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This article was published on March 28, 2014

Think like a designer: How non-creatives can find artistic inspiration

Think like a designer: How non-creatives can find artistic inspiration
Jenna Birch
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Jenna Birch

This post originally appeared on the Coworks blog and has been republished with permission.

You don’t have to be a designer to utilize creative thinking.

Separate from analytical reasoning, learning to think outside the box can be a huge asset to your canon of skills.

Whether you’re a creator in another discipline like interiors or writing, or you’re part of a marketing or business team, you can take cues from designers to open up your own mind to new ideas.

Here’s how they plan, plot and execute.

1. Live in the moment

Learning to think like a designer is all about learning to live in the moment.

“It doesn’t matter if it is a nicely designed clothing tag, or graffiti on the sidewalk, you don’t know when inspiration is going to hit,” says Matt Ramirez, a designer at inbound marketing agency Adhere Creative.

While he admits to checking out design blogs like The Best Designs, For Print Only, and Allan Peter’s Blog, in the morning before diving into work, he says real world inspiration can’t be beat.

So while you don’t have to actively look for inspiration around every turn, keep your eyes open to the places it may hide.

2. Peruse visual social media

Sometimes a flier at the grocery store or a page in your favorite magazine is the source of inspiration, but other times you need a concentrated source of images and graphics.

Designers love the newest visual forms of social media for quick ideas, opening accounts on sites like Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram and Paper.

3. Master tools through play

Most designers play, whether on a computer or other medium.

“I like to create digital drawings and designs before getting into more physical materials like oil paint, charcoal, mylar, and plexiglass,” says designer and artist Paul Weiner. “In the end, physical and digital tools are the same in that you have to develop a mastery of your tools before they become useful.”

4. Focus in

The paydirt is in the details, so don’t dismiss the minutiae when you’re trying to get ideas across.

“I think details can make or break your presentation,” says packaging and branding designer Anat Erez-Fellner. “It’s worth the extra time to ‘clean’ everything up, and to show something professional and as close to final as possible.

Your audience doesn’t always have your visual imagination, so make it look like it’s reality.”

Keep clippings, scraps, books and magazines. Most designers admit to bulging folders and files of images, photographs, magazine pages, color combinations and drawings that get their creative juices flowing.

Beyond that, browse enough books and magazines to figure out which are your taste, subscribing to publications consistently impress you.

“I collect design books and magazines like GD USA, which is a free publication, and Communication Arts, which is worth every penny,” says Erez-Fellner. “All of them have marked pages in my library.”

5. Scribble and doodle

You might achieve higher-level thinking if you make like a grade-schooler and scribble away.

“It’s important as a way to break free from thinking logically,” says Weiner. “Drawing is an open-ended language that you can push around and mold in your own way, to discover your own creative side rather than adhering to the rules.” Step outside the box.

6. Don’t fear starting from scratch

Writer Allen Ginsberg once famously said that you should never get so attached to your work that you can’t let it go; you should be able to “kill your darlings.”

The same is true when you’re creating in any discipline.

Artist and designer Pablo Solomon suggests this exercise: “Put a line on a piece of paper in a random color, then either throw the mess away immediately or put another line on the paper that you think will be a good next move,” he says.

“Do not be afraid to throw away a mess at any stage of your progress, nor afraid to try to use what your mind presents to you. The real trick is knowing when you have created something to present to the world and when to trash it.”

“What can make this different from all the others?” That’s what Ramirez asks himself before starting a project. Being truly different is about figuring out what you do well, and how to make something stand out as original.

“It’s not creative if a hundred other people are doing the exact same thing. Thinking in a unique way is what makes ideas better. If you ask yourself that one question, you won’t have to worry about being creative, because thinking differently is pretty much thinking creatively.”

He adds, “Of course, all the ideas you come up with this way won’t always be amazing — but they definitely will be creative.” Originality is the first step toward blazing a trail.

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