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Your Creative Drive, Smashing Magazine

As graphic designers we are asked day in and day out to be creative, be original, and be knowledgeable. Our ideas can go anywhere from impressing a few fellow classmates to greatly increasing the revenue of a local/national establishment. Yet, how do we develop into a successful designer in the first place? Additionally, how do we stay on top of our game and continue to be inventive and reputable?

“The foundation of a successful designer is measured by his/her creative drive.”

It is that drive that provides us with the inspiration and motivation to work towards something influential. However, discovering what drives us is likely as unique as our own design preference. Luckily, we live in a time today where designs from around the world are available within a few clicks of your mouse. So how can we increase and build our creative drive? You may want to take a look at the following related posts:

Expose Yourself Link


If you are a young designer who would like to strengthen your creative drive,
the most important advice I can give to you is this:

Expose yourself to the design community. Link

  1. Surf endlessly through that big wave known as the Internet for design blogs, “Best of’s” and look at the portfolios of professionals.
  2. Pick up the latest design magazines and absorb those articles that discuss why we’re still mesmerized by the likes of Paul Rand5, Milton Glaser6, David Carson7, etc. and flip over to that “Fresh” section to study the up and comings.
  3. Find out what/who influences you to pick up that pencil and paper and run with it.

Pick Someone’s Brains Link


It also wouldn’t hurt to study the brain of a creative professional. A lot of professionals are more than glad to help out young designers and share old “war stories” of projects gone awry in an attempt to help you become a better designer. You’ve got to know what good is before you can generate appreciable work yourself. A repeated line my professors have told us since day one is,

“Ninety-nine percent of everything you see is poorly designed. Having the understanding of why that one percent is admirable is edification within itself.”

Don’t have access to some creative professionals? We do! Check out our Ask the Expert series.

Dealing with Creative “Burn Out” Link

One of the most difficult things designers have to deal with is their own creative “burn out.” We’ve all had days when going into the office (or the living room) is quite difficult and the motivation to create simply isn’t there. Being somewhat of an optimist, I try to pick at least one thing I admire from a current project and aim to spread that positive incentive throughout the rest of the project.

Study your problem. Ask yourself why it’s not working instead of jumping ship. The answer may be one extra thought away. You’ll also often find that the best remedy is to take an early lunch break. Getting your mind off of design and deciding on what type of ridiculously greasy burger you’d love to stuff your face in can do wonders.




A great site like FFFFOUND!8 offers troves of inspiration and can break your dry spell by recommending a variation of top-notch work to rejuvenate your creative drive. Getting off of the computer and sketching is a great way to explore ideas quickly and it often provokes multiple fresh ideas. New ideas may come your way through experimentation with different tools and mediums. Remember, it’s your mind, NOT your computer that is the most important design tool.

I hope that this article has helped many of you stay confident with your work and your ability to design. This is a fantastic field that we are all a part of, with many extremely talented individuals to inspire and help us along the way. I hope we all have a successful and inventive year as we strive to increase and improve our creative drive.

What are some of the things that you do to improve your creative drive? We’d love to hear from you! Please share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment. It would be nice to hear from the rest of the design community. Thanks for reading this article.

Footnotes Link

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Josh Medrano is a San Antonio based designer who will be graduating this spring from the University of The Incarnate Word with a BFA in Graphic Design. He is also currently working for Wickley Interactive - an interactive and marketing agency. Josh also runs his own blog and portfolio website to help inspire and educate others about the design community.

  1. 1

    Great article! Sometimes I find what helps is to ‘wipe the slate clean’ and to get away from your usual source of inspiration, e.g the web, and go look at books, magazines, and the world around you instead. I find getting away from the information overflow that the internet provides can really help you see where to take a design.

    • 2

      Hi Grant, I agree with doing that as well. There are times when looking at the computer too long becomes very monotonous and we lose our creativity. A nice walk outside or exercise definitely gets the creative juices flowing again.

  2. 3

    very nice article. i never realize it before. maybe you could (someday) list all the website that can be use for design inspirations.

    • 4

      Hello Syahzul, I will definitely write a post with websites that have inspired me. Thanks for the idea and the comment.

  3. 5

    Believe it or not, but I face the opposite problem, that is, too many ideas. And honestly speaking, that is equally destructive. You start working on some idea and then you get another creative burst, which sometimes is so difficult to resist that you start pondering upon the new idea leaving the original idea behind. There have been times when I ended up doing nothing because I kept jumping from one idea to the other. Believe me guys, I am not bragging here that I am smart enough to get too many ideas. It really becomes a problem when start loosing focus due to frequent creative bursts. Too many ideas can also kill your productivity.

    • 6

      Correction, what I meant was – It really becomes a problem when you start loosing focus due to frequent creative bursts.

      • 7

        I know exactly where you’re coming from. When I begin a new project I strike inspiration from so many different areas. What helps me to narrow it down is to think of the objectives of the project. Write your ideas down…draw them out…get them on paper. Which ideas conceptually and graphically are close to my objective? Look at all of your ideas and try to eliminate the ones you feel are weaker than others and then push the remaining concepts. Even if you have another idea half way into the project, write it down and archive it. Old ideas come in handy more often than you think.

        Hope this helps.

      • 8

        I’m with you Adit. There are definitely times when you get so many ideas. My advice would be to write those ideas down and forget about them. Then at a later time, you can return and re-read your ideas and see if they are still worth doing.

        Too many times, we get ideas that aren’t really useful, and it helps to look at them again on another day. I would also suggest sharing your idea with someone you trust and asking them about it. It’s always nice to get a different perspective on our ideas.

      • 9

        Great tips Josh. Thanks for answering and giving your opinions regarding Adit’s questions.

    • 10

      @Josh I don’t have any problems while working on a website(for a client). For that, I already have the web design algorithm, which I have discussed earlier on this blog. The problem arises when I am working on personal projects and article ideas. When you get too many ideas for projects or articles, it becomes somewhat difficult to focus on one idea. To avoid this difficulty, I maintain something which I call as- “Tangent Log”, in which I write down all the project and article ideas with brief summary so that I can work upon them at a later stage. I think I should start meditation to help me focus on one thing at a time. :D

      • 11

        stop trying to show off.

      • 12

        Hello again Adit. Meditation definitely helps to clear your thoughts and to focus on just one idea. It’s a practice that most people don’t do anymore, but I believe it is very important.

        @LOL – Please be respectful. Next time, if you don’t even have the courage to put your real name and email, then don’t even comment at all. If you’re brave enough to mock others, then at least be brave enough to put your own name down. :)

  4. 13

    Thanks! Always great tips to keep in mind.

  5. 15

    Great article. People don’t realize how hard it is to “be creative” day in and day out sometimes. Just because we are “creatives” doesn’t mean it always comes to us during every waking moment of every day.

    Your readers might also be interested in this post as well:
    5 Steps to getting out of a creativity jam

    Thanks for sharing!

    • 16

      I agree, Preston. It’s definitely hard to always be creative day in and day out.

      Oh, and by the way, thanks for sharing that article. It was a nice read.

    • 17

      “It just has a bad timing sometimes…I’d rather have a creative block when I’m not working on client work…”

      So true! Haha. That’s why I think it’s very important for us to have some things that we do when we do hit that creative block. :)

  6. 18

    Thank you all for your kind comments and thanks for those of you who shared your own recipes for success. It’s a learning experience in understanding how each one of you work to solve problems as well. I’ll be sure to try these tips on my next project(s). Thanks again.

    – Josh

    • 19

      I’m with you Josh. I also appreciate everyone for taking the time to add their thoughts to this article. It’s always interesting to read what others are doing and by doing so, it is very helpful as well.

      By the way, thank you so much for writing this article. I really appreciate it Josh and I’m sure the Design Informer readers appreciate it as well. :)

  7. 20

    Great advice, Erik. Definitely going to give this a shot.

  8. 21

    You’re welcome, Deepu!

  9. 22

    Staying with a project a little longer than necessary in order to have something to put aside for later is a fabulous idea. I am going to use this method with the next few pieces I create.

    I am a huge proponent of getting away from your workspace as a way to develop inspiration/avoid burnout. Usually a good brisk run or a short car drive will be enough to “reset” my creativity.

    • 23

      What’s good for the heart is good for the mind.

    • 25

      Hello Lisa, that’s definitely something I try to do. I always try to spend some time away from the computer doing other activities, and usually, when I return, my mind is clear and ideas seem to just come naturally.

  10. 26

    Hey mate, thanks for sharing your tips with us. I agree with taking inspiration from nature. You can definitely get inspired by going out and looking at nature. :)

  11. 27

    Glad you liked the post Deepu! :)

  12. 28

    Great idea Chris. Never thought of doing that before. I guess that’s a great idea to try. Taking advantage of that creativity shouldn’t hurt, right?

  13. 29

    Excellent tips Erik. I agree with you that there are too many designers who are starting off on the computer instead of a piece of paper. Sometimes it works, but more often than not, it’s a waste of time.

    I’d definitely love to hear more of your creative process as well. :)

  14. 30

    Thanks Brendan! By the way, that looks like a great idea. I am definitely looking forward to the launch! :)

  15. 31

    Great point Richie. Experimentation is definitely a key to staying creative. We actually have a great article on that as well.

    The Benefits of Experimentation

  16. 32

    Great advice Tom. I’m sure we all have some things that definitely inspire us every time.

    To me, there are a few sports movies that always seem to inspire me. There are some amazing songs as well. :)

    Oh, and by the way, seeing the bills also inspire me to be creative. :)

  17. 33

    Thanks Mel!

  18. 34

    Great idea Tuhin. Mind mapping is always a good process to kick-start your creative process.

  19. 35

    Hey man, thanks for sharing that with us.

  20. 36

    Glad you liked the tips that were given by Josh. :)

  21. 37

    Hello again Nikhil, these are definitely some great ideas that were mentioned in the article and in the comments. You are welcome! :)

  22. 38

    Great Tips, thx 4 sharing :)

  23. 40

    Agree with article’s author. Thanks for nice reading!

  24. 42

    Enjoyed the article, the comments and really I like this topic.

    What drives my passion for design is seeing or taking part in creative endeavors. I spend my time taking photos from around the area where I live (West Michigan along the lake, 3rd coast) then play with them on the computer, while always listening to music of some variety. My soon to be 6 year old daughter is my favorite subject, because being so young and energetic she energizes me. We also mess around with creating art all forms of media and she leads the way, with her ideas. This helps connect with the child inside me, which is creative and fun, and always helps with generating new ideas.

    I turn to the web and just surf around, checking stuff out. Making a new Google doc, to describe the source and make link, so I can go back later. I use design magazines: Print, How, Step…and Juxtapoz for creative juice. There are several other art & design, photography magazines from the U.K. I read. The last would be books on design, Photoshop creative techniques…These are great. I don’t buy to many on the software, just techniques, software books get outdated to fast.

    For burnout, I do more of what mentioned, but morning pages of random thoughts and meditation helps. Art gallery visits and the late Spring brings several college portfolio shows to checkout. We have a few great ones to attend in Grand Rapids, Chicago and Detroit, all around the same time. Last fall there was ArtPrize, which was two weeks of art all over the city of Grand Rapids, with over 1200 artists displaying. Weekend walks by myself, with the iPod, helps clear the head. I am also trying to incorporate more regular exercise now, which is what I have done in the past, which really helps with thinking and staying focused. Finally, I always record ideas in some manner for later use.

    Client work is client work. Their business, product or goals are what drive that creativity. You have to find their identity to focus on.

    -Great post and topic.

    • 43

      Hey Don,

      Thanks for the comment. It’s nice to read about what inspires your creativity. West Michigan looks like a great place to live, but I think it might be too cold there for my liking. :)

      Thanks for your tips. These are all great sources of inspiration. I think that’s why we enjoy this topic. Everyone has their own ways of getting inspired, and by sharing it with each other, we can all learn something and pick something up that can be useful to us.

      I’ve never visited an art gallery before but I am definitely interested and I might check some out. Actually, my old boss used to collect Latin American art and he had hundreds of paintings so that was a good and unique source of inspiration for me. Thanks again Don for participating in the discussion and for sharing your thoughts. :)

  25. 44

    Another great read…
    When I am unable to get any ideas… I usually shut down my pc and go out for a long walk…

    • 45

      Walks are great for clearing the mind and coming up with new ideas. And you get the exercise as well so you hit two birds with one stone. ;)

  26. 46

    Absolutely the best thing for me to combat ‘creative burnout’ is getting away from the job I’m working on.

    As mentioned previously, going for a walk etc helps but it really doesn’t matter for me personally, it’s just about getting away for a while. If time allows it, I’ve even just written off the rest of the day, giving m what I call ‘the overnight test’.

    The important thing is that when you come back to whatever it is you were having trouble with — be it mind-mapping, early sketches or 1st stage visuals — you tend to view it with fresh eyes which can give you a new perspective on what you are doing. It can either send you off in a new, and better, direction or it can actually confirm that you are on the right road but you just didn’t have that distance to realise it in the first place.

    • 47

      Yes, that’s true Martin. I actually learned about doing that from one of my favorite designers, James White. He calls it the “Next Day” test. If it still looks good the next day, then it passes the test.

      I personally agree with your point about fresh eyes. That’s why it’s always good to have others look at your design as well.

  27. 48

    Definitely some interesting ideas by Josh. Thanks!

  28. 49

    Hey Mark, getting rest is always good for ideas. I also find that sometimes, while sleeping, my mind seems to come up with some great ideas, and when I wake up, I simply write those ideas down. I also heard that this is very common, and some people even keep a pen and paper next to their bed to write down ideas that come to them while they are sleeping. :)

  29. 50

    LOL! Fight with Photoshop

    That made me laugh! I can’t remember how many times in the past I have tried to fight with Photoshop. I don’t think I’ve ever won. You are completely right. There’s no use of fighting with Photoshop. Walking away and returning later is definitely something that we should do. :)

    Thanks Andrew!

  30. 51

    Brilliant post! When I’m out of ideas, I sleep. Taking a nap resets my head (I nap deeply hard) so my brain’s OS reboots and everything goes back to normal.
    Thanks for sharing

    • 52

      Hi Josh and Jad, first let me thank you for this great post. Second, let me give you some ideas of how to help you get rid of being burnout.

      All “doers” face the potential of burnout: over committing, doing too much, and losing your drive and energy. If you’re Fired Up, and you accomplish much on a regular basis, it’s surprisingly easy for burnout to occur. It often starts out as a prolonged period of stress.

      It’s an interesting phenomenon. Burnout rarely happens to procrastinators; it happens to doers. Doers live with a fair amount of stress anyway. Good stress occurs when we get excited about a new challenge. Bad stress occurs when a crisis or trauma takes place. Either way, it has a big impact on the central nervous system. Those of us who are already substantial achievers are the ones at the greatest risk. It takes very little to upset that delicate balance of easily juggling lots of different balls. All too quickly, added demands and pressure can force you into overload.

      Here are some suggestions for a quick remedy to burnout.

      1. Take Control of Something Small
      Often when we’re burnt out, we feel out of control. Remedy the situation by taking control of something small and manageable. If your desk is totally cluttered and can be tackled in a few hours, do it. Choose an activity that’s quick and easy, so you can feel a sense of satisfaction and can see the fruits of your labor. Completion releases its own special energy, so pick something you know you can get done in a few hours. Then complete it. That will at least get you back into a more positive frame of mind, and let you know that you do get things done, even if you’re not feeling that way now.

      2. Track Your Successes Daily
      Get yourself an attractive journal. Then every night, before you go to bed, write down your successes from that day. Each of us accomplishes so much, but when you’re burning out, you may not realize it. The very first success may be “Got out of bed” because you did even, when you didn’t want to. Give yourself credit for every phone call, every meeting, every report, every e-mail. Burnt-out people feel like they don’t get anything done, and that simply is not true. Try this technique for a month. I guarantee it will boost your self-esteem. And just imagine how you’ll feel if you do it for a whole year.

      3. Just Say No
      When your embers are dying, one of the best things you can do is say “no.” That means “no” to anything new, “no” to any additional tasks or responsibilities, “no” to any social events that mean work for you. Get yourself in balance, and cut back on your overtaxed life. Stop doing so many things. Don’t agree to help everyone else. Take care of yourself first. You’re worth nothing to anyone else if you are exhausted and demoralized. You owe it to yourself and to others to say “no” while you recharge. There are huge payoffs when you simplify your life. Try it.

      4. Play Like a Child
      There’s a reason that young children are so happy most of the time. They play often. They generally laugh over 300 times a day as opposed to most adults who laugh 7 times a day. They live totally in the present moment and are not worried about tomorrow. They continually feed and express their imagination by using all of their senses and experimenting. That’s why play is the perfect antidote to the stress of burnout. Why do you think golf is so popular? People get outdoors in nature, laugh and play.

      5.Focus on Good News and Avoid Negative People
      Dr. Martin Sullivan of the University of Pennsylvania, discovered that after 20 years of research interviewing 350,000 executives, the top 10% performers think differently from others; they all have the quality of optimism.
      It’s also been documented that we have at least 50,000 thoughts a day, and that for most people, 75% – 85% are negative. When you’re in danger of burnout, you need to change your internal programming and focus on positive, powerful thoughts which get you Fired Up! and help you maintain your optimism.
      We live in a negative society which focuses on negative news. Every workplace has an “ain’t it awful” club whining about the bad news and stirring up trouble. Avoid this group. Stay away from gossips and naysayers. Avoid negative family members when you’re under stress. You may even need to avoid your parents.
      At work, counteract the negativity by sharing good news. Ask your employees and family every few days: what’s the good news? Cultivate optimism and you’ll start yourself back on track.

      6. Spend Time Helping Someone Less Fortunate
      Get out of your self and serve other people. The treasure of service is that it gives you just as much as the people you serve. Check out the “Help Haiti” drive.

      and last but not the least is

      7. Forgiveness
      All of us are human and we get hurt. Sometimes people do absolutely awful things to us, and we find it hard to forgive them. A recent Gallup poll on death found that those adults who had not a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones or make peace were experiencing stress. Fifty-six percent of all adults were afraid they wouldn’t be forgiven by God.
      My experience is that God is a forgiving God. And that incredible liberation comes from forgiving someone who has hurt you. The amazing thing is that forgiveness is not for them; it’s for you. As long as some part of your consciousness is tied up in righteousness about how wrong and awful they were, a part of you lives under stress and is not accessible for creativity. You hurt yourself when you hold onto the past. Let it go, forgive, and observe the new found freedom you experience. You won’t know this until you try it. But it can relieve more stress than a massage.

      Hope this helps.

      • 53

        WOW! Thanks for the long, thought-out comment Zanzu.

        I completely agree with your thoughts on getting rid of creative burnout.

        I really like how you mentioned “play like a child.” Sometimes, just hanging out with your friends and family, and relaxing can definitely get rid of that creative block.

        Thanks for all your contributions so far to Design Informer. It’s nice to see people like you who are really helping out to make the discussions more meaningful. :)

    • 54

      Hey, thanks for your opinion on this topic.

      “Taking a nap resets my head (I nap deeply hard) so my brain’s OS reboots and everything goes back to normal.”

      I love the analogy of the brain as a computer and OS. It’s true that our brains are probably the strongest computers out there and we just have to learn how to use it. I think also that while sleeping, we are definitely rebooting our computer brain and making it fresh. It’s like using CCleaner for our brain. :)

  31. 55

    I think the one of the worst things you can do when you’re suffering from creative burnout is to look at “design inspiration” sites. What usually occurs is mimicry instead of creation. The best thing you can do is to walk away from that particular project and DO SOMETHING ELSE completely unrelated to that project. I suggest cleaning or organizing in some fashion as it’ll give that portion of your brain a rest, allow you to physically workout the mental cleaning/organization that’s going on in your mind, AND will allow you to accomplish something practical.

    • 56

      Hi Ollie, I do understand what you are trying to say. I think often times, our designs start to look at the websites that we got inspired by. But if you think about it, I really think that most of our design ideas come from another website that we have seen before. We probably don’t mean to copy them, but subconsciously, our mind grabs the idea from something that we have seen before.

      That’s why most of the people here mentioned that they either rest, go outside or do something that’s not related to the computer, which helps them forget about it and come back fresh. :)

      Thanks for your opinions. I really appreciate it.

  32. 57

    Definitely agree. Pen (or pencil) and paper are essential design tools.

  33. 58

    Yes, pen and paper always works. I carry a little Field Notes notebook with me everywhere. :)

  34. 59

    I know what you mean. I do visit inspiration sites from time to time, but we just have to be careful about copying the designs that we see. :)


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