Every year, I have three planned releases for January, May, and September. With three releases, that divides the year nicely into three four-month-long chunks to prep for each release. I currently organize each release this way....
Month 1: Ideation & Research⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Month 2: Design⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Month 3: Revisions & Edits⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Month 4: Launch Prep⠀
It's a sweet creative cycle of coming up with new ideas, seeing what works, and then repeating it all again. Here’s a look at what goes on behind-the-scenes during each month:
MONTH 1: IDEATION & RESEARCH
In the first month, I am usually not starting any new designs. I’m usually promoting the previous release which has just wrapped up, and taking a break from creating. I’m usually just tinkering with new ideas and reviewing what did well from last season, what reps or customers have requested, and my greeting card idea doc. I have a Google doc in which I list most of my ideas - I try to list as many as possible, even the ones I think are pretty bad, just in case they inspire something in the future. I sort them by category (birthday, thank you, Mother's Day, etc). Lots of these ideas never get produced, but it gives me a way to jump start the idea generating process.
If I am launching a new product, I’ll also be doing research on manufacturing partners, price points, packaging, etc.
Depending on the time of year, I’ll be focusing on different designs. It can often feel like I’m living in a parallel universe because I will be designing Christmas cards in spring, and Valentine’s Day/Love cards in the fall.
Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Graduation, Wedding, Birthday, New Baby, Congrats, Sympathy, Thank You
For the January release, I also discontinue some designs from the previous year, or may update some designs to make my line more cohesive overall.
Holiday/Christmas, Birthday, New Baby, Congrats, Sympathy, Thank You
Valentine’s Day/Love, Birthday, New Baby, Congrats, Sympathy, Thank You
Towards the end of the first month, I’ll have a list of the ideas I want to move forward with. I share this list with Maddie Mack, a copywriter who helps to look over and provide feedback on my ideas, as well as come up with new, witty ideas for any categories that I’m focusing on. From there, we’ll have a more finalized list of the ideas we want to move forward, along with any copywriting revisions.
I then start to create little sketches of each design. My sketches are usually really loose and messy as I just want to get the different ideas out. I don’t focus on keeping them really clean until I get to the actual design phase. This is one of my favourite times because I start to gather image references and start imagining what the designs will actually look like.
MONTH 2: DESIGN
In month 2, I start the actual design phase. I reference my sketches and start creating rough drafts in Adobe Illustrator. I usually start by placing the type in first, then block out the rough shapes of any illustrations. From there, I’ll continue to add details and shading to bring the illustration to life. Over time I’ve developed a colour palette so that my cards look more cohesive together, so I usually work within that palette, but I do also experiment with colours to see what works best for each particular card. Some of my favourite colours to use are orange, yellow and blue, so you’ll usually see a lot of those colours in my work. Overall, I love cards that feel really fun and celebratory, so my palette is quite bright and cheerful.
MONTH 3: REVISIONS & EDITS
By the third month, I usually have the rough draft completed for most designs. At this time, I might start to realize that I don’t like how a particular card is turning out and may decide not to pursue it further, or sometimes I’ll also get random new ideas I’m excited about and create those. I’ll start to ask for feedback as I love to get an outside perspective on my designs. Oftentimes, since we are so close to our work, we may miss things that could be revised to make the card more successful. My designs may go through several revisions at this point, the phrasing, illustrations and colours may all change and cards may end up looking very different from where they were the month before.
Once I’m pretty happy with the designs, I’ll do a test print to see what they look like when printed. I may notice that some colours may need to change for more contrast, or perhaps that the text sizes are too small, and make further revisions. By the end of the month, I have the cards I want to move forward with. For any cards that I’m unsure about, or cards that I don’t have the design quite figured out, I may decide to put it aside for a future release.
MONTH 4: LAUNCH PREP
It’s usually such a relief once the designs are completed and I’m so excited to get them out into the world. But there’s a lot of steps in the last month in preparing for the release. I set each design up for print and send them off to the printer and then package them. I create images of each card, then include them in my catalog. If time permits, I’ll also do a little photoshoot at home to take photos of the new cards and include those images in any promotion I’ll do. I prepare new kits for my sales reps which include samples of the new cards and sheets that show the new designs (or full catalogs if it is for the January release). The new designs are also uploaded to my wholesale shop and Etsy shop. I then prepare
e-newsletters to announce the new release, and also package printed catalogs for any retail partners that request them.
Whew! And that wraps up one release, then I start the cycle all over again for the next release. Creating a standard process helps me get into the rhythm of what I should be focusing on each month, and gives me a chance to dive into creating then take a break.
Any questions about my design process, or want to share what works for you? I’d love to hear from you!