The Element Collage

Earlier this year I attended the inaugural Artifact Design Conference in Austin, Texas. While there were several great presentations on a range of topics, I was particularly interested in one by Dan Mall, in which he introduced the idea of the element collage.

In his presentation he talked about his design process. He spoke of his initial excitement when he first meets with a client, when great ideas are running through his mind and he can't wait to get started on the design. But by the time the project actually makes it to his desk, by way of site planning, information architecture, wireframing, and client approval, those initial design ideas aren't as sharp as they were two weeks prior and perhaps his enthusiasm has fizzled some too.

In order to take advantage of the enthusiasm that comes with a new project, now Dan runs straight to Photoshop where he purges all his initial ideas onto the canvas. Over time, he adds more and more elements to this collage to finish with what he calls, you guessed it, the element collage.

An element collage is not a finished design. When presented with a finished site design, clients often get too hung up on little things. Not realizing that little things can be changed easily, they reject the whole concept.

An element collage is not a wireframe, or moodboard. These concepts are often too abstract for the client to visualize the finished product. In his article on the subject, Dan Mall likens this to "showing someone a blueprint of their dream house and asking them what curtains would fit well in the space."

An element collage is a collection of pieces to a larger design puzzle. There is no specific logic or order to page, it's meant only to convey a feeling for the visual branding of the website. It's not about wording, functionality, or technical details, but about the overall visual essence of the page. 

We recently pitched for new project and decided to present our design concept as an element collage. In this regard, their self-explanatory nature can also be great for spec work, when you're not present to converse on the topic of design. Here's a little bit of what that looked like —

We received favorable feedback from the prospective client and plan to work more with element collages in the future. I foresee other agencies doing the same as this concept grows in popularity and usefulness.

August 7, 2013
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