Mona LisaWith just a few years under your belt as a graphic designer, you’ve no doubt come across a time or two when you experienced a complete and total lack of creativity; a sort of designer’s block, if you will. If it hasn’t happened to you, you either haven’t pushed bounds of creativity yet, or you’ve been darn lucky. Either way, it WILL happen.

The best way to fight it is to seek-out and find creativity in places and things that you wouldn’t normally look for it. The key is getting your butt out from in front of the computer screen and into the real world. For some, it’s easy to do – for others, it’s not as simple. Where to go to look for inspiration? And where to find it once you get there?

Banana-split sundae

The smell and appearance of food can inspire your creativity - just stop and look!

Inspiration can come from anywhere, and usually in ways you’ve not considered. Shapes, colors, smells… they all can contribute to breaking the creative block. Something as simple as the world’s greatest banana-split sundae can do more than console a broken heart, trust me! Consider the presentation of your favorite desert at a nice restaurant… they don’t just slap it on a plate any which way and serve it to you.

Landscaping for inspirationGetting outside can be as simple as visiting your own backyard. When was the last time you thought about the landscaping outside the four walls of your home office? Rather than redesigning your Web site for the umpteenth time this year, why not try designing your back yard instead!

Think of the different shapes, colors and materials you can use. The added advantage to landscaping is that you have three dimensions to work with, instead of the normal two. This can be particularly invigorating for package designers who already think and work this way. You have a large palette to work with, and only yourself to please – how often does that happen in the design biz?

Of course, not everyone may find a scrumptious ice cream break as inspirational as I do, and gardening might not be your thing. So try visiting an art museum, or any museum for that matter. I’ve never considered myself a connoisseur of fine art, but visiting a museum doesn’t necessarily require you to admire what’s on display.

Inspirational art

Exploring an art museum - but not for the art

When I visit a museum, I more often than not find inspiration in the architecture of the building itself. The lines, curves and materials used in the construction can be be quite inspiring by themselves. And take a look at the layout of the museum. Look how they typically direct you through the galleries, where they place the art, where the benches are placed, and the viewing angles available. It’s all by design. And it’s usually beautiful.

Ok, so museums aren’t found on every street corner, and they aren’t typically the cheapest places to visit on a whim. Don’t limit yourself to a museum. Got a shopping district in your town, or a part of town that’s a bit older than others? Visit a prison Those places typically offer plenty of inspiration via the creative ways the spaces are used. Go someplace you wouldn’t normally go. Visit places you’re not likely ever to visit again. To steal a line from the great Apple commercial, “Think Different.” Cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle or Portland all have great old parts of town that are inspiring by their sights and sounds alone, not to mention everything else they have to offer. But don’t think you have to travel to see inspiration in a city, chances are your own town has the same offerings, you just haven’t found them yet. Explore!

Inspiring signsFinally, look for inspiration in art that is right in front of you every single day. Signs! I have a particular love for architecture and signs. Nothing inspires me more than a great sign on a beautifully constructed building. Heck, even an ugly sign can have charm.

Drive around downtown in your city and you’re sure to see signs hung in unlikely places and manners. Many times, the sign is more inspiring than what you find inside the store. I have a huge collection of digital photos of signs from virtually everywhere I go. They aren’t all high-quality photos, many are taken with the camera on my cell phone. The point is, I have a huge collection to look at any time I want.

The point of all this is that you need to get out and away from the design world once in a while. Looking at your fellow designer’s work on the Internet sometimes only serves to frustrate you more when you’re lacking your own creativity. Get away from fellow creatives and you’ll find that people and places of all walks of life can inspire you, in ways you simply can’t get by sitting at your computer.

2 thoughts on “Design survival: Finding design inspiration outside the digital world

  1. Love the ice cream photo – I used it to train employees for our hospital’s ice cream social in July to celebrate National Ice Cream Month. Thanks!

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