Studio Happenings

We love a Secret Design Challenge

The quarterly design session where we have to stay out of our heads and lean into our inspiration.

Three band posters on a wall

Last year, in one of our strategy sessions (a probably-too-lengthy meeting where we combine brains to discuss numbers, goals, data, what has/hasn’t been working, and how we’re going to grow with integrity), we uncovered that when we get too deep in deadline-land and quick turn-around work, we start to loose our creative spark.

Collectively, we can all get a bit too attached to making something “perfect”, and because we generally do like to provide something as close to perfection as possible for clients, the room for play can be somewhat minimal, shall we say? Oh cute, a rhyme.

Enter: The Secret Design Challenge.

1.5 hours to design something specific, based on a particular prompt that is secret until the very start of the SDC. The goal is to ideate, commit to a direction, and create something entirely without needing it to be “perfect”. We generally design whatever we make in poster format, print it post-SDC, and hang it on display in our office until the next SDC.

Once it’s off the wall, it goes away, and it’s no harm, no foul. It’s not permanent, and that’s the point. We all care too much to design something without ANY thought, but this way, we have a pretty extreme time cap that helps us stay focused and avoid shiny object syndrome. We're not magpies after all. Although, Maddy would probably like to be one, as our resident birder.

Four band posters
July's prompt: a band poster for your favourite artist. From left to right: Aislinn (The Beaches), Mitch (Tame Impala), Teagan (Dermot Kennedy), Maddy (Fruit Bats).
Four travel posters
March's prompt: a design that represents your happy place. Clockwise from top left: Rikki (Spain), Teagan (the great outdoors), Maddy (Aoraki/Mt. Cook, New Zealand) and Aislinn (Calgary Zoo Conservatory).

A long time ago, I found myself lost in a YouTube spiral of famous graphic designers talking about their journeys, and (I can’t for the LIFE of me remember his name - internet: do your thing and tell me if you know his name) a very seasoned logo designer remarked that he only ever gives one option, because everyone’s first ideas are their best. He said that going down the tweaking rabbit hole rarely (if ever) makes a concept better. His mantra was recognizing and committing to your first idea; holy moly, this resonated.

We typically present two options to all of our brand identity clients, and we think that makes sense - clients often need to compare concepts to understand what they like/don’t like. That being said, we based the SDC around the concept of just plunging into the first design idea you have. And the result? For the most part, everything we’ve printed has been good enough that it’s a bit painful to take them down.

Curious to see the process? You're in luck! We made a TikTok walking through our last SDC:

Our lesson? It's productive to design for no reason. We hope you give it a go!

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