Graphic design is a field that is quickly changing, both creatively and technically, and while it is easy to get caught up in learning new technical skills, it is just as important to focus improving and pushing the limits of our creativity.
While in design school, it was easy to surround myself with inspiration and engage in activities that helped my understanding of effective design. Once I graduated I feared losing it, since I was no longer surrounded by a learning environment. I made it a point to continue educating myself as much as possible and become more active in the field of design. I was determined not to let my designs grow stagnant, but rather transgress and improve with time. Here are a few tips, exercises and practices that have help me continue learning, strengthen creativity and become an all around better designer.
Become a collector
Each time you see a design that inspires you, collect it, bring it home and file it away. I have hundreds of brochures, posters and other collateral that I have collected over the years that is stacked away in folders and boxes that I can quickly access – great source of inspiration when needed. Even Starbucks gives out creative weekly mini-newspapers.
Having an extensive book collection is always essential to learning. I try buying a new book at least every 2 weeks that range from inspirational, educational and technical topics.
Read design-related blogs
I can’t stress enough how much information I have learned by reading other great designers blogs. The web in an invaluable resource of information – take advantage of it and actually use it!
Start a design blog
Having started this blog only a couple months ago, I have found it to be extremely useful and educational for myself. It has made me more aware of the design community and more analytical of my own work.
Join and be active in the design community
As a freelance designer, joining the online design community is a must. Not only does it keep you up-to-date in the design world, but is also great for feedback and critique. Being your own boss is great, but not having anyone to answer to as a freelancer also has it’s down sides. No one to criticize your work and help you improve.
Take lots of photos
Solves the problem of not being able to take home designs you like – Camera phones are great for this kind of thing. Just snap a photo and file it away for later. I use Evernote for this type of thing; pictures of building designs, textures, shapes of shadows on walls. Basically anything that interests me from a design stand point.
Create fake projects
Whenever I find myself with free time (which is getting less and less lately) I create fake projects. Create a fake brand for a company. Design a logo, stationary, brochure, website – the whole nine yards. It’s good to do this once in awhile because it keeps design fun and let’s your creativity run wild without limitations. It’s often easy to get caught in a rut when clients start dictating and your work no longer becomes “yours”.
Redo other people’s design
Don’t want to create a fake brand to design? Try redesigning other people’s projects. This help’s you evaluate what “they” did wrong and what you could do better.
Redo your old designs
I know what it feels like to look at your early days of design and think “Oh my! What was I thinking?! I need to get rid of that immediately”, but is important to keep that work. It will help you see if you’re moving forward and improving your skills. Instead of throwing away or deleting old projects, try reworking them.
Every few months I make it a point to attend lectures of other designers speaking at local schools and universities. Always learn a new thing or two.
Network with other designers
Attending lectures is a great way to meet other designers. I always try to search out the designers that have more experience and talent than I do. I know – it’s hard to admit someone else is better than you, but networking with people of higher skill levels will push you to work harder and learn more.
Many local college allow you to register for classes without enrolling full-time. It will not only teach you some new things technically, but also put you back in a classroom of your peers.
Interview other designers and studios
A year ago, a friend of mine, started a ‘national studio tour‘ where he toured and interviewed with over 100 different design studios. He said the experience was amazing and learned so much by asking questions that design school could have never answered. He also met a valuable useful contacts ;)
Every time I travel to another country, I come back feeling extremely inspired. I usually find myself designing all day for a few weeks straight. Experiencing new cultures and seeing their artwork, opens your mind to a whole new world. Just wish I could travel more!
Learn something new
Whenever I am in a creative slump I try something new or do something completely unrelated to design. Getting your mind off things and into something new, usually has a funny way of working itself back around.