What do you know that you don’t know you know?


On most designs, there’s something that you don’t know how to do.

Maybe you have a poster to make for the company retreat, and you’re stuck for an idea. Or you don’t know what typeface to use or how it should be illustrated.

Yet you sense that there’s an answer. And this sense pulls you into the work.

You dig for images, set type, try layouts, looking. Are you hoping that something cool just happens? Or is there a vision, unarticulated, that you’re working toward, and you’ll know it when you have it?

What do you know that you don’t know you know, and how do you find it?


This entry was posted in Design, Question & answer. Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to What do you know that you don’t know you know?

  1. Steve Dye says:

    John —

    Everything I know about design has come from you. I have no formal training at all, but people are always very complimentary of my work.

    When I encounter a design challenge, I always reach for my Before & After collection . . . and I always will.

    You’re an excellent teacher, and I’m impressed at how you’re using your talents to make this world a more beautiful place. Thank you!

    Happy 2010!

    Steve Dye
    Breckenridge, Texas

  2. Derek Zinger says:

    I wish I had a simple answer. Generally, fear that I will not find a solution will eventually lead me somewhere good!

    When in doubt, though I go back to — or try to add to my list of — meaningful elements in the design: those keywords and messages that I’m trying to convey. They’re where it all starts and ultimately they lead to all the best ideas.

  3. Craig says:

    I usually find that execution of a project is far easier than conception. Keep inspiring things close at hand. Do another project. It comes — just not always on command. Before & After is an excellent source of inspiration — lots of projects for me come from a pretty simple idea I find here, and the rest seems to just fall into place. Design seems to be like writing — the more well-read, the easier writing becomes. So too with design. Absorb good design, and always look for a way to use that in your own work. Good luck! Best wishes in 2010!

  4. Jan O'Hara says:

    I agree with Steve Dye. Before & After has been a great inspiration over many years . . . and very instructive. One of the best. I also learned a great deal from Robin Williams.

    Other things — be observant, keep notes, sketches of things (colors, shapes, type) that catch your eye. And know when to set a struggling project aside; a cleared mind often allows intuitive ideas and solutions to come to the fore.

  5. jana says:

    Yeah, I know exactly what you mean!

    Sometimes it’s a technical challenge. I’ll be working on a book layout, I know what I need to do, but how can I do this easily? I’m a lazy person, so I always make sure I find the easy way of doing things. There usually is one. Solving technical issues is rather easy. You peek into the manual, or check out the web for tips.

    When it’s a creative challenge, it is a bit harder. Often I go browsing through stock photos, and that stems an idea.

    I love brainstorming. You discuss every stupid thing that comes to your mind, and often a great solution comes out from that. And you can have a lot of laughs.

    Sometimes, getting out of the office and absorbing the world springs an idea.

    When all else fails, I believe that sleeping on it always helps. Often, I get great ideas when doing something completely else. Take a break, and let your subconsciousness work on it.

    And then, of course, you can always “cheat” and check out your issues of Before & After magazine ;-)


  6. Donna says:

    Inspiration comes from so many things but often not when we’re looking for it (and commonly not when we’re looking for it!). Keeping ideas and tools on hand is essential, and we all agree about John’s work! But I also love to cruise a few designer blogs. Many of them have links to even more websites full of ideas, how-to’s and inspiration. For example, I love spoongraphics. Try to find blogs that are different (design techniques and look) from each other to keep it fresh.

    I also find that keeping my sketch book handy is essential. You never know when you’ll find a solution or a great idea to sell to that fantastic client you’ve always tried to land!

    Happy New Year everyone!

  7. Max Nomad says:

    “What do you know that you don’t know you know, and how do you find it?”

    IMHO, the answer to this and every variation of this question is a combination of reading design books and observation in the form of constantly studying great work. Ad campaigns in magazines. Commercial breaks for programs being shown on networks that would appeal to your target market. Color palettes created by the masters like Monet or Gauguin. Aside from that, there’s the brainstorming process, going through tons of bad ideas in search of the rough stones that can be polished into the gems we call “good designs.”

  8. Lars Jensen says:

    A few decades ago, I attended a talk on software cultures. The speaker defined culture in general as, “what you know that you don’t know you know.”

  9. Tough question . . .

    Going out, looking around, going to museums, art galleries, stores, glancing at books and magazines, just opening your eyes and taking things in . . . all can help . . . that’s what I learned from the great book, “The artist’s way”. . .

  10. Scott says:

    Inspiration comes from all aspects of life, everything one sees or does. It’s important to walk away from your desk, the book, the humming machine in front of you and experience new things. Even simple things bring inspiration.

    Execution is formulaic in most cases. The inspiration is where the meat lies. I challenge myself to consistently find new ways to look at common elements or items. Some of my best epiphanies have come while filling up at a service station, or grocery shopping, or just doodling on a napkin at a restaurant.

  11. Len Williams says:

    When faced with a new design challenge, I have two normal reactions: 1) I instantly have a concept of what I want to create, or 2) I have no ideas at all and find myself floundering in a wasteland of doubt and uncertainty. Even after being a successful designer for nearly 38 years, it happens all the time.

    The solution to #2, however, is always simple and consists of three, time-tested actions:

    1) There are always some known items that must go on the page, including the company’s logo, possibly the name of the event, product, service, or a headline. I throw these known items on the page (digitally), and quite often just seeing them sitting there starts the creative juices flowing for what I can do to forward the message of the ad, brochure, poster, etc.

    2) If that action doesn’t ignite the fires, it’s often that I don’t have a clear idea of what message I’m supposed to be getting across. Possibly the client hasn’t given me full information, so a quick call to the client, boss or contact person to discuss more precisely what the ad, brochure, or poster should do or communicate is advisable. This simple conversation often provides the spark and direction needed.

    3) Once the direction has been determined, if the project still feels stale, I disconnect from it temporarily. I go through magazines without any clear thought of what I’m looking for. I browse through an art and design book, watch TV, go out and look at billboards, or go window shopping or for a walk in the park. This disconnect allows me to look at the environment and recharge. Ideas and new slants on what I’m designing that I’d never have thought of on my own come almost unbidden, and the project rolls along.

    These have worked for me for over three decades and have never failed to summon the creative muse. The last major point to mention is that good design is simply good communication, not bells and whistles.

  12. Barbara Hamaker says:

    Having no formal training, I’ve stumbled slowly into this strange and wonderful world called graphic design over the years and finally find myself doing it professionally, pinching myself from time to time. I was Saul Bass’s secretary — yes that Saul Bass — for six years from 1975 to ’81. Who knew??? I fell in love with everything, especially this creative, funny, generous and brilliant soul, whose energy filled every room he walked into and, of course, find now 30+ years later that everything was important . . . every moment.

    I appreciate everyone’s insightful comments everywhere always, and add them to my mile-high pile of things to turn to whenever a project appears, and excitement and expectations beckon, and I hear Saul’s laughter in the background. Cheers and thanks you’s to everyone! Onward into the valley of surprises!

  13. Louise Claes says:

    I think it is the ability to know that you need to be constantly learning.

    Knowing your weaknesses and being prepared to learn new skills to achieve professional results — and being prepared to pay for quality tutorials.

    Being inspired by a wine label, a piece of furniture, a magazine ad and always inspired by nature. Looking at the technical behind the beauty and questioning why things appeal to us.

    It’s looking at a sign and recognising Frutiger and Garamond italic before you’ve read the words.

    It’s knowing classics from passing trends. But hey, the retro and vintage we are seeing now were the passing trend of their day too — another reason to stay educated.

    Thank you Before & After; you educate, you challenge, and you provide inspiration and a forum for us to learn even more from each other.

  14. George Breslau says:

    When a project is awarded to me, my mind gets lost. Yet, the same way I learned about writing from an English Comp teacher, I do start anywhere (usually the middle) to get an idea of something on paper. Then, I work my way to a beginning or maybe an ending. Some things fall into place, but mostly the collection in my idea file, “Before & After,” and other graphic design magazines at the library provide a worthy lead that can be used to inspire me to the finish.

    Thank you, John, for your exciting inspiration that has projected me into this field. There is so much guidance from you that there is not a way to express how important it is. Maybe you would be impressed if you would see through my eyes (sometimes with a tear) how your work connects correctly in multiple ways. I always “get it.” :-)

  15. (Side note: Len’s modestly not mentioning that he’s really, really good at what he does.)

    Like Len (and many others — Paula Scher being a famous example), I’m not at all shy about pulling more information from the client: viewpoint, company/individual philosophy, their goal for the particular item, who the audience will be, what exactly are they trying to communicate. Often the central concept will pop out of that.

    In parallel, I might prowl the web or magazine racks looking for material that targets that audience, to get a sense of what’s real for them.

    I have my file of tear sheets: stuff I’ve come across that looked particularly effective. I have my Before & After articles and John’s books plus a library of reference works. On my workstation is a large folder called “Ideas,” filled with random noodlings, practice pieces using different techniques, images, all kinds of stuff.

    Generally I’ll start from one or all of these places, sketching on paper or going straight to the computer. I work things over until I have a couple of approaches that seem to have promise. I’ll develop one or more a bit, then go over them with the client. Either this lands in the ballpark, or it elicits enough feedback (having something to look at often clarifies the client’s own thinking) so that the next one hits the jackpot.

    Relying on communication with the client has a side-effect of keeping clients I like on board, and not landing jobs from ones I have no rapport with, but that’s fine with me. It makes the work more satisfying and the relationships more enjoyable.

  16. jP says:

    Regardless of what I’m designing or creating as an artist, may favorite spot is the one you just described. That moment when the canvas is still blank and we can decide which direction to go before committing to a design. If I’m having trouble, I do a series of things — music, magazines and Web sites such as this one — and then I get out my Wacom and just begin to doodle. Before I know it, the idea has hit and the design has taken off!

  17. Don Cheke says:

    I am most creative when I have a specific project due (as opposed to trying something just for fun). I almost always just get down to it and let the creative juices flow, as the saying goes. I am usually quite surprised by what seems to come out of just being opened to the creative spirit.

    Because techniques can be elusive, especially when I am under time constraints, I do prepare myself by spending my free hours experimenting, trying various tutorials that are found on the net or in books, and checking out inspirational design materials. Some of my favorites are my Before & After subscriptions, my Down & Dirty Tricks books, and my Design Ideas books. It is amazing how a color or an element seen here or there can spark a flood of new ideas. Gotta love the whole process!

  18. Jenna says:

    This works for my creative process: Every once in a while, be a four-year-old again. Or hang around a four-year-old for a while. Just PLAY around with stuff — I don’t interpret, analyze, “adult”-erate, or even try to figure out how I’m going to make it fit into a specific project — just file it. This is an on-going process for me, so I find that in many cases (enough to make it worthwhile), the things I’ve had fun with and the projects I have to do eventually gravitate toward each other.

    The project/design/graphic/layout part is where I go back to being all grown-up and do the serious job. But the kid energy never leaves me, so there’s always some room in there for a little “what if?” If it works, way cool. If it doesn’t, no need to jump off a cliff. I do agree with Len’s solution #1; sometimes the essential things you have to incorporate will (for better or worse) influence what you do with the rest of the piece.

    Bottom line is, I’m an OJT learner (12 years now), LOVE what I do, and John McWade and Robin Williams are the masters at whose feet I sit. I get so pumped up by their stuff, and I so enjoy and am inspired by the contributions of others on this dialogue.

    Thanks to all, and Happy New Year!

  19. Droolcup says:

    As usual, very lucid remarks. I agree with all of them!

    Like several, I am untaught other than what I have learned from Before & After and from observing. Sometimes things come in a flash, and sometimes they don’t. I also fling requisite items onto the digital page and noodle around with them. I often make five or six tentative stabs at a solution, save it, and go on to something else. Like many others, I have found you cannot work in a vacuum: music without words helps; looking at great photos or other art or architecture or great solutions to problems (Shaker furniture, perhaps?) helps; going for a walk helps; sleeping on it helps; doing something entirely other (exercising, cooking, writing poetry, playing with the cat, watching the birds, reading) also helps. Going through the Before & After archive also helps identify what type of problem it is, and what direction a possible solution might take. Here it can almost be formulaic: try this approach, that approach, and six others and see if one works best.

    The thing I think I know but don’t realize is that somewhere in the brain all the pieces are resident. Sleeping on it often helps the bell go off (usually in the shower, the next morning). And what is always, always useful, is to write a “script” of the brief, stating what we have been given, and what the goals/objectives are, much like a geometry proof.

    Any way that gets you the answer you need, works. As an old instructor said, “If you must, stand on your head and spit nickels.” Often there are multiple “good” solutions, and the client is the one who decides what finally communicates best. True: it is all about communicating, and doing that as clearly as possible. I try not to let the execution get in the way of the message. Often, less is more. Dare to be understated!

    Happy New Year, and nuf sed.

  20. Joel says:

    I learned a long time ago that if I get away from my Mac and go for a cup of coffee, wander around the building or, best of all, go outside for a walk, I get more and better ideas than I ever get playing around with type, etc. on screen. I do play around with stuff on screen, of course, but only after taking a pretty long break from the monitor — long enough to really relax!

  21. kathy says:

    All great comments. The creative process isn’t about mechanics, it’s about passion. Yes, passion — even if you’re charged with designing a dog food ad (and I love dogs!). Design doesn’t follow a rule, such as 2 + 2 = 4; there isn’t a “correct” answer. As well, there shouldn’t be — a good design can follow many paths.

    I’m a freelance graphic designer who’s had the fortune to work in many of the world’s top agencies. And, yes, I’m self-trained in design, and worked my way up from answering phones!

    A few good tips to remember:

    1) You’re the designer. The client is expecting you to deliver something that they can’t create on their own. That’s why they’re paying you! Approach the project as providing a service and creativity, and not just a brochure, etc. We all appreciate good service!

    2) No idea is a bad idea. You can have a closet full of concepts that the client doesn’t need to know you brainstormed while looking for “it.” Keep all doodles, layouts, ideas in a scrapbook somewhere. An idea that may not be quite right for the current project might be the perfect execution for the next one!

    3) Look beyond the obvious. Sketch out a preliminary concept with the fundamentals — logo, body copy, technical specs, etc. Lay them out in plain sight on the page. Then, play around with layout, fonts, etc., and see what catches your eye. Set all type in black & white while trying out fonts. It’s much easier to find the right look first, and then add the colors after you’re happy with the layout. Often, you can get hung up on colors, when what you’re really reacting to is the layout.

    Hope these few tips help everyone in their designs. And remember, there are many different ways to approach everything — keep your eyes and ears open, and carry a sketchbook everywhere!

    Happy New Year to one and all.

    – Kathy

  22. Cathryn Wooton says:

    I follow almost the exact procedure that Len (above) does.

    I throw the stuff on the page that I know needs to go there, and then I make it work, enhancing the brand and popping the message as I go.

    Conceptual pieces are a different animal, because the concept really has to precede the content (not exactly the message). I just did a Christmas “card” that looked like a mini 16-page signature from a yearbook, and had I thought about the gathering of the content, I might never have embarked on the concept! But I love it when a concept runs away with you.

    As a person with innate design talent, I know there are a million things I “know” that I do not know I know. For that reason, I have always been intimidated by teaching others, because I do things in design that I never distill into “things” — my visual universe just begs to be a certain way, and I do it. I would never think to explain the process to someone else, because to me it’s not a process. It’s just a thing I do.

    Oh, and stock photos save my life :-)

  23. Jordan says:

    If I’m working on a project where I’m already immersed in the imagery, themes and other content, but just can’t see how to bring it all together, then I take some time to go for a walk or a bike ride. I find that doing repetitive physical activity — especially if it’s somewhere quiet, like a forest — removes mental blocks and helps me crystallize my ideas. I just have to remember to bring a notepad and pen to write down the solution as it comes, or I find it easy to forget once I’m back at work and surrounded by distractions.

  24. Karen says:

    What I know that I don’t know I know — is deep inside: a sense of balance, a preference as to what looks good, a sense of harmony in a design. I know when I read something well designed, and it’s easy. I also know when I see something that takes too much work to understand. I guess the point of the question is to stop and ask myself, why is this piece so easy to read (how is it simple)? Or, why is this piece so hard to look at (what’s distracting)? And maybe take some notes. Thanks for the challenging question :-)

  25. James says:

    My designs usually come from a few places. I start with thinking of how the piece needs to function. Who will see it, and what is the “information hierarchy,” as I call it with my clients.

    Then I figure out the most basic way to arrange this information (and see if I can talk the client into eliminating as much as possible). :-)

    Then it’s time to make it pretty. More often than not, it’s a very natural evolution. What colors make sense? What aesthetic have we already established in previous work?

    If I’m completely uninspired, I tend to look for textures or artwork that support the message, but — let’s be honest — sometimes they just add some visual interest.

    If I’m still totally blocked, then I start Googling, generally for totally unrelated topics just to see if an aesthetic grabs my eye. Or I’ll look at design gallery/showcases on sites like this one.

    Eventually, something works. :-)

  26. trendoffice says:

    This is the magic of creation, and I suppose that this is what makes us want to create — the feeling that you have something to tell the rest of the world. Well, at least what concerns good design — it inspires and gives ideas, no matter what field of design.

  27. Julian Hough says:

    It’s great to know that we all seem to suffer from the same initial “blocks” — and it’s not just me who has a hard time with some concepts!

    For me, getting clear information on what the goals are in the brief, what information is needed, and who the target audience is, are key pieces before I begin.

    Then, I just research the topic and scribble down words that are related and hope that something will spark the fire. I’ll throw out anything and everything just to get my creative juices flowing.

    Then, I’ll do a quick peruse of images to see if something complements my initial ideas. In tandem, I’ll also write down some copy or tagline to see if I can combine that with an image to push it along. I’ve found this year that it’s beneficial to me to really push my ideas as far as I can go with them to add that extra difference to my work

    Then, I generally work on type/fonts last, since I usually have a more solid idea of what the concept is and what type may fit the best. This is often a lengthy process for me, since picking the right fonts (sans-serif and serif) and hierarchy of texts is definitely a skill in its own right. It can make or break the whole piece.

    Sometimes an idea may come quickly, sometimes it doesn’t, but even with a good initial concept, I always need to coax it along.

    The only other issue for me is getting fixated on a particular idea and knowing when to let it go if it’s not working. Starting from scratch isn’t economic, but sometimes you have to . . . right?

    I love Before & After and all the fellow people who contribute their feelings and ideas, and I’m glad to be part of the community.

    Happy New Year to all for 2010!

  28. Alex says:

    I stumbled upon this today with the current discussion on the back of my head.

  29. JD says:

    I am not an expert designer, so it’s very comforting to read this blog and to learn that other designers, all around the world, experience the same mental blocks that I do, and which John has articulated so very well.

    I too am not a trained designer, but am deeply interested in the subject and have applied myself diligently. “Before & After: How to Design Cool Stuff” was a major source of guidance that I just cannot continue without.

    In answer to the question, however, I try to relax my mind by not thinking too much about the difficulty I am facing. Sometimes the ideas just happen when I least expect.

    During crunch time, I just keep busy floating stuff around on the computer screen, and to my amazement they often have a way of just falling into place, almost like magic.

    Best for 2010!

  30. I have read only some of your answers, because I am German — and sometimes I can’t concentrate on English so deeply. ;-)

    I am sure I have a different approach: When I don’t know how to begin, I pray. Actually, I also pray in cases when I do know how to start. Praying helps me to put my ego aside. I connect with the higher intelligence and sort of ask for a blessing for the current project. Then I feel the energy flowing . . . :-)

    After that, I follow the impulses which come through my mind. Sometimes I have an idea at once. Sometimes I have to research in the internet. Sometimes I have to do nothing — because the customer has a block.

    What makes me so sure that it is the customer’s block and not mine? :-D

    I am mainly a copywriter. I have started to design just because I liked it so much. Writing (in German!) is my core competence — sort of an easy game. I don’t have writing blocks. When it happens that a block occurs, I observe how that block feels. Most of the time (actually always), it has something to do with the customer — and shows me their concerns, their belief patterns and so on. And they always confirm it.

    Happy New Year to all of you!


  31. Paul says:

    What I know that I don’t know I know is that sometimes not having a vision is the best way to start. Otherwise, I lead toward something I already know and have already done.

    Follow all the rules, and then break one at the end to finish.

  32. BT says:

    Everybody knows a lot, but some of this knowledge is hidden, and the comments above just show all the different ways to unlock that hidden knowledge, be it by following actions/steps, browsing other designs, using the Before & After material, etc. Fact is that, somehow, everybody most of the time finds a way to unlock the doors and let the imagination soar and create a product/layout/design that fits. That’s something to be proud of.

    So Happy New Year to all of you, and let’s design!

  33. Lesley Beattie says:

    Happy New Year to everyone!

    If I lack technical know-how, I can usually solve this by referencing a manual or surfing the web.

    On the creative side, a while back I did some research for a project and found out some interesting things about creativity.

    You may find these useful if you’re looking for inspiration:

    1) Physical activity improves creativity by increasing oxygen levels in the brain, so a quick walk around the block can help.

    2) People tend to be more or less creative at different times of the day, so sometimes the answer is to take a break from a project and come back to it later. One way that you can evaluate when you are at your most creative is by using word association —
    a) pick a word at random from a newspaper or magazine.
    b) think of that word, and then write down the next word that comes into your head.
    c) if the two words are closely associated (e.g. paper/pencil), then you are probably not at your most creative.
    d) If you have paper/steel because you thought paper, paper mill, steel mill, then this suggests you are in a more creative mood because the words are more loosely associated.

    3) Creativity is something that can be learned and practiced. One way to practice creativity is by letting your imagination take a mind excursion, for example.
    a) Pick someone at random. Put yourself in that person’s shoes, and consider what their day is like. Try to imagine living in their house, or doing their job.
    b) Imagine that you are a superhero. What super powers would you have, and what would you do with those powers?

  34. Laura says:

    I agree with Steve Dye. Before & After has been a lifesaver. My designs don’t look like Madison Avenue, but they work for a small B2B healthcare services company. Many thanks.

  35. Wow, Len Williams. I didn’t know I even had a process until I read your post. Starting with the essential elements always felt like a last resort to me, as if I was pushing for inspiration. But I think I will be more comfortable starting there now.

    As a jack-of-all for a non-profit, I often have to come up with concept, design, content and audience. If I get stuck on one, I’ll move to the next.

    Then there is always Google. I know that I couldn’t do the job I do now if I started in this field 30 years ago. The internet offers so much in the way of ideas and inspiration.

  36. Nancy says:

    If it’s a concept I’m unfamiliar with, I either Google or Bing to see how it’s defined by others. Then, I take a look at my binders full of the Before & After mags and think about design and layout. Nex,t I go to my files of tear sheets and collections of stuff I get in the mail. By then I’ve got a starting point, and I’ve found that as I work, new things will pop into my head, and I’m off and running with several treatments to present to clients. I’ve been in this biz for over 10 years, and it works for me!!

  37. Burt Humburg says:

    I usually just start and get into it. I have a basic idea of what I’m trying to do, but even if I don’t, I’ll have some idea after surfing the web a little bit for some inspiration. (Flipping through old Before & After issues is good for this too, btw.)

    Then, it’s just a matter of following through on the inspiration.

  38. Bob says:

    The more you design, the easier it becomes. I guess that is because of what one of my professors called your “power base.” Basically, the more solutions you have been exposed to and executed, the easier new ones are.

    I don’t fret too much now. If I don’t have a good idea at first, a good one will usually come later. It is best not to try to force a solution in one sitting, I think.

  39. Mike Jancart says:

    Well, though unconventional these days . . . the first thing I do is pray. Hey, God is the original Creator, and like Hebrew National Hot Dogs say, “We answer to a higher power.” Where you gonna find someone with more answers?

    And I have to agree with other post-ers that God has used Before & After many a time to help me with design conundrums!

    Thanks guys!

  40. Chris May says:

    When I come across a design challenge, I have three things I try. Sometimes none of them work, but I look forward to finding out what others do.

    1) I try to figure out what the three top priorities of the piece, as well as the design, should be.

    B) I think about the audience. What will they be doing, thinking, or expecting, and how can I leverage that to aid the design.

    iii) I try to develop a story in my head about what the piece is trying to communicate, and think about how to tell the story in an engaging and visual way.

  41. Karen says:

    These are wonderful ideas. I found this book to help break a block and wanted to share it: The New Creative Artist. It has a ton of crazy ways to start the day — like putting a pencil in both hands and drawing. Or wadding up your paper. I personally like to draw with crayons sometimes just to break the ice, like a kid, just doodle. Soon I start doodling in the direction of my objective.

    I am currently studying pro photography, and illustration. I have used some graphic design in Web work and hope to add that to my skills.

    And — I pray a lot too, Michaela : ) You never know what’s comin’ next! He is the best designer of all.

    Thanks for sharing.

  42. Sally says:

    I am constantly collecting things that inspire me — be they printed brochures, free postcards or links to cool websites. I find they all help me develop new ideas, challenge me to look at something differently, and give me new directions I might never have though of. I particularly love seeing where other people’s recommendations on blogs and websites take me that I may never have stumbled across otherwise. That’s how I found Before & After, believe it or not!

    Alternatively if in doubt, Google it and see what others say/think!

  43. meta antolin says:

    It’s funny. When I design under my own name, it seems to me that the ownership of the work gives me more creative energy, willpower, willingness to experiment, and success. By success, I mean happy client, effective message, and inspired design/illustration, not to mention accolades from colleagues, and better yet, client referrals.

    When I design for other companies and my name won’t appear on the project or be associated with it, the pressure to produce something overtakes the pleasure of producing it. That’s when I go into default mode and use my years of experience to produce something, if not inspired (which I prefer), competent and good.

    I went into my kid’s grade 5 class last week and taught a class on logo design. Went through the steps that I use to come up with concepts for logos; walked the kids through them; we designed a logo representing their teacher, and then (and I’m not sure WHAT I was thinking, other than I wasn’t quite sure they were listening) I said that if they sketch them out for me, I will illustrate them for them on the computer. Three days later, my son came home with 25 sketches of logos, each kid representing him or herself or their cafe. And the logos are great!
    I figure if grade 5 students can design logos from one lesson, maybe I do know a thing or two about what I do for a living.

    The easiest way to find out what you know that you didn’t know you knew is try teaching it to someone else. I recommend 5th graders.

  44. John-

    Knowing full details of the final outcome is essential to make inspirational designs. There should be clear message.

    Knowing is learning itself. The more we know, the more we learn, and the more we’re able to produce much better things.

  45. Hilmi Hamdan says:

    Well I always believe you’re only as strong as your fundamentals.

    Basically, when I know how I want something, but not exactly, I go back to basic and do it step by step. What’s the message, what’s the feel, grid? Then colors, other elements. Once I get a prototype, I can see how it’s different from what I really want, so it’s only a matter of slight adjustments.

    It feels nice when things sound complicated, makes us feel big, but really, keeping things simple works best.

    I like inspiration too; it’s worthwhile to spend some time each day looking at good stuff, listening to music. Then listen to the same music when I’m doing work; it triggers the subconscious memory.

Comments are closed.