It’s hard to be creative on demand, but there are some simple creative strategies you can employ to make it easier to create beautiful, unique and inspiring work.
To create is to cause to come into being, as something unique that would not naturally evolve or that is not made by ordinary processes. To evolve from one’s own thought or imagination, as a work of art or an invention. Everyone has the capacity to be creative and contribute to the creative process through their own experiences, perspectives and feelings.
Creative Suite can be a crutch
It’s easy to fall into the bad habit of depending on Photoshop or Illustrator as the sole utility which we use to create art, and that makes for a very narrow view. It’s so easy to throw a filter on it, use a pre-made brush or find a handwritten free font online, but that can limit your creative vision and it’s not very inspiring.
Get off the computer and create something
Sketching and scanning is your best friend. You can make your own textures with paint, pens, markers, charcoal or other media and scan them in to create unique layering elements and scatter brushes. It’s so much more gratifying to create your own assets, and it saves you the hassle of having to search for the perfect texture online. You can also photograph your own textures for layering as well. Experiment with drawing your own type forms, icons and other unique elements. Explore possibilities beyond paper. In college, I once used a piece of acetate on a scanner sprayed with water to scan in water droplets. There’s really no limit to what you can scan.
Sleep on it
You can definitely over work your creative mind. Sometimes you just have to step away and work on something else, or give an idea a few days to marinate in your mind. It sounds silly but this works for me about 99% of the time. I really liked this quote from an article I read about creative inspiration, the author said “Inspiration requires perspiration.” That’s so true. Getting inspired is an important part of the creative process that is often overlooked. Good work doesn’t come easily. Sometimes we need to get our hands dirty and create our own unique assets. In the end, it’ll make you more proud of your work than if you just used stock or freebie assets.
Question your design decisions. Ask yourself “Why am I doing this?”— am I doing it because it looks cool or because it supports the brand or message? Design decisions that have conceptual reasoning are easier to defend and generally make more sense. Sure old engraved ornaments look pretty cool, but if it doesn’t relate to your subject matter then it’s just confusing for the viewer and you’re not going to be able to explain to a client why you chose that element or how it relates to them. Design is not just about style, it’s also about communication. Your design, imagery, typography etc. should be inspired by and support the content and personality of your client and the message that you’re trying to communicate.
Do something different
Break out of your comfort zone, challenge yourself to do something different. Following design trends might be comfortable and easy but long-term success requires a unique approach. Challenge the status quo, push against the accepted to make things better for the viewer but do so with reason. Be prepared to explain why this new way is better and more relevant to the client’s needs. Trends are temporary, but good design that communicates a message free of fluff will ultimately stand the test of time. Look outside your industry for sources of inspiration: Architecture, Fashion, Photography, Industrial Design, Editorial Design, Music, Fine Art etc. can all be extremely helpful resources. I often pull color inspiration from fashion spreads or interior design. Finally, follow your heart. If you’re passionate about photography, take photographs and read photography blogs. It may not directly relate to what you do professionally but it can be a source of inspiration for that work.
Remix versus plagiarism
When you’re learning it’s okay to copy people, we all learn new techniques by mimicking the work of others and practicing. Your design is inspired by your experiences and influences. If you’re really into one or two designers and you only ever look at their work you will eventually rip them off. To prevent this, you should diversify your inspirations. The more work you look at the more diluted your inspiration will be and the less likely you’ll be to rip someone off. Copying is not illegal but it’s not ethical. The design community is a tight one, if you are too heavily influenced by someone else’s style someone is bound to notice and point it out. Unless the work is an obvious homage you could be in big legal trouble and possibly ruin your reputation.
On the other hand, it can be argued that there is no such thing as a truly original idea. We’re all influenced by each other—we build upon ideas and put our own spin on them to create derivative but unique work. Our ideas are a mashup or remix of other ideas that we’re encountered. New York-based filmmaker Kirby Ferguson produced a four part video series on the subject called Everything is a Remix. I would definitely recommend anyone in the creative field to watch it.