Prototyping Visual Identity

prototype_logoMost designers are comfortable prototyping physical products, complex interactions, and even experiences. The time saved in such instances make the benefits pretty obvious. But I’ve found that fewer designers think of using a similar process for visual design. I’ve been guilty of it myself. Why would I “prototype” when I can quickly iterate in any number of graphic design applications?

The answer is that none of them are made for prototyping. Even though a designer can “produce” visual assets faster than products or experiences, there’s still a value to making prototyping a part of this process. But most graphic design applications fail as prototyping tools on two fronts. They make it far too easy to get into the details and they limit the breadth of solutions. The details slow you down and the limitations keep you from going really broad. The second limitation is particularly true with respect to type selection because you can only find solutions which you’ve already loaded onto your computer.

Which is why I have a new favorite tool for prototyping visual identities. It’s the sampling tool from Fontshop. It limits my ability to futz with the details, gives me access to a wide range of solutions, and allows me to generate potential solutions so quickly that I can try some unlikely options with very little risk.

Here’s what I do.

1)    Go to Fontshop or site that allows you to enter sample text. Enter the name of your organization, client, etc.. Bump the size up to 74 or so. (This’ll help later)

2)    Scroll though different options. If you like it, take a screengrab.

3)    Paste into a Photoshop file.

4)    Once you’ve got the different versions in your Photoshop file, mask out all of the buttons. (It out will help you easily access the name of the typeface later).

5)    Present, discuss, and critique.

6)    Decide on a typeface.

7)    Buy it.

8)    Refine.

Granted, this is just the beginning, but it may get you much further, much faster than starting to work in Illustrator or Photoshop.

Below are several Slab Serif typefaces that we prototyped before selecting a few for refinement.