It’s no secret that the creative industry can drain you of ideas, but I’ve found that creativity is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, it gets weaker. You must constantly use your creative muscle, or at the very least stimulate it on a consistent level, so that whenever you’re asked for a great idea, you can pull one out.
But how do you stay inspired and work that muscle on a consistent basis?
Have engaging conversations with your peers on a regular basis
If you’re not doing this often, you should be. Some of the most inspiring conversations I have are with my peers over coffee or drinks. It’s nice to catch up on life and design, and these discussions often lead into each of us helping someone with a design challenge of sorts.
Consistently study the work of others—and learn from it
Early on in my career, websites like Dribbble and Muzli didn’t exist. If you wanted to look at work from your peers, you had to invest money into design annuals. It was great to thumb through those books and get ideas. I still have many of my annuals. Whether it’s annuals or a digital format, it’s important to consistently study your peers’ work and break down their solution to discover the thinking behind it.
Build a library of these solutions that you can pull from as inspiration. Collect examples of great techniques. You’re not supposed to copy them, but they can be used to learn from and inspire better solutions for your clients.
Surround yourself with great design
I keep my desk and my house pretty minimalist, but I surround myself with designs I love. I have a box that I store cool ideas in. This box contains the things I find inspiring, but I use Evernote, Dribbble, and digital storing solutions to capture the digital inspiration I stumble upon. Keeping inspiration all around me allows me to pull from that whenever I may need to, for a project or simply as an ongoing reminder of the great solutions that exist and to push myself to achieve that.
Something else that has served me well, in terms of having a variety of ideas or solutions in the tank at any given time, is to stay educated on a variety of topics and ways others may have solved similar challenges. I do that by trying to consistently learn and educate myself on a variety of topics.
I don’t need to be an expert in all of these areas, but I know enough about development, onboarding, business, user patterns, and marketing to pull from those areas and contribute thoughtful ideas to them whenever those discussions come up.
I put these thoughts through the “design” filter and present them as a quick solution that could be expanded on by an expert or myself in deeper detail if the feeling is that it’s valid.
The point is that many people have solved similar challenges to yours. Learn from others so you can try to relate those to your needs and build upon them.
Take time to design for yourself
Designing for clients and companies can be exhausting. Depending on the structure of your company, you could be working on the same project for months and feel a lack of inspiration or creative tunnel vision. There’s so many stakeholders on a project that you often get to the point of feeling like your work and ideas aren’t inspiring you or anyone else.
When that happens, you’ve got to take time to design for you. Design without strings attached. It doesn’t have to be on a regular basis, but for some it will be. Start thinking about some things you’d like to design for yourself. Posters, a new app, T-shirts… Whatever it is, find that thing you’d LOVE to design—and go do it. Get back to basics and inspire yourself again.
A final note
Staying inspired is something you have to work at. It’s a little flame that needs to be fueled. You can do it by learning about someone’s great solution to a challenge that sparks your own ideas, or by sitting down to work on a side-project for yourself. Try to find something that works for you.
In some ways, inspiration feeds positivity. As designers, when we feel like we’re in the wrong spot or lack fulfillment, it can be pulled back to the lack of inspiration. It can boil down to a lack of fresh ideas in the tank or the absence of inspiration to do our best work.