I’m sure most designers notice this type of thing all the time, but I have been seeing a LOT of it lately—an extreme overabundance of a few popular design elements/treatments. And it’s got me thinking….is this just part of a harmless trend or does it signal a larger issue? Are designers trading creativity for trendy? More importantly, as a designer myself, how can I avoid doing the same?
When you’re working on a project with a particularly tight timeline, your first instinct may be to visit your favorite design sites or blogs for some quick inspiration. You may even be tempted to jump-start your layout by **gasp** pulling art or photography from a stock site.
So, I have been giving a lot of thought to how I can achieve a healthy balance between admiration and creation—regardless of the deadline.
When you’re really busy and don’t have as much time to work on a design as you might like, it can be easy to allow the “let’s not reinvent the wheel” thought to creep into your mind, and it may lead you down a path of design imitation rather than working through your creative process.
Although it’s fun to look at what other designers are doing, it won’t make you a better designer. The best way to keep growing and creating truly inspired and original work is by actively searching out influences in unexpected places—even for the small jobs. After all, each project is an opportunity to learn and discover something new. These may seem like obvious places to look, but oftentimes the trick is to remind yourself to slow down enough to really see what’s around you.
Where I like to look:
Since I recently moved to Chicago, I’m still taking in my surroundings, from skyscrapers to crumbling theaters. Check out the world around you—there are colors, shapes and interesting details aplenty!
If you’ve exhausted your own neighborhood architecture, let it come to you… Some idea-sparking magazines: Architectural Digest, House Beautiful, Dwell and Veranda.
Signage & Packaging
Easy to find and always accessible, signage and packaging are a great place to look. Wander through the grocery store, rummage through your own cupboards or check out the Packaged group on Flickr.
Find inspiration in everything from form and lines to color palette, pattern and texture. Looking to fashion might even give you the urge to work more three-dimensionally—you could experiment with fabric, cut paper or even found materials.
Other than browsing the magazine racks, here are a few great sites: The Sartorialist, fashiontoast and The Cut.
Thrift Stores & Flea Markets
You can find all kinds of great inspiration here, from old board games to illustrated children’s books, old maps and patterns on china.
Whether you’re reading about a new idea, culture or place, or you’re simply intrigued by the typography or the way the book is bound—books of all genres can lead to some interesting discoveries.
Biographies can be a great way to help you get out of your own head by seeing the world through someone else’s perspective. I like to look at everything from comic books to classic typographical books. They both offer great windows to trends throughout history—even in the tiniest details.
Sometimes when I am struggling with a creative block I find that cooking or baking helps. The process is somewhat therapeutic—it awakens so many of your senses and also gives you a different outlet to experiment with color and shape in a tactile way.
I also find inspiration when I visit new restaurants. Especially those from other cultures, where I might see typography or designs that I wouldn’t otherwise come in contact with.
I know it might seem obvious, but how often to we really look? And when I say nature I don’t just mean looking at trees and flowers. Do you know what a dragonfly’s wing looks like? How about the pattern on a cobra’s skin?
Just looking at the landscape often gives me new ideas for compositions and color combinations. And let’s not forget National Geographic—magazines or on the web.
When you’re really busy and short on time, it can be easy to put things non-work or design-related on the backburner. But it’s important to make sure you carve out time to see, touch or feel things that will broaden your pool of experience so that you have more to draw from creatively. It takes effort, but by seeking out inspiration in your day-to-day life, ideas flow more freely, and you’ll be less likely to look to another designer’s work for one.
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