Do you ever have a time when it just seems like you want to create something new, but your well of inspiration is running dry?
The expectations of producing client deliverables, content creation (like writing blog posts), marketing (like posting on Instagram) and ongoing learning (courses, webinars, educational content) can sometimes leave very little space to be truly creative and experiment. And as a graphic designer, I want to make sure the designs I come up with are fresh and interesting! I know that if I’m leaning too heavily on certain colors or font families, it’s time to find some new inspiration and try getting out of the box.
If you’re a photographer, you might find yourself always using certain poses. If you’re a calligrapher, you might find yourself always doing certain parts of a letterform the exact same way. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having certain aspects of your work have a distinct look and style, sometimes you just need to try something new to bring life and energy back into your work.
Over time, I’ve discovered a few things that really help me when I’m feeling like I need to bring some new life into my work. While some of these are design-focused, I’ve tried to include ideas that would work for anyone creative or running a small business.
There’s just something about them. Magazine editors work carefully to make sure the wording, photography and type design work together, and often I pick up on new ideas through paying close attention to the way each article or piece of content is laid out. The Anthropologie catalog, J. Crew catalog, and Magnolia Journal are favorites–along with other home and garden magazines, wedding magazines, and gourmet food magazines like Bon Appetit.
After you’ve finished reading those catalogs and magazines, don’t just throw them away!
I like to cut out photos and layouts I like and tuck them away in a binder for future reference. I also save paint chips, promotions from companies, business cards and anything that’s well-designed.
Then, when I feel like I’m in a rut, I pull out the binder and look through it and try using a new idea from what I’ve collected. This could work for photographers, wedding professionals, copywriters, calligraphers–anyone who is in the visual arts.
P. S. I’m not advocating that you become a copycat! This is about taking elements you like and putting them together in your own way to come up with something completely new.
Stores like J. Crew, Banana Republic, Anthropologie, Ralph Lauren and even Starbucks are crafted with all the details of a branded experience designed to evoke emotion in order to sell. I love browsing these places without shopping in mind, because I’m looking at signage, racks, posters, the way things are displayed etc.
These companies spend millions of dollars every year getting their displays and advertising right and there’s something creatives can learn from watching.
This one may or may not be easy for you, especially if you only open yourself up for feedback at the end of a project. But try it! Tell a friend that you know is open to brainstorming about your problem or stylistic issue (and has an eye for visuals) and see what they think. My sisters and I do this all the time!
Take a photo in a place you’ve never taken one before. Use a color you would never use. Try a font combination that might seem silly. Systematizing creative work can make it more profitable, but we don’t want to lose the spark of originality that defines true artists.
There are so many amazing artists and creative professionals out there. But, when you are only looking at the way other people do things, you are going to lose your own flavor and unique perspective.
I don’t advocate unfollowing all the people who do what you do–not at all. I LOVE following other designers. But I try to make sure that I spend just as much time on developing my own work and style as I do following other people.
Taking the time to hone in on what you like is so important to staying fresh and original.
So put the phone down, pick up a scissors and a stack of paper, or just take some time to browse a store you love and notice how they curate their brand. It’s incredibly fun and refreshing!
Some people do good work under pressure. But there’s a difference between good work and great work. I want to do great work. And that only happens when I have space to be.
Sometimes this means taking a break and putting away the computer for the rest of the afternoon even when that seems like the most counterproductive thing to do. I always find myself refreshed and ready to tackle a project with new energy and creativity when I intentionally set aside time to recharge.
Instead of just looking at other people’s work, get to know them on a personal level. I love bouncing ideas back and forth with other designers, talking about what is and isn’t working for us and giving each other thoughts and ideas.
(If you’re looking for a way to connect with other creatives locally, try finding a local chapter of The Rising Tide Society! My sisters and I have made lots of local friends through this organization.)
Why would I end this list with “do the work” if you’re feeling stuck? Well, consistently working on your process, your design, your style and your ideas is the quickest way to get better at something and get fresh ideas. If you commit to just trying one new thing within the scope of what you already do, you will come up with things that are fresh and interesting more often than not.
I hope this list was helpful to you! If there’s a way that you stay inspired that’s not on this list, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment and let’s chat!