Practice Messy. Present Clean.

Shannel Wheeler
3 min readJul 10, 2023

A method to your design madness…

“What does your artboard look like?”

That’s a question I asked an up-and-coming designer in one of our recent graphic design portfolio reviews. I wanted him to show his raw work to better understand his creative process.

Your initial design ideas should look like chaos. Okay, maybe not chaos. But it should be messy. It should be filled with ideas. It should be multiple artboards. And it doesn’t need to be organized or logical or pretty. At least, not at first.

Some designers (and creators, in general) get tripped up, frustrated, and stuck when creating ideas because they are thinking too hard. They are trying to be perfect. They expect to lovingly lock eyes with the computer screen, crack their knuckles, and create an exceptional, buttoned-up masterpiece on their first try.

️ Newsflash: That’s not how design works.

When the perfect design doesn’t happen, you might tinker with the same idea: moving this pixel, nudging that one, deleting an element, and altering the font of a line of text so many times that it all starts to look the same.

This is exactly how you enter the Black Hole of Design Un-Productivity
[insert Twilight Zone music here].

Instead of getting stuck, try this Copy and Paste method to iterate quickly and compare concepts (watch the short video to see what I mean).

A video illustrating the power of messy artboards

Your first concept usually isn’t going to best one. Not to say that it can’t be, but great ideas typically come from exploration. Exploration involves experimentation with different colors, shapes, fonts, layouts, positioning, angles, styles, and images. Exploration requires multiple versions of your idea. By multiple, I don’t mean three. I mean a lot (like at least 20).

Now you might be saying, “That’s too much! I don’t have time!

Yes, in many cases, you have time. If you want to go from okay to good, from good to great, and from great to phenomenal — you will make time. And you will get faster and stronger. But you have to put the work in.

Think of your practice work and design exploration as the backstage commotion of a play. There’s a lot going on back there, but once you emerge from behind the curtain and onto the stage, your performance for the audience is polished and professional. All of your iterations are for you; only a few make the cut for the requestor (the client, a teacher, your boss, etc.) to review.

Try the Copy and Paste method if it isn’t already a part of your creative process and let me know what you think!

Still feeling stuck in your creative process? Check out my article on how to get unstuck.

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Shannel Wheeler

Left-brain creative | Brand/Design Implementation | Design Instruction and Inspiration | Creating with Purpose: https://shannelwheeler.com