Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Problem Solving Project Methodology

Although most illustrators use their own very personalized method for handling assignments, other commercial visual professions, such as graphic design, industrial design, and interior design follow a more structured method of project development and completion. Being aware of a form of structured project methodology can provide an additional understanding of what goes into solving a problem, A methodology can greatly benefit illustrators, for what is required for illustration problem solving is very similar in structure to that which is required by other visual communication disciplines.

Before going any further, a few terms that are used to describe this process should be defined to better understand project methodology as it pertains to illustration.

Methodology - meth·od·ol·o·gy, a system of methods used in a particular area of study or activity.

Ideation - i·de·a·tion, the formation of ideas or concepts.

Brainstorm - brānˌstôrm, a way to produce an idea or solve a problem through a sudden spontaneous inspiration.

Rhetoric - rhet·o·ric, the art of speaking or writing effectively.

Structured Project Methodology

There are many variations of project methodologies that cover an array of different types of projects from visual image development, to conceptual content development, to project management, and so on. The structured project methodology presented here has been tailored to illustrators and is a comprehensive progression of activities that reflect all aspects that go into completing a typical illustration assignment.

© 2013 Don Arday.

Problem Identity

Problem Statement
Presented by a client, account executive or an art director, a problem statement is usually a collection of facts and information that describe the task you have been commissioned to complete. The statement will include a problem to solve and possibly a desired outcome. This original problem statement will probably be communicated in terms that are familiar to an assignor or a client. Most likely using terms that are non-artistic. Additionally, the problem statement may be received either directly from a client or indirectly from some other individual subcontracted by, or representing a client.

Problem Restatement
After receiving a problem or assignment from a client it will be necessary to reinterpret the problem. A problem restatement is a translation of the original problem into terms or standards an illustrator is familiar with, i.e., terms that apply to the creative idea development, and illustration visualization and production processes that are used to develop a solution. This is the stage in which to grasp an understanding of the assignment. It is also the time to obtain further information from the client if necessary.


Brainstorming is the basis that provides the raw materials to construct an idea. Most importantly, brainstorming should be a non-judgmental recording of any and all ideas, thoughts, associations, experiences, impressions, etc., about the problem subject in generalities. The materials generated by this activity will become the building blocks of further ideas. The record of this activity may take the form of verbal notes and/or visual sketches. For brainstorming to work best the thoughts must be put on paper. Also, during this stage of creative gathering, no thoughts should be discarded.

Focused Brainstorming
From a brainstorming session, the next stage in creative gathering is focused brainstorming. Still non-judgmental, this is the stage to search for any ideas that are independent of the first brainstorming session. The main difference is that in this session thoughts and ideas are developed that relate more specifically to the original problem statement than to just the problem subject. Focused brainstorming is used to improve and broaden an original set of ideas.


Subject Research
Researching a subject performs the valuable role of eliminating stereotypical ideas concerning a subject such as previously publicized phrases or visuals, or even misconceived notions. Research is necessary to become familiar with the subject of a problem especially if it is something that requires a specialized set of knowledge. Research or information about a subject can be personally sought out or a client can supply it. At all times during a process involving research, the purpose is to learn more about a problem or subject, to add to a cache of ideas.

Media Research
Less self-explanatory than subject research, media research relates to the functional requirements of the assignment. This includes production processes and materials as they relate to a specific purpose of a project. Medium research impacts how an illustration needs to visually be prepared or appear, rather than what the concept of the image will be. Budget becomes an extremely important consideration here. Media research provides information about any visual limitations or opportunities that may also factor into the conceptual development of an assignment.


The review stage is when assignment solutions are assessed for their aesthetic or conceptual value and evaluated for presentation to a client. The purpose of a review is to confirm the appropriateness of a idea and to classify it for presentation purposes. It is desirable to place classifications on the ideas such as practical, attractive, unique or this one the client suggested. Ideas that are personally appealing to the illustrator, or may have a future added value to the client should also be included.

Criteria Review
Criteria review is when ideas are re-evaluated and related to the requirements of the problem statement. This stage provides an opportunity to search for unique qualities that may be inherent in an idea. Or ideas that may lend themselves to added benefits such as an illustration that is versatile, easily produced, more marketable, or one that can sponsor further conceptual opportunities.


Idea Building
Idea building combines selective pieces of the recorded material that was generated from the brainstorming and research stages to form a more complete set of conceptual interpretations to develop as possible solutions to the assignment. Idea building is the stage where concepts are prepared for review and presentation. To implement idea building, sketches are produced that illustrate the concept for presentation to a client. All formal illustration and design and considerations are finalized at this stage; composition, visual subject choices, typography (if needed), etc. Tone and color can be indicated if they will help a client understand the sketch and concept easily.

Rhetoric supports the results of concept development and sketches produced in the idea building stage. Based on conclusions drawn during the review stage, it is used to explain and justify the artistic choices and conceptual intent of the sketch proposals. However, it can also influence and inform the idea building process. Rhetoric being a verbal form of communication is an effective way to connect with non-visual clients. It is used to answer any questions or concerns that may arise from the appearance of a sketch. It is not enough to be able to intuitively produce a pleasing idea, it must also be sold, and it in turn, if presented to a middle manager, the idea may have to be presented by a middle manager to a superior, a constituent, or a client, and so on. Also, this may happen without the illustrator being present.   


The completion stage is where approved ideas are prepared for delivery to a client and or a production house, i.e., the execution of the final illustration. It is also where any changes and/or revisions to the final illustration are added as a result of the final review.

Final Review
An extremely important stage prior to the release of an illustration, the final review is essentially a quality control assessment and inspection of the finished illustration. It is the time to look it over the work very carefully to make sure it will satisfy the expectations of the client. Anything bothersome can be corrected before the illustration is delivered. It’s the last chance.

© 2013 Don Arday.

Intuitive Project Methodology

Still retaining some semblance to a fully structured methodology, the intuitive project methodology corresponds to the more natural intuitive approach to problem solving that many illustrators use to complete assignments. At first glance, intuitive problem solving appears to be a streamlined, more efficient version of structured methodology, retaining at least one aspect of the problem identity, ideation, research, evaluation, development, and production stages. However, because there is far less cross-referencing of the six methodological stages, the result may suffer from lost creative opportunities, and a much more rudimentary solution to an illustration problem. Rhetoric, which a vital part in the problem solving process, is used only for purposes of justifying the completed work. Used in this way, rhetoric no longer influences and informs the idea building process.

© 2013 Don Arday.

Unstructured Project Methodology

Although seemingly not a methodology at all, an unstructured approach to problem solving is none-the-less still a form of methodology. The unstructured project methodology occurs when a problem is dealt with by thinking only of the task at hand. Ideating a concept without considering what will happen next or what has occurred prior, or researching a subject after the idea has been built. There is little or no cross-referencing of stages and far less discovery and development of creative building blocks. In fact brainstorming may not even be used in unstructured problem solving. It is essentially coming up with an idea and proceeding straight through to completion. This hit or miss approach to solving a problem does exactly that, hits or misses.

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