The Importance of The First Draft

Designer’s block affects almost everyone in the industry, but there’s a simple solution to beat creative stagnancy early on in a project; anytime we chat with clients or collaborators about our design process, we always emphasize how much we believe in the first draft.

The first draft of anything is shit.
— Ernest Hemingway


What’s so special about the first draft?

Something is always better than nothing, and it's far easier to edit or redesign than it is to make something perfect the first time. As creatives, we often feel an enormous amount of pressure to create a masterpiece and blow people away, especially when we’re being paid to flex our coveted creative muscles. The first draft is a free pass, a Get Out of Jail Free card, which we can use as a key indicator of whether we’ve truly gotten to know what our client is after.

The time of perfectionism where you had so much fun and pleasure working on every little detail before showing it to others is dead. In the real world we don’t care about the details. We don’t care about them if the rough structure of your product, idea or service doesn’t work. That’s why you need a first draft quickly. You need a first draft or prototype to test the kern of your idea. Once you do this you can then move on and develop the details.
— Daniele Catalanotto

Don’t be afraid of a blank page (or artboard)

Sometimes this means you just have to stop overthinking the design problem and get your first ideas into a blank document (or onto a piece of paper if you’re the analog type). This is the “design vomit” phase, if you will. These first concepts might totally suck (and probably will), but at least you've cleared that mental real estate and have a starting point.

Once you’ve spewed out all of your initial ideas onto the page, you are ready to take a small step back and see if there’s anything with potential in front of you. The truth is that our gut instincts are pretty in tune, so there’s usually at least one concept from this initial round of brainstorming that holds some weight. Pick your favourite and do a few fast iterations, playing with colour, shape, line thickness, or whatever variables you are dealing with in your creative process. Repeat this with any other initial concepts from the first round of brainstorming that you liked, and soon you’ll have a page of drafts, at least a couple of which are hopefully half-decent (if not, return to step 1).


In words and thoughts every concept looks amazing. But once you start to touch it, feel it, see it, it starts to look like shit. And that’s when people have something to criticize. Once they do that they have new insights that help you innovate.
— Daniele Catalanotto


Embrace the Feedback

Once you have a couple rough ideas (that have potential), present them to the client emphasizing that this is only a first round of drafts, and the purpose is to understand which aesthetic direction (if any) they’re most inclined towards. Think of it like a Myers–Briggs personality test; we use visuals to communicate our initial ideas and then pay very close attention to the client’s reaction in order to better understand what they’re after. Because, at the end of the day, a designer’s job is to get inside the client’s head, organize their thoughts, values and principles, and turn that into something beautiful.

Finally, don’t be afraid of the negative feedback! We regularly tell our clients that we’d much prefer for them to completely reject the first draft rather than feel like they have to love everything we produce. If every one of our initial concepts are rejected, great! Now we know what the client doesn’t like, and through the feedback process, we’ll have some clues as to why they don’t like the first draft, which provides insight moving forward into the next round of brainstorming. It also doesn’t cost our clients an arm and a leg to have us fully develop a concept to perfection, only to find out it’s exactly the opposite of what they wanted. So go ahead, make that first draft!

Christina Robev