How to Create a Graphic Design Project Outline

Project outlines keep design projects on-time and on-budget

What to Know

  • Include your graphic design project outline as an appendix to the contract and make sure it is clear, to the point, and easy to follow.
  • Specify creative elements such as page layouts, design constraints, and what content needs to be presented.
  • Set the project schedule from start to finish, including milestones and deliverables for each phase of the project.

Before beginning the design phase of a job, it is helpful to create a graphic design project outline. It will provide both the designer and the client with some structure over the life of a given project.

Format of a Graphic Design Project Outline

How you format and present your outline is up to you. Make sure it is clear, to the point, and easy to follow. You don’t want there to be any confusion as to what is included in the project, as ambiguity can lead to problems later on in the process. However, being too-precise and legalistic can constrain the process and lead to confusion arising from unnecessary complexity.

It helps if the project outline is referenced as a governing document in a contract. For example, most professional designers work under contract. The specific "stuff" the designer will do isn't written into most contracts. Instead, the project outline is referenced as an appendix to the contract, usually in the form of a statement of work.

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Credit: Cultura RM/Robin James | Getty Images

There's no universal template or table of contents for a design outline. Each varies based on the scope of the project and the needs of the client.

What to Include in a Graphic Design Project Outline

What you include in the outline will vary depending on the type and size of the job. The goal is to commit in writing what the designer must create. In general, outlines include a mix of the creative elements and the business processes around the generation and agreement about those creative elements.

Creative Elements

Here are just a few examples of what to include for different types of projects:

  • Website design: For a website project, include each section of the site with a detailed description of the content and pages.
  • Book design: Include an approximate number of unique page designs and standard page layouts, as well as additional elements such as the cover and jacket. If you have discussed it in more detail, include the chapters and sections of the book and what is required for each.
  • Postcards, Business Cards, and Posters: For one-page jobs, the outline will be fairly simple. It should include what content needs to be presented and in what format.
  • Package design: For packaging, include each element to be designed. For a CD package, for example, you would include the liner notes, spine, back cover, and CD label.
  • Brochures: For brochure and other foldout designs, include the number of panels and what content will appear on each.

Business Elements

To protect both the designer and the client from a soured relationship, most contracts or project outlines include a handful of agreements related to the process, including:

  • Timelines: Set the overall project schedule from start to finish. Leave time for client review and revisions.
  • Specific deliverables: Include the milestones for each phase of the project, including specific lists of what will be delivered for client review.
  • Revision cycles: Many designers offer one or two rounds of revisions as part of the package, but start charging (sometimes substantial) revision fees after that, to ensure that the client doesn't blow the timeline through endless tweaking.
  • Design constraints: Sometimes a client needs a specific set of "things" included or excluded from a design. For example, a company with an orange logo might require that the design be based on that specific shade or orange, or on a complimentary color.

Get into the habit of creating outlines for your graphic design projects, whether they are personal, for school, or for clients. This discipline will help to ensure that the design process goes smoothly.

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