First Shot at a Graphic Design Process

A silver pencil on a dark background.


While scrolling Twitter at my morning coffee shop stop, I found a post from a former colleague, a high school English teacher, claiming they never edit. Anything. For them, writing is a one-and-done situation, and they can’t be bothered to draft. 

Swimming in personal biases, I bristled all along my drive to a neighborhood elementary school. There, I met with a teacher to begin planning a school write-in. Together, the students and staff would spend a day creating a celebratory environment as students practiced writing skills and showcased accomplishments. At this school, editing is taught as something we do with writing and part of the social emotional process of personal growth. People collect feedback, reflect, make changes, and repeat the process as they move through life.  We, as humans, exist as evolving drafts, and that’s a good thing. With this in mind, I wanted to create an advertisement for the event to drum up excitement for the experience.

Getting Creative

This image illustrates the step in the author's design process.
An image of the author’s project sketches.

I love sketching rough ideas so I took pen to paper to get a basic look at shapes and arrangements. I was surprised to see how often I naturally include Gestalt Principles in these initial ideas. Among my designs, I identified an inclination toward repetitive shapes. Repetition and similarity in the imagery could represent the many people participating in the event. For my images, I chose pencils because while final drafts will be typed, students will start with pencil to brainstorm and organize. Pencils also evoke themes of writing and of schools. For the background, I considered the wrinkled paper technique we learned in COM561 yet wanted to set the tone of a fresh canvas for student work. With this in mind, I selected lined notebook paper as it also fit the theme. Lastly, I wanted bright colors as this is a common color scheme in elementary schools.

To arrange my components, I decided to use the Rule of Thirds to balance the images and provide subtle layers of cross-hatching as my design contains many lines between the background, images, and text.

Technical Process

In Adobe Photoshop, I set my image to 2550×3300 pixels, close to 8.5”x11”, the common desired size for materials in schools. Next, I applied the Rule of Thirds command and used the document rulers to mark my document with gridlines to guide planning. I created a text box in the American Typewriter font with the words “Write, Edit, and Publish” and adjusted the size and justification. I duplicated that layer to match attributes and changed the text and justification for the term “Together” before grouping both layers. While the text size and fonts were the same, I used bold font and bright colors for the three action words and black for “Together” to differentiate the text.  I echoed this pattern in the text layers for “Celebrate” and “Together” but italicized and underlined “Celebrate” as well as physically distancing the group to show this text has a slightly different application.

The image of pencils described by the author in the text.
My color and black and white photos of pencils from within a lightbox.

Next, I photographed different pencils in a lightbox before selecting one. I embedded this image and used the Lasso Tool to create a cutout layer. I duplicated it into seven identical pencil layers. After renaming each I used the placement axis lines to center one and set the others 261 pixels apart outward from the center to balance the group. I used the Rough Pastels filter to soften the pencils and create contrasting texture from the strong text elements. 

For the background, I chose an image from Creative Commons that is free to share and remix if cited. That file, “Write Your Story Blank Lined Notebook Paper Creative Commons (4812267249).jpg” by Pink Sherbet Photography from USA, is licensed under CC BY 2.0 and was changed in two ways. I decreased Opacity to 60% and used Divide to separate the blend color from the base color. 

Lastly, I used Chalkduster font to add the lowest text layer as it is for information about the event and will include a date when that is chosen by the school.

Reflections on a Draft

Now, contemplating adjustments, I’m pondering:

  • What associations would students make when they see these images?
  • I used cross-hatching to create movement–do the lines make the document too busy?
  • We may use a QR code for registration. Would the code look better in the top right blank space or aligned with the last text line?
  • I considered writing “Together” after each of the action words or moving the top “Together” under “Publish” and centering that text group. How could rearranging the text affect the meaning?
  • White saves printer ink at schools, however if I made a second, digital-focused version, how would a solid-colored background affect my design?

Take a look below and let me know what you think. After all, I, too, am a work in progress.

This is the complete draft described in the post.

5 thoughts on “First Shot at a Graphic Design Process

  1. Hi Erin, great work! I love the idea of your school’s write-in and each student growing during the editing process. Here’s some quick feedback from me!

    1. Emphasizing a word using color – Color can make aspects of a design seem similar based on Gestalt theory. It can also emphasize a point. If there’s one word you want to emphasize like “Together”, you can use color to do so. For example, I think if you did “Write, Edit, Publish” and “Celebrate” as black and change both of the “Together” words to the pink you chose, it’ll highlight “Together.” If you change the other words to black, it will also create unity between those words.

    2. Pencils – I like how you used multiple pencils! It gives the impression that your students will work as a community to accomplish a goal. Since you used the same pencil for each, it also tells your audience that each person is equal in this space. How would you feel about decreasing the space a little? I think it’ll emphasize that point of teamwork.

    3. Margin on left – I like the notebook paper as a background. I think it would be beneficial to move your components past the red margin line or make your notebook paper background bigger (so the line is closer to the edge). Since the line is there, it almost acts like a guide. When there is imagery to the left, it causes some dissonance. I think if you move those components over or move the paper background, it’ll mimic the visual of writing and solve the dissonance going on.

    Can’t wait to see your final piece! – Amanda


  2. If I had to describe your blog, I would use three words: Professional, authentic, with attention to detail. I know that we should make a critique comment on your post, but I couldn’t resist not commenting on your blog too!

    Regarding your post, I found your introduction really inspiring and I believe that you made a thoughtful description of the design approach to project. The draft design post is really enthusiastic and reflects your excitement about the event. I also like the colors and the different fonts you chose with which you managed to emphasize your message in a unique way. In my opinion, this is the specific area where the design is already strong.

    My suggestion would be to make the paper on the background look crumpled, as we’ve learned on our Photoshop tutorials. This way you make it look more realistic. Furthermore, since you want to use this design as an advertisement, you could somehow offer more details about this event, anything that would define what is this ad about/the purpose.

    Good luck!


  3. Erin,

    I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of your entire process: your documentation of the process from brainstorming through draft is amazingly thorough! I also appreciate your consideration of the entire process even up until print, considering the conservation of ink to benefit the schools.

    As for the design, the use of associated objects such as lined paper, pencils and even the typography font is very effective. Having an odd number of pencils is also balanced and aesthetic. Your choice of words is concise yet also convey the purpose and activities of the event without ambiguity, which is great.

    It seems that you are still trying to determine the placement of the QR code, and you have a space that could be dedicated in the top right quadrant. I feel that the QR code would be most appropriate near the ‘sign up’ message. I like how you used different colors for the words ‘write’ , ‘edit’, and ‘publish’; it may look cool to use those colors for several of the pencils? That may also create chaos on the page as well, not sure. The yellow traditional pencils work as well, I was just a fan of the pencil variation from your lightbox photo.

    Overall, your design process is very inspirational for me personally. I think your design would definitely attract attention from students that would have a natural inclination towards an interest in this event.



    1. After stepping away from my own work for a few days, I printed it again and took a new look. I also ran it past a few of the users to get their thoughts, including a few students who were in the halls. Here is a summary of my current thinking:
      1) I want to move the yellow-orange font away from the yellow of the pencils. I like the color and still want it included in the group, but will try it for the word “Write” and for “Celebrate” as suggested by my peer and see which is more balanced. Additionally, I will try the suggested idea of having the action words be black and the two mentions of “Together” be a different color, like pink to match the eraser.
      2) I think a QR Code, which I won’t have from the organizers before the final assignment but still want to keep in mind, should go down with the “Sign up” text at the bottom. I think that while I don’t have the final date of the event for this school, I can put in a fictitious date for now and then leave space at the right for the code. Students at the school have iPads so it would be very easy for even our youngest of learners to use their camera, capture the link, and fill out the form.
      3) I also want to work with the margin issue with the notebook paper as mentioned above so that the margin is not so close to the far left pencil. This may require changing the background image size or the pencil sizes.
      4) When printed, the material stands out from a distance, uses appropriate vocabulary, and gives the reader clues about the event even if they cannot access all the vocabulary terms, according to the school employees who viewed this draft.


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