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Staying Creative as a Designer

When you're a designer, creativity is a significant chunk of your job description, alongside elements like project management, leadership, and clear communication. And while those other tasks can be systemized throughout your business, the creativity used to deliver a perfect product to your client is ever-evolving. As your business and client list grows, and you’re spending day after day in Creative Suite, fielding client change requests and feedback, completing tasks and fulfilling assignments for other people, I understand it can start to feel uninspired, or as though the creativity has been drained from your work.
Author Jessica Comingore

The struggle with creativity is that it’s an intangible skill we possess and require for our passions, but since it’s intangible, it’s not something we can readily call upon at a moment’s notice, or “turn on” to produce great work that a client will fall in love with. It can feel lonely, frustrating, and even exhausting at times to keep up the pace, and I’ve discovered that creativity can be both a great blessing, and a curse.

That being said, it’s still a crucial part of our careers, so the question remains: how can you structure your client work to remain inspired and pushed creatively in your business? How can you ignite your own passion for design when designing for someone else?

It’s a continual work in progress, but these are a few ways I’ve utilized to allow more creativity into my process.

View projects as collaborations

Clients most often come to us with a desire to elevate and refine their brand, essentially reinventing themselves into the brand they want to be, as opposed to the one they currently feel stuck in. This reinvention process is unique to each of our clients, which requires us to work closely with them to create an identity that combines their story with our expertise.

A key to bringing creativity to each new project is to view it as a unique collaboration between yourself and your client. You’re not regurgitating the same stale product for each person you work with, but rather helping them discover themselves. It’s an opportunity to defy your status quo and dream up new possibilities, which can typically bring some exciting new inspiration to the table.

Help clients find internal inspiration

But just how can you ensure your work keeps you creatively challenged? Educating and guiding your clients through the entire process will allow you to steer them away from pulling inspiration from sources that aren’t relevant to their business.

I’ve written before about how despite it being a popular resource, Pinterest is not my favorite place to browse inspiration. It’s not particularly enjoyable, inspiring, or even effective to use someone else’s values and concepts to inspire your client work.

Instead of looking at external influences and other studios’ designs for inspiration, help your clients look internally to tap into their unique qualities that will inform your design process. And use this as an opportunity to get out and explore! Taking the information you gather from your client, turn to  your local archives, library, or museums. Another option is to look to the past for inspiration and styles that you can modernize. For example, for a client designing and selling pottery out of Berkeley, California, we looked to antique California tilework up and down the coast from the 20’s and 30’s, and those motifs informed the final design.. It resulted in a project that remains an absolute favorite to this day.

Bring out their unique story

Finally, once you’ve worked with a client to find internal inspiration, focus your design on bringing out what makes them uncommon. Drawing out and learning a client’s backstory to find the unique story their brand should tell is what most ignites my own creativity. Even if they think they don’t have an interesting story to tell, there’s always a nugget of gold in there that can inform an entire project’s foundation. The key here is to constantly be asking questions and having them elaborate. These stories are theirs—they’ve lived them, so it’s hard for them to recognize and pull out the most interesting pieces without your guidance.

Once you’ve discovered that nugget, you can approach the rest of the project focused on highlighting it. There’s something exhilarating about the challenge of taking a brand’s rich story and past, and distilling it into a handful of visual elements and logos that tell that story. Beginning designs with this approach in mind allows you to focus on telling each brand’s story, as opposed to opening up Illustrator and not knowing where to begin. A bonus is that using this approach almost always leads to shorter project timelines, as the client rarely requests extensive changes once they’ve seen their brand illustrated in such an impactful way. It has also led to some of our most successful projects yet here at Marbury.

Have you ever felt the struggle to stay creative as a designer working for clients? We would love to hear what that was like for you, and what you found helped in the comments below.

Comments (3)

3 thoughts on “Staying Creative as a Designer

  1. I must admit that I’ve been in the Pinterest wagon too! But it really pushed down my own capabilities in order to embrace someone else’s. What I do now is really talk to my client and get to know them as individuals first, then their business and clients. I make sure to let them know that I’m available and here for them (within working hours) to just help them. I’ve noticed that with my branding clients it goes beyond the fonts and colours, I become a sort of coach to these ladies in helping them figure out their voice and that’s how I’m able to keep my creativity because everyone has a story to tell if you just take the time to listen.

  2. Pingback: Marbury | Journal

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