Top designers offer 20 ways to maximise your design talents.
Where creativity is concerned, it's no good just waiting for lightning to strike - you have to be proactive. But you can't force it; if creativity responds to direct force at all, it responds very poorly. Therefore it pays to develop a strategy in which you allow the creative impulse to run its course.
Despite what some might claim and clients may have come to expect, it's a rare individual that can switch creativity on like a light bulb. The solution is to keep your best ideas to hand, archive the things that inspire you, carefully study your peers and predecessors, challenge yourself with new problems and always be open to new solutions.
If you don't have the talent in the first place, there isn't much that can be done. If you do have that rare quality then it would be foolish not to make the most of it. In the final analysis creativity is a personal thing but, hopefully, somewhere among the advice collected in the following pages you'll find something that works for you. Metaphorically speaking, the following 20 tips aim to put you on an exposed hillside with a golfing umbrella in your hand just as the heavens open and the thunder begins to roll...
1: Be environmentally conscious
Make your physical space an extension of your mind, and let the two interact. Studies have been conducted which demonstrate that certain colours are conducive to a more creative mood. And it's not just colour. "We're surrounded by toys, books, packaging, and posters of our favourite artists," says Rex from Inksurge.
2: Take new routes
The world outside your studio has an effect on you too, so do everything you can to see it with fresh eyes. "When I'm walking I always try to take new routes," says Muscovite Andrey Nepomnyaschev. "Exploring the streets, I watch the city via my camera. I use the shots for video experiments which may grow into something significant. Big cities inspire me."
3: Top creative tip Become an explorer
Experience of difference, that's what travel should be all about. "If you step into completely different cultures," says Nick Scott of Nick Scott Studio, "your senses really need to fire, as there's so much adapting that needs to be done." Hopefully, you can draw on this process next time you face a creative challenge.
4: Surf's up
Where would we be without the internet? Imagine trying to research anything without it. Make the most of sites like Ffffound, yay!everyday and FormFiftyFive for visual inspiration, and Behance and Carbonmade to check out what everyone else is up to. Don't just consume, engage. Post comments on message boards and create a portfolio. Get involved!
5: Make note
Keep a sketchbook with you and use it whenever you can. Initially it might feel forced but eventually, whenever you have downtime, your hand will automatically reach for that Moleskine. "You never know when you'll find the perfect use for a sketch you did months ago," says designer Lisa Fleck.
6: Keep moving
If you can't travel far and wide, try just travelling around on foot or by bike, taking in your surroundings and giving yourself time to think. Nick Scott loves his cycle to and from work: "It gets the blood pumping and the mind working." In the course of your physical exertion, your subconscious can begin to gnaw at your difficulties. And, somewhere along the way, says Scott, "an insurmountable problem can change into an enticing challenge."
7: Boredom breeds success
You can't rush a good thing. Creativity is elusive at the best of times, so try, whenever you can, to let your ideas breathe. They don't have to become fully-formed masterpieces within minutes. There's even something to be said for tedium, says Christoph Ruprecht of Spaceship: "You need to be honestly bored of your present surroundings to create new worlds."
8: Get lost in print
Step away from the computer screen. Turn off the TV and become an active acquirer of information rather than a passive consumer. Read books and magazines on whatever interests you, not just the field you work in. Whether it's metaphysics, old record sleeves or back-issues of The Beano, follow where curiosity leads, not where you think you should be going.
9: Word search
While we're on the subject of words, it's worth noting that a decent vocabulary will do wonders for you creative output. Just trying to find new terms to express what you're visualising will take you in new directions. At Inksurge in Manila, they're fond of playing around at thesaurus.com. You can build on that with anagrams, puns and word association. All sorts of ideas can pop out if you give them the chance.
10: Top creative tip Become a critic
Music, theatre, dance, cinema, sculpture - there's a world of creativity out there waiting for you to discover it. Put on a record, go to the ballet, watch a movie; whatever you choose to do, engage with it, then think about what went into its creation, the intention of the composer, choreographer or director, and the sweat of the performers.
11: Go back to school
Try taking on some new area of creativity you haven't attempted before. There are evening classes at colleges and art schools everywhere. A few hours a week spent reminding yourself of what it's like to really throw yourself into a problem will do wonders for your approach next time you're faced with a familiar difficulty.
12: The paradox of choice
While the web is undoubtedly a sea of creative inspiration, it can very quickly over-saturate even the most resilient of minds. A creative thinker, being more sponge-like than most, will need to keep an eye on this. Nick Scott likens the situation to his own field, the moving image: "Telling a good story involves keeping it lean and knowing when to stop," he says. "The same goes for research when so much data is available on tap."
13: Archive it
Those insights, the things that inspire, the accidental pleasures - you must be ready to set them in amber. If you find something great on the web, have a Tumblr or Image Spark account ready to post it to. Keep your photographs, but tag them too. Scan the best pages from your sketchbook and develop them. Pretty soon you'll have a library of ideas and inspirations.
14: Learn the lessons of history
Very few ideas are truly original. We recycle the thoughts of previous generations and combine them in new ways, via increasingly advanced processes. Mankind has been making marks as a means of communication since the dawn of time, so there is an incredibly rich history to all of our creative endeavours. In some way, it's what makes us human. Learn from your predecessors.
15: Top creative tip Make stuff
Whenever you can, make a physical object. It's what keeps Inksurge going creatively. "We often develop mock-ups to present ideas, rather than just relying on the digital part of a project," explains Jois at the agency. You learn by overcoming the difficulties of the real world, and the fact you can physically touch your work is a pleasure in itself.
16: Constructive criticism
Portfolio sites like Behance often enable you to give feedback. Use this facility in earnest, not just to crit the work of others but to get feedback on your own. Actually ask what could be improved. There's no spur to excellence like the moral outrage resulting from a verbal beat-down.
17: Stay in touch
It's essential to keep a handle on where the creative community is heading. Following trends isn't that clever but knowing they exist comes with the territory. Regularly checking design blogs and portfolio sites will give you a clear picture of what your peers are up to, enabling you to better plot a course that's all your own through the creative landscape.
18: Make it personal
"Make up virtual projects; a tribute to an artist, your favourite musician - whatever makes your heart beat. Express your love for it." If you take Christoph Ruprecht's advice, you'll never be short of raw material. With you personal works, you are the client, so set ridiculously high standards or none at all.
19: Top creative tip Trash your comfort zones
Creativity is about befriending the change that would otherwise upset our equilibrium. With that in mind, try to challenge your routine. Try working in a way that you find difficult and which makes you struggle: draw with your left hand or describe rather than visualise. Feel your problem.
20: It's good to talk
Generally, creative types aren't short of ideas when it's someone else's problem. So, if you have creative friends, thrash your problems out together. "Never underestimate the opinions of others," says Lisa Fleck. A lively discussion over a couple of drinks works wonders to set the mind racing.