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a) It’s common practice to seek inspiration from other designer’s work but this often encourages the pursuit of styles and trends, which undermines the purpose of design. Real creativity in design causes a communication to be noticed and understood. You will find the client, objectives and research more inspirational than another designer’s work, no matter how talented.

b) The creative mindset is controlled by passion and commitment. And has alarms that warn you when moving off track ie: when the client influences the message in ways that contradict the objectives (what the audience needs to know).

c) There is nothing more frightful to a designer, writer, artist or philosopher, than a blank space. His or her job is to fill it with meaning, influence and innovation. The instant a mark, an image or word appears, the process of creativity begins. To create an original and apt idea is to start at zero, with a completely open mind and no preconceptions.

‘In creating, the only hard
thing’s to begin; a grass
blade’s no easier to make
than an oak.’– James Russell Lowell,
American poet, critic,editor, diplomat


d) Designers who produce truly innovative work are masters at controlling the creative process. They work with clients to ensure their visions coincide. It’s useful to address concerns and audience needs directly to disarm objections and enable creative freedom. Provided your workplace is a creative haven, you can take risks without fear of failure, criticism and judgement.

e) However, there’s nothing worse than a project with no rules. As creative professionals, we spend many hours removing constraints, rules and requirements. We want more room to be creative. But a problem with no limits is not a problem at all, there’s nothing to solve.

f) When you hit the point when you are not connecting with the project, drop it. Take a break, do something unrelated and the creative block should subside. Try going to the museum, airport, gallery, park etc. The further from the design problem your source of ideas, the more original the concepts.

‘I find that part of the
information I have was
acquired by looking up
something and finding
something else along
the way.’ – Franklin Adams,
writer (sounds like John Lennon)


g) Always carry a sketchbook, replacing with a time planner or calendar suggests you schedule your creative time. Even worse, it suggests you don’t have time to waste being creative; and that’s a sin.

h) Doodling and sketching are supposed to be rough, raw and leave room for interpretation. Accidents are the source of originality. Collect materials, cut and paste, photocopy and sketch through collage.

i) Adjust your work schedule to your creative style, set the scene ie: night owl. When you are inspired, continue, as it is easier to keep your brain on after it’s clicked into gear, than to crank it up from scratch.

j) Change your state of mind before you approach the problem ie: to the imagination of a child. Try coming from the opposite side, Try using numbers instead of words or making it read back to front. Combine a word and a picture at random or two unrelated concepts generated from brainstorming.

k) Experiment attaching human qualities to inanimate objects ie: applying emotions (happy rolodex), physical characteristics (walls have ears) and actions (running with an idea). Try using metaphors, puns, double entendres or phonetics. A metaphor is a figure of speech describing an abstract concept in concrete terms or something complicated in simple terms ie: they are queued up like soldiers waiting to charge into battle. There are 1000s for each subject.

l) Embrace words as much as images. Create a list of words or phrases boiling the problem down to the essence of what needs to be communicated. How the message is conveyed and interpreted through typography determines the success or failure of the design. The words in a creative communications solution are perfectly married to the image. Words drive content and images drive perception. If the image doesn’t reinforce the message or move the communication along, it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.

‘The definition of a ‘good’
designer is someone who
knows what to keep and
what to throw away. This
applies to every aspect
of a project – from input,
ideas and choice of media
to what gets presented.’
– Rick Eiber, Rick Eiber Design


m) Don’t allow the computer alone to drive the design. Use innovative approaches to visual brainstorming to ensure your ideas are creative and communicative – not merely trendy or decorative to achieve true integration of the word and image. When something appears polished, a client assumes it is finished. The computer is a tool, it is not a designer, a photographer or an illustrator.

n) Ignore the unfair voices of judgement, who dictate ‘acceptable design approach.’ They make you fearful to pursue ‘off the wall’ creativity. You don’t have to follow trends, you can set the latest design standard.

o) Find out the design criteria at the beginning of a project, which dictates how the concept is played out on a production level. Budget and schedule dictate scale and scope. Mailing and delivery dictate format and size.

p) Break the presentation process into 2 stages: design concept and refinement. The former involves showing rough drawings of ideas with no colour or quality to help the client choose a concept without distraction. The latter provides opportunity to translate the agreed-upon ideas into variations of a finished layout.

q) Find the balance between and form and function. Style and technique are tools but they’re not the substance that sets a communication apart or demands an audience react. Creativity is a product of passion but if you treat the process as a task and the product of design as a commodity, then you are just creating junk mail.

r) Deconstructing type, distorting and discolouring, unfocused images that seem accidental are now being deliberately used to communicate an attitude or style. It’s valid to use these techniques but they must be derived from objective and co-exist with meaning, understanding and readability.

s) When approaching a design problem, try and use extremes and contrast ie: something pleasant next to something repulsive to exaggerate each. Jump between attention to detail and the whole picture.

‘You don’t have control
over your subconscious
creative mind. You are
just a receiver, an antenna.
You take in your world and
transmit it again. You are
not the creator, you are the
transmitter,' - John Coy, Coy LA


t) Research, borrow, innovate. A New idea is often two old ideas meeting for the first time. Use retro, reinvention, revival – be a magpie. Break the rules. Learn endlessly.

u) Be dynamic and persuasive, it is your role as a creative problem solver to help the client make smart decisions affecting creativity. Always bring the decision-making process back to the agreed objectives and design criteria ie: does the communication solicit a response?

v) Try focussing on ‘emotional territory’ rather than facts ie: ice cream is about comfort or sex whereas athletic equipment indicates victory. Give the client a ‘cultural mission’ ie: iIea used to sell cheap, sturdy furniture, St.Luke’s gave them permission to wage war against chintzy old-fashioned décor and Boots 17 encourages girls not to take any s*** from boys.

w) If the ad industry keeps recycling old ideas, just how long do you think it can survive? It’s got to evolve or die. So look for things away from the ad world. Even better, look for things away from your own world. What can be worse than an ad that aspires to be an ad? You owe it to the public to present them with ideas that are new, different, challenging, interesting, entertaining.

x) Art and design is subjective. What is considered to be a great portfolio by one creative director, may only be thought of as mediocre by another. After thumbing through your work, he or she must be left thinking you are an amazingly innovative, lateral thinking, intelligent, breathtakingly original individual. It should be an extension of your personal experiences.

y) If someone’s spending considerable time trying to get it, then somewhere along the line it isn’t working. Try something else instead.

z) Look at anybody who has achieved notoriety and fame in either music, art, design, architecture or photography – they’ve all created something unique to put their names to. Why not aim your sights high?  Explore, experiment and enjoy!

Source: Notes taken from ‘Creativity for Graphic Designers’ by Mark Oldach