I forget what I'm doing sometimes and I often forget the objectives of each project. Here's a listing of things to do to reach your design resolutions.
1. List your objectives:
If you list your objectives and keep this list, you can review it frequently to make sure you are staying on the right track as you continue on the path to a polished piece.
Target audience, dimensions, context, feel and constantly refer to a design brief if you were given one (say by, an instructor or employer).
Researching gives you plenty of inspiration and reminds you of past design work that can help make or break your design. I'm not just talking about online research but books, actual tangible books. Not only this, but reading up on the company you are working for, the audience you are targeting... you should take every possible area into consideration while you are designing. This is also a good time to mindmap/brainstorm.
Sketches never have to be refined or super clean, but getting your ideas down on paper is a good way to be able to present your ideas to other people to be sure they agree that your vision is the correct way to go to reach your goals. A coherent design can't be made without your peers' input. Not only this, but getting your sketch out of your head can help you revisualize what your brain is trying to spit out.
4. Pair Typefaces:
Good typefaces are a big part of making a design have the appropriate feel. You don't put GEORGIA on a kid's play place sign. And you don't use PAPYRUS... on anything. Don't do it. I BEG YOU. Make sure your x-heights match up, your ascenders and descenders are comparable, and your typefaces really complement each other, via contrast, similarity, era or any other relationship.
5. Color swatches:
Color is always important, but before you go flinging your favorite colors around, make sure you are considering contrast, compliments, primaries, secondaries, all that crap. But do it in different shapes, on different typefaces and in big blocks before you even put them in your design work. This will help you make wiser choices for hierarchy and making a punchy design.
Once all of your components are gathered, now is the time to design. Get in illustrator, photoshop, indesign, flash, dreamweaver, whatever tool suits your media. Bust out your lists, your research, your color swatches and typeparings to come up with a design that approaches your concept's final destination. Keep versions of your work so you can refer to it as you move along, or to simply go back to if you really think you've messed up.
Let's take this opportunity to review something very basic to any computer-commoner:
BACK UP YOUR WORK.
External harddrive, online servers, anything outside of your primary computer.
Look at what you've done. Take a step back. Eat some lunch, take a walk, or even sleep on it. Come back to it after several hours and take a good look at what you've done. Refine any small details or redo any extreme areas you feel necessary.
8. Gather Opinions:
Print out what you have and show other people. Other's input can show you mistakes and potential you are blind to seeing after staring at your work for many hours. Going to an instructor, peers in your field, those with design experience or even your clients can be a good move, just to show them where you're at and where you think you're going to go next with the piece. Take what they say into account but don't throw your original ideas out the window if they rag on you too much. Make subtle changes, again and again until you think you've reached a totally different look, and run it by them again later on.
Take the advice you recieve and apply it to your design. Remove objects that are unneccessary, refine your typography, change sizes, kerning, tracking, color, anything you believe will help your design improve from your previous printouts.
Review your work, gather opinions/critique and revise as often as you feel appropriate to wrap up your project. This could take a while. All good design work does. Refer to your original research and design briefs to make sure you aren't straying too far from the function you are trying to suggest but never forget your aesthetics either.
Good luck designers.