Inspiration for Design and Advertising

When Vivien at Inspiration Bit suggested I take part in her Group writing project Source of Inspiration I have to admit I wasn’t sure what to write about. I had just written a post about the scrap books I keep and have a previous post Stuck on a Design Project so I needed a bit of inspiration on inspiration (if you know what I mean). I thought about talking about the books or websites I like but I wanted it to be more personal.

One of the projects types I find most inspirational is producing concepts for print adverts so I decided to look back at some I had done in the past to remind me where the ideas came from.

Word Association
pigWord association and playing on words is one method I use to get inspired.
Several years ago I had to create a print adverts targeted at Pig Farmers (I get all the glamourous jobs). The advert was to encourage them to vaccinate their pigs against a disease which stunts their growth, not very pleasant subject matter, but it was a message I had to try and get across. The advert was to go in a Pig Farming magazine, so of course it was going to be full of images of pigs, so if I wanted the advert to get noticed, I thought it best to avoid this. I brainstormed the idea of growth, with spider diagrams words and doodles, and eventually thought of the nursery rhyme “This little piggy” that is said while touching a child’s toes. I produced several concepts, but my final advert was picture of a child’s foot with an arrow towards the big toe – saying that this one had been vaccinated and visa versa the little toe.

Image Association
trolley I often find ideas in images. You can notice that something looks relates to something else, or that you could add something to an image to give it an extra/different meaning.
Last year I was asked to come up with an advert for a company that sells contact lenses to opticians. The message was to be that their contact lenses were not available in the supermarkets, and so the consumer would have to continue to purchase from the optician. The opticians had been losing a lot of business to the supermarkets. The headline (which they gave me) was ” time to fight back”. I started with words, brainstorming as I usually do, but then moved on to images. A key image that represents the supermarket is a trolley, so I searched for some trolley images. The thing that stood out for me was the red handle, with a bit of tweaking I knew it would look like horns, hence the trolley devil advert (left).

A Positive Negative
tea The idea of looking at something in a different way, putting a twist on something really appeals to me. Instead of a shop being in the middle of nowhere, couldn’t it be a shop with ample parking?
A local company who provide digital print, large format printing and other services asked me to come up with some ideas for them. They were saying we’re reliable, we’re quick etc etc, the trouble is that is what everyone in the same industry is saying. I tried to twist the negative they had and turn it to a positive. Now it wasn’t a very big negative, but I had worked inhouse a few times and all their drinks including the ones they gave to clients came out of a vending machine. As you know we English are big tea drinkers and the vending machine tea was not good. So I came up with a headline “Everyone’s got their bad points” with an image of their vended tea, below I created a post-it note showing their pros and cons. The only thing in the cons section was the tea.

Comparing one thing to another is another good way to come up with ideas it gives you another angle on a theme.
I had to come with with concepts for a cow vaccine (glamourous again) against a disease in cows which farmers do not think is serious. The disease causes low milk yields in dairy cows. The adverts would be a single right hand magazine page, followed by a double page spread. Again I wanted to avoid using cow pictures so tried to think of things I could compare it to – the mountain and the molehill, but in reverse. It made me think of small things that could cause big effects. Initially I was thinking dripping tap, flooded house, but the image of a whole street flooded was much more powerful.


Humour/Taking something to an Extreme
If a subject is suitable, I like to try and see if there is anything in a humourous angle, or the idea of taking a subject to an extreme.
I had to come up with some advert ideas for a garage door company. Their strapline was Strong, Stylish, Secure so I tried to look at the humourous side of why a garage door needed to be strong. Instead of the obvious its strong (dent proof) to withstand a few knocks from a car or kids playing football, it could be from someone kicking it when they had a bad day. As the garage doors are so stylish it could take all night to choose one. The security of the garage doors would lead to an unhappy, empty handed burglar.


Sometimes my best ideas come when I am not purposefully thinking about the job, like just before I fall asleep, or driving. It is almost as if the pressure is off and your mind is free to wander.

What methods do you use to generate ideas and inspiration?

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  1. Posted May 14, 2007 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    ha! i LOVE that trolley! really nice!

    Words, meanings, imagery. In this highly “scientific” and commercial world, its getting harder to find creativity coming through in fresh, and er… creative ways! We are all so pressed for time! :D

  2. Posted May 14, 2007 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    some very interesting concepts here – fascinating to read.
    i love to run (as some of you may or may not know). it’s amazing how many ideas i get while i’m out and about.

  3. Posted May 14, 2007 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Hi Calvin,

    I agree – it would be so nice to have more time for creative projects, time and budgets get smaller and smaller.

    Hi Steve,
    Glad you enjoyed reading.
    Regarding the running – please can you stop showing those high calorie smoothie recipes, they look really nice but keep making me hungry.

  4. Posted May 14, 2007 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    I’m so glad that my group project has inspired you to write this article. It was an enthralling study of how thinking outside the box is the best approach anyone can take.

    My favourite concepts from the ones listed above were the piggy-toes, trolley and the flood.

    Thank you so much for participating in my group project with the new entry (hopefully your article will inspire others to participate as well) and taking us behind the scenes of the Designer’s mind at work.

  5. Posted May 14, 2007 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, I enjoyed it and am looking forward to seeing the other entries, maybe you could compile some of the best ideas from all of them into a simple downloadable ebook? I know next time I get stuck on a project it would nice to have a list of ways to get my brain buzzing again.

  6. Posted May 14, 2007 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Now, that’s what I call a Great Idea!
    An e-book – I should definitely do that. Looks like I’ve got some homework to do – learning about the e-book creation. Any suggestions/tips are greatly appreciated.

  7. Posted May 14, 2007 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Just googled “create an ebook” and it looks like their are loads of examples. I’ve never put one together, but hopefully someone else reading may have? I would assume you just create it as HTML or a PDF?

    Can I order my copy now please :)

  8. Posted May 14, 2007 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Yes, you certainly can, Tara.
    Actually, all those who participate in this group project will receive a free copy of this e-book. All others will have to pay for it :-)

  9. Posted May 14, 2007 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Excellent! I’m know I’m going to come back to this when I feel overwhelmed with a new project and absolutely no ideas on what to do. I hope an e-book can be compiled; I would certainly love another design inspiration resource. Thanks so much for this! And I really love your style of design, too, Tara; I’m glad you used examples from your own portfolio :) Neat to see those

  10. Posted May 14, 2007 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Thanks LaurenMarie

    I would be interested in hearing and inspiration tips you have too.

  11. Posted May 15, 2007 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    Hmm, my tips/inspiration. Ok, here it goes:

    I keep a design scrapbook of sorts, though mine is mostly digital screenshots I’ve taken from various websites. I also have a document with written ideas about different styles I would like to try: make it look like an illuminated manuscript, watercolor painting, Victorian type poster, try using pure typography to create images, using only two colors, etc…

    The rest of this comment will be posted on Inspiration Bit Group Project on Sources of Inspiration on 19 May

  12. Posted May 15, 2007 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Some good tips Lauren – glad I got a sneak preview

  13. Posted May 15, 2007 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for your inspiring entry, LaurenMarie. And thank you, Tara, for promoting this group writing project.

  14. Posted May 16, 2007 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    I love the piggy one and supermarket one… Cow ad was rich by concept related to production of less milk, and flooding in the other one.. But still not drawing enough satisfaction…

    But the trolley was awesome… u were too good..

    BTW how come your getting so many glamorous jobs… You into poultry or something?? ;-P

  15. Posted May 16, 2007 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Hi Santosh, I have not worked on a chicken advert yet – can’t wait for that one :)

    Thanks for the compliment, glad you like them.

  16. Posted May 17, 2007 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    Hey Tara,

    Thanks so much for posting this. It really is inspirational and you came up with great ideas :)

  17. Posted May 17, 2007 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Hi Bianca

    Thanks, I’m glad you found it useful.

  18. Posted May 18, 2007 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    I had an advertising subject back in College, and we really had a hard time figuring a good print ad. Though, now, I am not in advertising media, I still found this field is an interesting and fun area to work for. Your ideas are great and it inspired me… I love looking to ads that are catchy and creative, not just the plain thing one see in most of the ads.

    Brainstorming is great too, and its so fulfilling once your small idea becomes big for ebrybody in the group…. like “Wow, great job!”

  19. Posted May 18, 2007 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Hi Korean Drama Addict

    Thanks for your comment.
    I’m glad you found its inspiring to read, thanks.

    Like you I love the brainstorming bit of any job, to me the idea and sketching bit are more fun than actually putting the ad together.

  20. Posted May 27, 2007 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for writing this post. I am a non creative kind of guy so I really liked the way you laid out the inspiration behind the finished product.

  21. Karim
    Posted May 28, 2007 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the inspiration ! What a nice article you created here. Not only the designs are great but also the way you share in a totally natural language. A fine piece of work I’d say.

  22. Posted May 28, 2007 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Hi Joey and Karim

    I’m glad you enjoyed reading thank you.

    This Eclectic Life
    Thanks for the mention

  23. Posted October 13, 2007 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    I am currently in my third year doing Graphic Design, and i am totally stuck with my personal project. I have begun with an idea of creating a book all about the colour pink, and thats it!! i love doing collages and painting and being all girly so if anyone can help me to further this idea or give me totally different ideas i will be soooooo thankful!!

  24. Posted October 13, 2007 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Hi Sian

    I don’t know if you have tried it already but I would start with the word pink in the middle of a large piece of paper and then create spider brainstorms from it (word associations). For (one chain could be) example PINK – strawberry ice cream – taste – tongue – lips – lipstick – makeup etc etc. When you get to the edge of the page go back to the word pink in the middle and start again linking new words. It doesn’t matter if it gets random as you will spring up new ideas that way. Try doodling some of the things you write for example draw/doodle a lipstick (from your word association and see what it could look vaguely like – a rocket a firework?

    Will the mood boards just get a load of magazines and just cut out anything pink or that in some way relates to pink and stick them all on a board.

    You could also try the random word technique

    By the way I always used to hate being given personal projects its much easier to given a brief and work from there.

    Hope this helps??

  25. Posted October 18, 2007 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    Hey Tara, thankyou sooo much for that!! I will get onto it now.Yes i agree i hate personal projects too!

    thanks again

  26. Posted November 23, 2007 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Really nice design work and good concepts. I enjoy seeing fresh new advertising ideas. The ads that may you think are my favorite, they seem to stick in my head for a while.

  27. Posted December 18, 2007 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Great article. I too also find inspiration in print advertising and designs – I have in my library a bunch of the best of brochure design, best of advertising design, etc books. I love them. I just wrote an article that lists 180+ resources online for design inspiration and I liked your article so much that I added your link to the article. I put yours up above other links because yours is so well thought out.


  28. Posted March 13, 2008 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Great concept! I’m beginning to have some interest in designing and I feel this site do give some helpful tips in a way to me. I hope I’ll take heed of some advices/tips/etc and learn to be a better designer.

  29. Posted June 3, 2008 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    You have a really unique way of coming up with ideas for your work. Hitting a blank can be the most frustrating thing possible when designing to a deadline. I find the most useful technique is too take a break and brainstorm. Because it will be much more beneficial than just sitting in front of the computer screen being unproductive. Good blog, I really like your work.

  30. Posted June 4, 2008 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I agree, the best thing to do is always brainstorm. You are never going to come up with a great idea sitting in front of a screen getting frustrated. Ireally like your different approaches for coming up with ideas.

  31. Posted June 10, 2008 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    great ideas and creativity, beyond imaganiation of normal man ,

  32. Posted July 15, 2008 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    excellent little piggy idea, a great concept. Word association is something that i learn t studying graphics at uni.

  33. Posted October 13, 2008 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    great inspirations you have there.. i agree we can do a lot based on our imaginations. being creative is a part of one’s idea.

  34. Posted October 15, 2008 at 3:14 am | Permalink

    nice post.. i got inspirations from cool works that ive seen through the web. i got inspired with great designs.

  35. Posted October 26, 2008 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    great post.. i agree with brainstorming, it is very important to share ideas to get the right one.

  36. Posted November 1, 2008 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    I always think our general surroundings can offer a lot of inspiration if we are just creative. Sometimes we need help though, watch and ask other people how they see things.

  37. Posted February 15, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Well realy great work i would say and a great source of inspiration keep it up!

  38. Posted February 15, 2010 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Thanks Alice

  39. Posted July 13, 2010 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Great article, some really good points made here. Will defiantly take some of these into consideration for future design work

  40. Posted August 4, 2010 at 1:02 am | Permalink

    Thanks, I enjoyed it and am looking forward to seeing the other entries, maybe you could compile some of the best ideas from all of them into a simple downloadable ebook? I know next time I get stuck on a project it would nice to have a list of ways to get my brain buzzing again.

  41. Posted August 5, 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Hi Mario – That’s a good idea I might just do that

  42. Posted October 4, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I agree, the best thing to do is always brainstorm. You are never going to come up with a great idea sitting in front of a screen getting frustrated.

    I like to go out and have a walk, get different stimulus.

  43. Robin Rozum
    Posted November 3, 2010 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I have been trying the image association since last 2-3 years and found these really helpful in publishing good projects, but off late I’d been searching for more options and I think now I have two better ideas to go for..I’ve tried the word association for few times but not so frequent

  44. Posted January 31, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    I know next time I get stuck on a project it would nice to have a list of ways to get my brain buzzing again.

  45. Posted May 5, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    compile some of the best ideas from all of them into a simple downloadable ebook?

  46. Posted May 7, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Is that something you would be interested in?

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