The holidays mean a lot of things – family, friends, faith, and so much more. As a graphic designer the holidays also mean Christmas cards (Holiday cards for the PC folk). It can be challenging to come up with a unique design every year, especially if you’re designing for the same business or individual, as I do at my daytime gig as graphic designer for Fuscoe Engineering. So the question is – what the heck am I going to do this year? What are you going to do this year for your card? Here’s my process…

I Plan Ahead

Lucky for us Christmas is the same day every year. So why not start early? I typically put a reminder in my calendar for October 1, just to get the brain jump-started. From there I make a reverse schedule, starting with the day I’d like to send the cards out, followed by when the files need to be sent to the press, final approval, design and proofing, and research.

I Reflect

2012 Fuscoe Engineering Holiday Card

Before I start a concept for a new card I usually look back at what was done in years past. Here are a few examples of Fuscoe’s cards that I’ve designed from the past few years. You can definitely get a sense for the style and feel of their brand. I knew right off the bat that this year I wanted to do something different. Something touching. Something personal. Less graphic/more photographic.

2009 Fuscoe Engineering Holiday Card

2010 Fuscoe Engineering Holiday Card

2011 Fuscoe Engineering Holiday Card

I Get Inspired

Once I know where I’ve been, I figure out where I’m going. I start by getting inspired. It doesn’t even have to be a holiday related. It could be a magazine ad, movie poster, a picture, a word, or a color. I usually spend a few hours browsing the web, tearing out magazine pages and thumbing through my Pantone book before I even touch a pencil or mouse.

I Sketch It Out

2013 holiday card sketches

Time to bust out the ol’ sketchbook and put pencil to paper! For me, sketching is my preferred method to work out the bad ideas and get to the good stuff.

I Build It

stick prop build

santa hat stick prop

elf hat stick prop

bumble stick props

With my roadmap on paper I can begin capturing photography, retouching, and layout on the computer. In that case it also involved extensive “Arts & Crafts” time making dozens of holiday stick props.

I Present It

With photography and preliminary design complete, I will make a full-size comp to present to the client (in this case my marketing team). Changes and edits are 99.9% necessary. Once edits are made I’ll show it to a more select group for approval.

I Preflight It

A very critical step when it comes to print design. This is where you can save yourself a printing catastrophe and $. Are your images CMYK? Are you using PMS colors? Did you include/outline fonts? I could write an entire post on this step – and probably will. Make sure you use a printer you have a good relationship with and make your specifications clear.

I Receive It and Wait ‘til Next Year

2013 Fuscoe Engineering Holiday Card

It’s always rewarding to receive your work hot off the press – the warmth and feel of the paper, and the smell of fresh aqueous coating! Once I’ve had a chance to have a look at the final piece I pass them out to the team and start wondering what I’m going to come up with next year.

Did this help you? How is it similar or different from your design process? Do you find Christmas cards, or another specific project, particularly challenging? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Be sure to check out more on this project over in the portfolio. Until next year, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and cheers to a fantastic 2014!