Creative Tip: Go Looking For Inspiration In All the Wrong Places

I suppose you could say this is the second article in my series of counter-intuitive tips, the first being the one in which I advised everyone to lie to themselves in order to get more work done. This time around, the tips I’m providing don’t involve any self-deception, but they still offer indirect means to a completely normal and much sought-after goal: improving your creative work.

Contractors, freelancers and people who work in a number of different offices at larger companies know all about doing a survey of the competition to not only provide a frame of reference against which they can measure their own work, but also to find new sources of inspiration from which to borrow. But borrowing from other players in your field can not only make things stale quickly, it can also sometimes be legally tricky. Here are some healthy, if unusual, alternatives.

Use That Cameraphone

If you’re like me, the camera on your cellphone is pretty much just there for decoration, which is really a terrible waste of a good tool. Especially for creative work, things you see while you’re just walking around going about your business can provide ample inspirational fodder. Color palettes, layouts, composition styles, font faces and more can all be found out there in the real world, not just online at the websites of other designers you admire.

The camera in your phone may suck, but it can still handle a basic task like capturing the gist of a visual tableau. If you’ve got a video-capable phone, you might be able to catch even more, including motion that you could emulate or recreate digitally for an animation or other dynamic element.

Steal Your Kids’ Books

If you don’t have young children or know anyone who does, you might not be aware of what’s going on in children’s literature. Let me tell you, there are some crazy things happening there. It’s not just the current works, either. Classic titles too can provide lots of great inspiration.

Children respond to bright colors and bold lines — the sort of things that, more often than not, work well on the web, too. Checking out what the toddlers are reading these days can also help you get back to basics and simplify your designs. It’s like a homegrown primitivist movement.

Scale the Heights of Fashion

Rather than looking to what people are checking out web-wise, look to what they’re interested in clothing themselves with. The bleeding edge of fashion is a place filled with whimsical, interesting and downright bizarre design choices, but it often contains clues as to where aesthetic taste in general is headed. It’s also the case that core concepts that might seem too fantastic to the average consumer in terms of high fashion design, might work for a web page or print layout.

Fashion magazines like Vogue are a good source, but if you can, try to check out a televised show or even a live one, if you’ve got the guts for it. Seeing the designs in motion, something which many (if not all) designers have very much in mind when creating their work, will provide much more of an effect that seeing them on a static page or web site.

Anything can be a source of inspiration, as you’re probably well aware. The fact is, though, that many of us don’t actively cultivate areas that are technically beyond our professional purview. Specifically seeking out alternative sources of good creative ideas will not only help rejuvenate your work and give you an edge in a very competitive market, it will also help rejuvenate you and renew your excitement about your career.

Where do you look for inspiration?