Frequently, non-designers ask me where I get the ideas and inspiration for all of the projects I work on. The honest answer is that almost anything has the capacity to inspire me. This is why I think that it’s so important for a designer to carry a sketchbook with them wherever they go.
Working in a creative field is unique in the sense that seemingly non-design related personal experiences and surroundings can (and frequently do) directly affect your work as a creative. Many famous designers have claimed that they put a tiny piece of their own personalities and experiences into each of the projects they work on.
Over the course of my creative career, I have found this to be the case with myself as well. Spending a year abroad completing my Masters degree really helped expand my perceptions of the world we all share. During my studies and travels, I was exposed to a multitude of cultures, beliefs and different ways of thinking. As much as I can say that the Masters program I attended in London was the sole reason for my growth as a designer, everything else I saw and experienced during my stay played no less of a role.
That isn’t to say that every designer is absolutely required to move outside of his or her comfort zone or travel 3,000 miles away in order to evolve as a designer. Even a walk to work every day can yield unexpected surprises if you look closely enough. You’d be surprised at how beautiful and inspiring the world can be when you take the time to notice it. Go to that art opening, attend an AIGA meeting, or see that foreign movie with subtitles!
If you do ever find yourself in a creative slump (and believe me we’ve all been there), there are easy ways to get yourself out of it. Here are some techniques I personally use to shake off my own mental blocks:
- Get away from the computer and try to flush out your ideas in a sketchbook
- Have an open mind and experiment with a new style or technique
- Take a break, go for a walk or read a book for a few minutes, then come back to your project
- Surround yourself with creative people and collaborate
- Allow yourself to make mistakes (who knows, they might turn into a happy ones!)
- Take design risks but be sure not to force anything
- Remember to have fun! Being a designer is one of the few occupations that can be fun, rewarding and well compensated.
For further reading, be sure to check out the following books:
- Graphic: Inside the Sketchbooks of the World’s Great Graphic Designers by Steven Heller
- How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer by Debbie Millman
Erik Summa received his BFA in Graphic Design from West Chester University and graduated with an MA in Graphic Design from University of the Arts London. Summa is currently self-employed as a freelance designer.
His personal website can be found at eriksumma.com.
Erik will be teaching courses offered in the UArts Print Design Certificate program in the fall.