Design Links: A Chain of Creative Inspiration

Staying inspired is one of the most challenging problems that designers face. In Design Inspiration Exploration, a new course from HOW Design University, you will learn six explorations on how to stay inspired when you’re stuck in a creative rut.

HOW is pleased to kick off a new, inspirational series called “Design Links,” which, every other week, will feature three artists whose work is fresh, fun and stimulating. Each artist picks the next link—someone who personally inspires him/her. These links will likely take us around the world and show work in categories from graphic design, illustration, fine art, photography, printmaking and more. It will be a tour de force of creative inspiration and revelations.

John Foster

We’re leading the chain with one of our favorite designers—John Foster. His poster and music packaging designs are both intricate and eclectic. Working from his studio, Bad People Good Things, in Maryland, he likes using materials on hand and can often be found “pulling” posters and getting messy with ink.


Foster wanted to evoke a “wet” feeling with this package design for The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience, while keeping it type-driven. What is so great about this design is that he literally pulled this image through an old fax machine to achieve the stretched out type with a wet feeling, yet it’s still readable.


This packaging for Cardinal evokes a religious experience with the diecut cross on the lush red outer sleeve, revealing the hymns within. Keeping the type refined, yet still playful, the package reveals far more about the messy process of making perfect pop music as you go through it. The Hymn photo is taped with other photos, and the booklet is littered with musical notations and old photos of a mischievous Richard Davies, the songwriter, as a child holding a machine gun and rainbows painted by his daughter—truly the two sides of what makes him and his music so interesting.

John Foster is inspired by…

David Plunkert

David Plunkert has been a source of direct creative inspiration to me going all the way back to my first year of college (when I was still trying to figure out what exactly is this thing they call graphic design, and will they still let me draw?). Having graduated from the same program just a few years earlier, Dave instantly exploded on to the design world with a unique style and sensibility. We were all in awe, and suddenly that kind of acclaim and attention seemed possible for any of us. Then, he did it all over again a year later — this time as an illustrator, with a completely different collage-based style. Then, he did it AGAIN with an illustration style that blended his collage work with a love of retro stylings and techniques. Then, he did it AGAIN with a line drawing and air brush style! Then, he did it again and again until it became hard to keep count. All of his work is sophisticated, yet playful, regardless of the path he selects to deliver the final imagery. All very different, all uniquely Plunkert. Some designers have left me enraptured with a very singular style (Vaughan Oliver and David Carson leap to mind, who both also inspired me with their ability to create greatness from the most limited of resources), but in my own work I have tried very hard to have the problem at hand dictate the style in which I approach it. A big part of me worried that doing so would consign my work to go unnoticed by the design community, but Dave quickly showed me that you didn’t have to make a name solely via one style, and restless creativity can be its own reward. He showed me that great designers and illustrators create great design and illustration, no matter what.


This 2012 recruitment poster for MICA serves as a stand-in for what has to be at least 100 collage-driven pieces by Dave that I absolutely love. It is impossible to just choose just one, but if you have to, why not pick the one that uses an avalanche of precisely placed images to fill the face of a giant head? This also brings me back to a piece of direct advice Dave once gave me regarding making successful posters: “Whenever you are stuck for ideas, use a giant head.”


Again, I have to have stacks of illustrations by Dave in this style that I can never get enough of. They always have a brilliant and clear concept and deceptively simple execution. I remember the first time I saw this look via a Mike Tyson cover story on the Washington City Paper, only to jump with joy once I realized it was a new Plunkert creation. Since that moment, this style has only grown stronger and stronger. This recent piece for Playboy does a great job of showing everything I love about Dave’s style and sensibility.

David Plunkert is inspired by…

Seymour Chwast

Seymour Chwast is an instantly recognizable, neverending well of visual wit who manages to be clever, whimsical and edgy at the same time. His recent book, Seymour: The Obsessive Images of Seymour Chwast, is a master class in playful imagery. His work has been prominent in mainstream design for decades, but he’s never lost his counterculture cred. In the time I’ve taken to write this, he’s probably made another picture or two. His prolific body of work isn’t just a stack of illustrations—it’s a monument to living a life as a true artist. chwast-look-at-the-window

The forced perspective, unconventional color, and the simple clarity of Chwast’s line in “Look Out the Window” are great and really enhance the narrative. This was an illustration for Audience magazine, but I’d hang this on my wall. I show this to illustration students all the time. If I ever created an illustration this good, I would feel great about myself for days, and maybe weeks.


These Fatty Arbuckle portraits are from the “Good and Evil” issue of The Pushpin Graphic. I’m not sure if these are linocuts or woodcuts, but they show Chwast’s skill in using different media to inform his pictures. I like this because I’m curious how he did it exactly. He reused some of the plates for both images, but how he did it exactly is hard to unravel. There’s no pretense with these. Chwast doesn’t pretend to be a print master but the casual gritty quality of the prints are perfect for the idea. They are also really creepy.

Tune in next week to see the next links in the creative cog!

Z6068_glamour (2)Color Inspirations: More than 3,000 Innovative Color Palette Ideas

By Darius A. Monsef IV

Color Inspirations is a collection of over 3000 gorgeous color palette ideas from the award winning website/community They’ve compiled the best of the best palettes and put them in this book to live on in gorgeous print. They’ve also put them into a CD so you can quickly download any color palette idea you like straight into whatever design program you use!

ALSO: FREE With Your Purchase of Color Inspirations: From Jim Krause’s Color Index and Color Index 2, over 2,600 color combinations in CMYK and RGB, also directly importable into InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop. Learn more here.

3 thoughts on “Design Links: A Chain of Creative Inspiration