s no way around that. Regardless of whether you bill your clients by the project or bill them by the hour, the faster jobs are completed the quicker you get paid and can move on to the next piece of work.

When it comes to earning more as a designer, you have two main choices: either increase your prices or increase the number of jobs you complete.

In this article (and the infographic above) I’m sharing 8 tips that can help you complete client work quicker so you can get paid faster. Whilst some of these tips may seem rather trivial, keep in mind even small changes can add up to big improvements over the long run.

If you’re new to freelancing or just getting to grips with graphic design, these tips will likely save you countless hours of finding them out the hard way.

If you find this post useful and take something away after reading, please leave a comment at the bottom and let us know what you have learned.

Now, on with the tips..

  1. Master keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are the backbone of a designer’s productivity. If you haven’t yet learned any of Photoshop’s keyboard shortcuts, you’re throwing away countless hours of your time every single month.

When I first started using Photoshop I admit the number of shortcuts available was intimidating. Even today, after more than a decade of using Photoshop, I still don’t know every keyboard shortcut available to use.

But that doesn’t matter because the keyboard shortcuts I do know already save countless hours of my time. They have become so embedded in my workflow that I can’t imagine ever using Photoshop without them. And with every new shortcut I learn, the more time I save.

If you still haven’t learned how to use Photoshop’s keyboard shortcuts I would recommend starting out with one new shortcut per week. Check out this article for a list of the most popular shortcuts to get you started.

If you need a little more help (or inspiration), consider picking up a Photoshop keyboard or some stickers for your existing keys.

  1. Keep projects organized

In my day to day life I am one of the most disorganized people you will ever meet. But when it comes to the client projects on my computer, I’m more organized than an obsessive compulsive librarian.

Keeping your client files and projects clearly organized is essential if you want to save time. Being organized means you’ll never lose any of their assets and need to spend 5 minutes looking for them.

When your clients call and ask for an amendment or for a copy of a previous design, you should know exactly where the files are.

I’d recommend organizing all your client work by the individual clients.

Create a folder for each client and create a new folder within this for each new project. Inside each individual project file create an “assets” folder to store your client’s logos and other files which are important to the project.

Trust me, one day being organized will really save your ass! I regularly have clients from 3-4 years ago emailing me to ask if I still have their files for editing.

Bonus tip: keep your files properly named and if possible, tagged. This will help you find projects and files even quicker using your computer’s built-in search function.

  1. Utilize productivity tools

By their very nature, productivity tools are designed to help you be more productive. But oftentimes when I speak to other designers, I’m surprised to find out they don’t use basic services like DropBox or Basecamp.

This is especially common with designers who’re new to freelancing.

Being reluctant to sign up to premium services when the ROI is not immediately obvious is normal. But once you do sign up, you’ll kick yourself for not doing so sooner.

Next time you need to use a service such as DropBox, but you decide to find a free option to use instead, consider paying the fee and giving it a try. Most services offer a free 30 day trial anyway, so if it’s not for you, there’s nothing lost.

I held off joining DropBox for years, opting to use WeTransfer instead, but once I converted DropBox became the best $30 I spent each month. The same goes for tools like BaseCamp, Zapier and Slack.

Remember, with premium tools and products, the quality, support and benefits are often much better than their free alternatives.

  1. Get a clear brief from your client

The more your client tells you, the more you have to work with. Getting a clear and informative brief from your client first time round can save you many hours later down the line.

If the client gives you free reign over the project or very little information, you’re essentially shooting in the dark and may have to start over from scratch.

Get your clients to send you examples of what they want and the style of design they like. This will give you a head start on their project and also help ensure they’ll be happy with the results.

  1. Create actions for common processes

The actions panel is, in my view, one of Photoshop’s most powerful features when it comes to saving time.

Actions are essentially recordings of what you do in Photoshop which can be re-played whenever you like. Pretty much all simple tasks in Photoshop can be automated.

Think about the things you do every day – saving JPEGs, converting from CMYK to RGB, creating a new canvas, adding guides and bleeds, etc.

These are all things that take up minutes of your time every day, but can be automated with just the click of the mouse.

If you don’t know how to create your own actions, see this tutorial.

My favourite & most common homemade Photoshop actions help me to:

⁃ Save CMYK PSD files as JPEGs

⁃ Convert and re-save CMYK JPEGs to RGB for the web

⁃ Create 4×6 / A4 / A5 canvases with guides and bleeds added

⁃ Resize images to a standard width for my websites

Creating actions at first can be a little confusing and take some practice. But once you crack it, you’ll be creating actions for everything!

  1. Make smart objects work for you

Smart objects are just like regular layers in that they can be manipulated, transformed and even have filters applied to them. However, where regular layers would be destroyed once a filter or transformation is applied, Smart Objects remain editable (and reversible).

This means that once you’ve blurred, distorted or sharpened a smart object layer, you can still swap out the source file at a later date.

For example: Have you ever looked at all the flyers here on FlyerHeroes and wondered how every template mockup is exactly the same? With one clear flyer at the front and two blurred flyers at the back?

Well that’s thanks to the power of Smart Objects. Instead of creating the mockup from scratch every time, we simply paste in the new flyer JPEG to the smart object layer and the mockup is created for us.

With over 1,000 templates now available, can you imagine how much time this has saved?

Smart objects aren’t just useful for mockups, they have many practical applications that can save you time and help you become more productive.

Check out this article for more information.

  1. Practice non-destructive design

Many designers consider non-destructive design a key difference between amateurs and professionals, so make sure you pick up on this one…

There’s nothing worse than a client asking for a change to a project, only to find out you’ve overwritten the previous version and destroyed the layer data that you need.

This means you need to either start all over again or spend hours trying to repair work you’d already designed.

With non-destructive design principles, you ensure earlier versions of your work are never destroyed and can always be recovered.

Non-destructive design is a method of designing that always keeps your layers editable. Instead of destroying pixel data and using raster layers, instead you should opt to use alternative editable layers.

For example, instead of filling a layer using the bucket tool and create raster data, use an editable colour fill layer which can always be altered at a later date.

Another example would be cutting out images. Instead of cutting out an image and deleting the pixels you don’t need, simply use a layer mask to hide them so they can always be recovered if needed.

For more information on non-destructive design, see this article. Check out Photoshop Etiquette for more tips on non-destructive design and keeping your files organised.

  1. Use templates

If you want to streamline your design process, save time and earn more money: there’s no better way than using templates.

Freelancers who don’t use templates need to start their designs from scratch, every time. This can needlessly waste hours of time and create unnecessary pressure – especially with a demanding client breathing down your neck.

On the other hand, designers who use templates can get to work immediately, overcome creative block and visualise the finished product before they’ve even started.

Even if you like to create custom work, templates can still provide a great starting point. Good templates, like ours here on FlyerHeroes, feature fully editable layers. You can keep and remove as many elements as you like until you have the framework you want to start your own design.

Check out our library of designs here and see just how much they can help streamline your workflow.

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