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The Marshall Plan: 10 Tips to Take Your Creativity to the Next Level

(April/May 2019) posted on Wed May 08, 2019

Producing amazing designs all day, every day is no easy feat. These hacks can help keep your creative juices flowing.


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By Marshall Atkinson

Grab a stack of blank index cards. On each, write a descriptive word. These could be colors, like black, blue, or green. Maybe other words like sharp, soft, rounded, or heavy. Some design choices could be included too, such as gradient blend, outline, drop shadow, or textured.

Then shuffle up the cards and choose a few completely at random. For the annual company picnic example, what sorts of designs come to mind if you pick “Round/Red/Metallic” 

or “Thin/Watercolor/Script”? I bet they’d be interesting, and completely different.

Tip #6: Use a Sketchbook or Journal

The best creative people are constantly doodling on something. Playing around with how shapes, letterforms, and color relate to each other has some positive benefits. Just nosing through a journal of your ideas can spark another idea and help you get out of a log jam if you are stuck.

For me, even seeing a shape, pattern, or texture can do the trick. “Oh yeah, what if we used a pattern of marching ants in the text for the company picnic design?” 

Then you can start down that road and explore how you might develop the idea further. Simply seeing something from a past project or mindless sketch can have a profound effect.

Tip #7: Explore Balance

For many designers, everything has to completely line up in a balanced and symmetrical manner. But what if everything wasn’t symmetrical? What if you created more tension and energy with asymmetry instead?

For example: Instead of the design elements being centered, weight them heavily on one side. But try using a lighter color to alleviate some of the mass – maybe with something overlapping or connecting somehow with a line or texture.

You get the idea. Sometimes freeing yourself from the grid can have great results.

Tip #8: Think Differently About Mistakes

Ideas that didn’t work are right in front of you. Think about the Post-it notes I mentioned earlier. They were the by-product of a failed adhesive experiment. Imagine if 3M had just “stuck” (pardon the pun) with their original premise and worked solely on getting the better adhesive they wanted. Instead, they explored what might be done with a low-tack adhesive and hit upon a sensational idea.



What are you doing with your mistakes? Are you learning from them and looking for other ways you might be able to put them to use? 

Tip #9: Try Something New

As creatives, sometimes we reuse the same moves over and over again. Fonts, colors, textures, and even layouts. I’m a big believer in getting out of your comfort zone.

I had a designer who worked for me once who was an absolute whiz at Photoshop, but he couldn’t draw very well at all. I challenged him to work on that facet of his game and he was able to generate even better ideas and designs. 

When he labored over a drawing, he was able to come up with a different take on what he normally delivered, and the results were incredible.

But, he had to be challenged to do it. It didn’t come naturally and he struggled at first. It was the act of trying and working toward improvement that paid off for him.

Tip #10: Physical Activity

I can’t tell you how many great ideas I’ve had over the years while mowing the lawn or when I was out running. Something about physical exertion frees up your mind to unlock a new idea.

Many people find that just going out for a walk for a few minutes can do wonders. I think it might be because you aren’t sitting in your chair, staring at your monitor. You need a fresh stimulus, clean air, and something to drive more blood into your brain.

So if you feel stymied at the thought of working up yet another killer design today, take a minute and walk around the block. Go see something new. Open your mind and let your subconscious do the heavy lifting.

You might surprise yourself. 

Read more from Marshall Atkinson and other articles from the April/May 2019 issue


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