Besides from being asked about the first thing that I usually do at the beginning of a design project (see my answer here), I'm also often asked about my creative process. Although it never is exactly the same every time as each project has its own requirements and uniqueness, there is a creative process that I follow based on years of experience and fine-tuning (Figure 1). I found out that time management of the creative process is most important for the success of any project especially when due day is fixed and missing it will be disastrous.
What if a client wants to skip or fast-track a process due to time constraint or budget (i.e. skip usability testing for an application UI and just do a quick in-house heuristic review)? Although I'm really against it, I have to respect each client's individual needs and work out the best approach for the situation at hand as long as he or she is informed of the potentially less optimized outcome for such action.
At the beginning of my creative process for a design, I get my inspirations and ideas first and foremost from the creative brief, second is through research, and eventually all components and possibilities of the design will end up on my mood board (I love mood board! ). From there the mockup begins. But no matter how much I love to create my own design from scratch with Illustrator/Photoshop for the job at hand, time is not a luxury in today's fast-paced corporate world where projects are needed to be done "yesterday". So most of the time I will utilize stock images or illustrations as a quick starting point, then use Illustrator/Photoshop to make changes, add my own style and creation for the appropriate and intended use. If there is enough time to create from scratch, I would rather do that since it gives me the satisfaction that the design is my own