In order to seem like we're actually doing something beyond breaking out the crayons and the pencils for our clients, designers like to talk (sometimes at too much length) about their process. It's a totally sensible thing to do. When you work with the widget maker you try to describe design in terms of making widgets, when you work with the doctor you describe it in terms of doctoring. but as most of us in the profession understand, there isn't a true formula. There's generalized ways of going about things, but our solutions are mainly the result of our life experiences combined with what we know about our clients combined with a lot of sitting around and thinking, drinking, watching TV, and drinking.
The problems with all the process oriented talk are twofold. First, it makes the time you spend the thing clients are paying for, when in reality they are paying for your ideas, no matter how long they take to generate. Second – and rather important in the onslaught of the digital age – the time we have to create things is compressed to the point that if time was all you billed for you'd go broke.
Eric Karjaluoto has a great article over at Communication Arts that describes how messy the world of design is becoming. But messy is really just a placeholder for fast. We have the means to test and retest the results of our campaigns and designs at a rate we've never had before. These aren't just focus groups, but real customers. We can watch them flock to us or run away in droves. The thrust of all of this is to lead us to the idea that we don't live in a world where we spend a ton of time and process to deliver a campaign that we just set out and leave. We might have to work with clients to see what they want to really achieve and say and execute a more scatter-shot approach. At the very least the pace at which we move must catch up to the fact that everything else is moving faster.
Your big idea just isn't going to be the whole story anymore. You don't hand over the work to the client and then wash your hands of it. You need to have big idea number two ready to roll. Maybe next week. Design and branding isn't going to be "set it and forget" it's going to be "set it, reset it, repeat." Now that's a process.