Regular HOW contributor, Scott Kirkwood takes a look at a common (in-house) designer issue: Continually generating new ideas for the same client. You can find this In-House column, “Finding Inspiration In-House,” along with the In-House Design Awards winner and other great articles in the January issue of HOW, the In-House Design Annual.
Finding Inspiration In-House
Working in-house, you’re charged with serving up the same messages to the same audience using the same ingredients. These 7 tips will help you cook up something fresh
If you’re an in-house creative, you have a lot in your favor: You’re an expert in your organization’s products and mission. You’re surrounded by colleagues working toward the same goal. And you’ve typically got more job stability than design professionals who freelance or work in agencies. But there’s one potential problem that’s unique to your world: You have to find ways to stay fresh while using the same fonts, colors and logo to share the same message with the same audience.
How do you keep it interesting?
“If you had told me that I’d be using the same two fonts for almost 10 years, I’d have probably laughed out loud,” says Melissa Rosen, art director at Metro Los Angeles, the county’s public transportation agency. “At this point, Scala is so engrained in my mind, I could kern it in my sleep. But it’s really not an issue. I credit our designers and our fresh influx of well-chosen interns who always bring a lot of new ideas to the table.” But how can you continue to generate new ideas, like Metro Los Angeles’ designers and interns? Read on for seven tips to keep your design work fresh and innovative.
1. Think small. Already feeling confined by limitations on fonts, colors and other brand–book guidelines? Take it even further. Limit yourself to one color, use only type or stick to black–and–white photographs. Artists place limitations on themselves all the time, from haiku to Holga cameras. Those limitations can force you to think differently and, paradoxically, often expand your thinking to create a new iteration of a project.
Last fall, I stumbled on the work of New York photographer Michael Falco, who uses old-school pinhole cameras to capture Civil War reenactments in stunning ways that I had never seen. As the editor of “National Parks” magazine, I’m always looking for new ways to illustrate stories about Civil War battlefields, beyond black–and–white portraits of soldiers, paintings from the 1800s and the old stand-by—rows of cannons at sunrise. I reached out to Falco for a Q&A, and learned that after years of averaging more than 10,000 images a week with a digital camera, he was thrilled to finally slow down and explore his art in a new way. To blend in with the reenactors more easily, he became one himself, which allowed access to images that he never would have captured otherwise. Create your own limitations. Then dive into them, and you’ll discover new creative solutions.
2. Share the workload. “It’s hard to stay inspired when you’re covering the same topics every year,” says Dian Holton, art director at “AARP The Magazine,” which devotes a lot of ink to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and celebrity profiles. “One of my favorite things to do is find an emerging artist and ask them to do something different for us. A few years back, I came across the awesome work of Erika Iris Simmons, an artist who creates images using old cassette tapes and VHS tapes. I shared her site with my boss, who eventually used her for a Dylan portrait he was working on. And later on, I asked her if she could come up with a creative portrait of Billie Jean King using a tennis ball and a racket.” The result is much more eye-catching than yet another photograph. In fact, after the issue went to press, Holton tweeted the image and the behind-the-scenes process to King, who retweeted the link to her thousands of followers.
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