A Graphic Designer’s Guide to Great Ideas

Being a graphic designer is hard. Sure, we get to be a little more laid back than your average working stiff, and we often get away with being a little weirder than our office counterparts. But at the same time, we are often challenged to make things that aren’t very exciting more enticing.

I mean, you’d have to be a creative savant to make going to the bathroom seem like the coolest thing in the world, right? Well, someone did.

So, I guess the big question is how can you push your creative to the next level without losing your mind?

Well, friend, hold on to your slacks, because we’re going on a ride.

First off, let me preface this by saying never in the 10-plus years of being a graphic designer have I ever had a good idea come to me right off the bat. Being creative in a world that is flooded with new information every second is like fighting Godzilla with a slingshot.

You constantly have to be processing new information while weeding out the garbage. If you go into any project thinking you’re going to get something that will work right away, I have some terrible news for you.

However, if you can look at your ideas and understand that most of them are just trash, then you’re one step closer to reaching the summit of creative emergence.

One of the things that really helps in the creative process is a clear mind.

Trying to come up with a good concept or idea while trying to decide what to eat for lunch, whether you left the coffee pot on or which Seinfeld character you are most like (George for me, by the way), makes any new thoughts really hard to create.

Our brains can only process so many different things at one time and when it’s filled with stuff completely unrelated to the task at hand, you will not get optimal results.

That’s why often when I am trying to come up with something new, I will find ways to shut my brain down. Some people like running, others enjoy looking at cat videos on the internet.

Personally, I play video games because I can keep my mind active doing simple tasks while still solving a design problem subconsciously. It’s a delicate balance between swearing at underage kids on the internet and finding out new ways to present information in a creative manner.

Find something that works for you and do it. Even in tight deadlines, you can still find a way to shut your brain down for a minute or two just to reset.

Start writing things down.

As your brain starts to reboot, you will be flooded with a bunch of information. Some of that information might be relatable to the problem at hand, some of it might be another problem you are still working on.

The point is you don’t have time to sort through all that brain vomit right now, so write it down to review later. This is a tried and true method that almost any creative person employs – it works!

As humans, we have this great system where we like to censor ourselves to avoid embarrassment. Even if you have a good idea, you might not be 100 percent sure that it will work, so you will pass over it and move on.

The problem with this is that your idea might have been the winner, but it just needed a little tweaking. When you pass over it and move on, you could potentially be losing out a great creative solution without even realizing it until five years later when you are sitting on your toilet and see an ad for Poo-Pourri between YouTube videos. How ironic … and unfortunate.

Writing everything down allows us to go back after a couple of hours and review the ideas and thoughts on a more in-depth level. Marc Maron once tweeted, “I have measured out my life with post-its.” What does he mean by that? Who the hell knows, but write it down.

Let’s say after all this work you are still struggling to come up with something that will work for your current design problem, but you have some fun ideas you don’t really know what to do with.

Take a break and work on something a little more personal.

I, for example, might work on a fun poster idea using some ideas gathered from a previous creative experiment. It may not fit your objective, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create it for yourself.

This allows you to experiment and be a little looser with your designs and ideas. From there, you might accidentally stumble across a creative solution to your problem just because you were having fun.

Oftentimes, working on client projects keeps creatives hand-cuffed to style guides and specific project scopes. But, if you are working on something that doesn’t require that, you can often find different techniques that can be molded and re-worked to fit in the constructs of your client’s specs. Take for example the ABC store.

We always casually talked about opening a shop to sell weird, one-off merch just for fun. One day in a concept development meeting we hit a wall, so we all got sidetracked with what some shirts could say and what they would look like.

While we were discussing the shop, we weren’t trying to force ideas that wouldn’t work for a client. Once we got it all out of our system, we were able to re-examine the client’s needs and re-focus on some great new concepts.

Using yourself as a guinea pig for creative ideas is a great way to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t.

There are tons of ways to push through creative roadblocks. You need to find what works best for you. Every person is different and every problem is different.

That being said, it’s always important to remember that you are trying to create something that will help clients achieve their end goal. Even if an idea is the best thing in the history of man, if it doesn’t help the client, then it isn’t going to work.


About the Author

An accomplished musician with a penchant for pop culture, Marty now composes some of ABC’s finest print ads and digital media. He’s often the most creative guy in the room, throwing out ideas of various feasibility with a sharp wit that keeps the agency’s concept development meetings prolific.