As a team working on a myriad of design disciplines day in and day out, there are certain challenges we face every day. How can we design high-quality strategies and solutions our clients need? How can we reduce the size of that enormous file? How did AI do that??!?!?
Some of these questions are easier to answer than others, but one of the toughest challenges we face is figuring out where the heck inspiration comes from (and how can I get more of it)?
Inspiration and creativity are enigmatic ideas that exist in our minds very clearly, but aren’t easily harnessed or even fully understood in real-world settings, let alone in pressurized work environments. Every creative asks themselves this question at some point (or several points) in their career, yet so few of us find an answer.
Below are four methods to invite creativity and inspiration into your practice, whether you’re a design team like us, or an army of one!
Rethink your process
The biggest thief of organic inspiration is rigidity. Understandably, it’s hard to be creative when you’re constantly hearing the clock tick. To combat the anxiety, we developed a creative process that prioritizes open space, play, and hospitality towards “bad ideas.”
Finding roominess in a project timeline can be difficult. When deadlines are a priority, we find a few extra days or even hours by seeking opportunities for efficiency in parts of our process that aren’t held up by ideation – for example, laying out templates for known deliverables ahead of time. A creative project timeline provides flexibility, and we were able to double (or even triple) the time allotted for concepts and research compared to a rigid linear process.
Plan for oddities
To help stimulate new ideas, we formulate wacky design prompts that force team members to look at the project from new perspectives. Questions like, “Think of another creative field that inspires you (fashion, engineering, soup labels, etc). If you were to combine parts of that medium with an item from your project, what would it look like?”
We also set biweekly sharing moments to show-off progress and the process and not just the end result, though there were no parameters for what that progress could look like. Integrated into this process is time away from computer screens to find inspiration in hands-on mediums or in the environments and people around us. Which brings us to our third tip.
Change up the scene
Creativity tends to strike most often during moments of quiet reflection and observation, paying attention. So one way we foster creativity is by putting ourselves in environments that are conducive to that kind of thought.
Our office is positioned in a part of the DC that’s easily walkable and conveniently situated near a beautiful monastery garden and several parks. But indoors we didn’t have much space away from the bustle of agency life and screens. So, we set aside one of our rooms and created what we call the “quiet car.” This is a place to sit on a comfy couch, enjoy silence, wonder aloud, draw, or read — all in an isolated space where inspiration can whisper to us without distraction. What makes this effective for us is it offers an opportunity for us to switch up our environment, so whatever environment you typically work in, try the opposite for some time and see if it helps!
Expose yourself to the weird and wonderful!
The last item on the list is my personal favorite. One of the most fail-proof ways to become inspired is to look at something you’ve never seen before, and in the information age, there’s no shortage of ways to do that! At openbox9, we collect books that provide hyper-focus into a particular creative topic every month. For example, last month, we ordered a book on optical illusions in graphic design. This month, we’re reading a book about ambitious architecture projects of the 20th century. Next month, it’ll be a book that solely features weird recipes from iconic movies (think of Allison’s Pixie Stix and Cap’n Crunch sandwich in The Breakfast Club). All of these get us thinking about niche, unheard of, or downright bizarre ideas that might just lead to something extraordinary.
You cannot order creativity on-demand, or even guarantee it by Uber-delivery. But, there are plenty of ways to point our brains in the right direction and create an environment where it is welcomed. With any luck, we can find the unique combination of process, environment, and inspiration that will keep it within reach when we need it most!