I was recently inspired to write on the varied, intuitive nature of the creative process. Not to toot my own horn, but it’s a decent read. However, upcoming projects have me reflecting on the design process and how it differs from the creative process. They live in tandem with one another, but play very distinct roles in our line of business.

Christopher Butler put it bluntly, “Creative is ten percent. Structure and systems are the rest. The discipline of design is the commitment to structuring and systematizing good ideas.”

While I’m not sure I’m fully on board with creative being only ten percent, I am on board with the idea that effective design requires thoughtful structuring and systematizing of our ideas. Especially when it comes to web design.

We are in the beginning stages of a website redesign that, quite frankly, requires little to no creative thinking. I am working from a library of premade modules. I don’t have to think about how color or typefaces or graphic elements will affect the audience. There is not much play or experimentation to be done. At this stage, thoughtful UX design (which heavily relies on a strong design process) is the only thing that will make or break this website.

It all has me thinking about how being an effective graphic designer requires the skill to marry two very different types of thinking. On one hand, there needs to be a willingness to try something a little weird or unconventional; to play and let go of judgment. That part of the process — the creative process — can bring about some really surprising ideas that are a breath of fresh air to our audiences. On the other hand, brands need to scale. Websites need to effectively and efficiently communicate information. Internal marketing teams need easy-to-use tools and guidelines to ensure they continue to create impactful marketing materials. Without a proper design process, all of these beautiful and inspiring pieces of work will fall flat.

It’s a delicate balancing act. Too much abstract creative thinking can lead to an end product that’s too obscure for audiences to relate to. Too much systematic design thinking can lead to an end product totally void of humanity and personality. The mark of a good designer is one who knows how to balance each part of the process with intention.