14 Creative Techniques for Graphic Designers

I am always looking for new creative techniques to help come up with ideas for graphic design and I have read several books on creativity. The only downside to some of these books is that they don’t always easily lend themselves to graphic design and are far better for coming up with product or business ideas. Worst still I have read one creativity book that in my opinion was complete B.S. which included the idea that if you raise your eyebrows it helps put you in a positive frame of mind and increases your flow of ideas (hands up who’s now raising their eyebrows 😉 – got any cool ideas yet?). I decided to put together my own list, to share ideas of creative techniques that I have either used, or that I think will work to help stimulate graphic design ideas. It’s as much a check list for myself as well as for anyone else who is reading this post. So here goes and please stop me if I start blabbing on about how standing on your head or Worse still drilling a hole in your head can make you more creative (yes, supposedly that works, but I prefer less painful methods).

By the side of these ideas I have put either layout or concept in brackets, to represent which element of design I think these techniques could help with.

1. Brainstorm with Mindmaps (concept)

This is the classic way of brainstorming that no doubt you will of heard of. You start with a word then create a spider like diagram with associated words, these words can be as loosely or closely associated as you want to the original word. You can create mind maps with paper and pencil or use mind mapping software – a free one is freemind (I haven’t tried it). There are several ipad and iphone apps for mindmaping too.

An interesting post on mind-mapping can be found here

2. Google Wonder Wheel (concept)

Google has its own mindmap search which can help springboard ideas by seeing what google believes to be related to your topic.

3. Brainstorm with Doodles (concept)

Instead of sticking to the classic text brainstorm mind maps the addition of doodled images can really help generate ideas. You start to see visual similarities and associations with the look of things as well as their written meanings.

4. Visual Metaphor (concept)

Moving on from the pictorial mindmap you may also start to think of visual metaphors. Is the concept that you are trying to get over that the product is as light as a balloon, as strong as an elephant etc etc. See my post inspiration for design and advertising for examples

5. Play-on-words (concept)

A website that I find really useful especially for advert concepts is rhymezone.com. You simply type in a word and decide the type of words you want to get back you can choose from many things including rhymes, synonyms and related words, all things which can help springboard new ideas. A great little feature I like to is the “match these letters” feature. I used this a while ago when I was creating brochure concepts to promote 16 cities in the UK. I thought 16 looked very much like ib and so put in to “match these letters”. From this I got the word vibrant which I used for one of the headings in this form V16rant Cities.

play on words

6. Moodboards (concept + layout)

Moodboards are a great way to get your creative thoughts flowing. You can create moodboards either with a large sheet of paper that you stick bits of graphics on that relate to your theme or have the “feel” you are looking for. Alternatively you can do this electronically, I sometimes use iphoto or you could use something like Evernote – see Creating a Moodboard with Evernote or if you have an ipad an app named moodboard.

You can see an example of some of my moodboards (below) from my post A design project from concept to completion.


Also check out Web Designer Depot’s post Why Moodboards Matter

7. Random Words (concept)

Using Random Words to boost creativity is a creative technique I heard about in one of Edward de Bono’s books.In essence you take a random word and introduce it to whatever subject you are brainstorming about. This technique would come in most useful for a graphic designer for projects such as advertising or when more out of the box thinking is required. The idea of the random word is to stimulate ideas you may never have thought about before. Say for example you were creating an advert for some new form of chocolate you might pick a random word ie. car, you then need to think how the car could apply to chocolate – a chocolate car, a chocolate that doesn’t melt so keeps your car clean, a chocolate bar on wheels, a chocolate bar which comes with a mini car journey game on the inside of the wrapper etc, etc.

8. Rephrase the question (concept)

Rephrasing a question is a creative technique I heard of recently whereby you rewrite the question you are asking of your self as a designer. So instead of – How can I create an advert for a new chocolate bar ,you instead rephrase this –

  • How can I make this chocolate appeal to men/women/children?
  • What makes this chocolate different?
  • How can I increase the sales of this new chocolate?
  • Why would someone want to buy this chocolate?

The ideas is that you take away the rigidity and limitations (ie create an advert) and open your mind to other possible solutions you may not have explored. Instead of an advert you might and up thinking of a teaser campaign or some other sort of promotion which would be more effective. Of course this is not so great if your client insists on an advert but then you probably just have to re-work some of your ideas a bit.

9. Forget Colour (layout, possibly concept)

If I am working on something like a logo quite often I will work only in black and white, this frees me up to think about shapes and how things work together without worrying about colours. This can work for page layouts too. Start by mapping out your basic layout form (after preliminary sketches) n black and white on computer before adding in colour later.

10. Mirror a Shape (layout)

If you are producing a layout based design for a company look to see if there is an element of the shape of the logo that you can echo. If for example the logo has an angular icon can you use that same angle to cut up your page in someway or to make an usual picture box shape to house your images.

11. Do an Image Search on Google (concept and layout)

Decide on several keywords which relate to your topic then search for them using google images this should throw up ideas you may not have thought of. Collate useful images from google using iphoto or similar to use as reference.

You can see how I have used google images in my post My Graphic Design Process Shown in Video

12. Look at What Else Your Target Market Might Buy (concept and layout)

Think of your target market, think about what products they like and might buy, look at the designs of those products. You can find out what type of people are mostly looking at certain websites by using www.quantcast.com

13. Restrict your Design (layout)

  • How could you only use typography to get the message across
  • How could you use mainly photography to get the message across
  • How could you use mainly diagrams or symbols to get the message accross

Also another idea is to try concentrating just on an element of your design.  Try for example restricting yourself to just creating great looking headings (sketching first). This immediately takes the pressure off yourself. Once you have a strong heading see how you can apply elements of that to the rest of your page – is it smooth, rough, spikey, rounded, modern etc.

14. Keep Scrapbooks and Sketchbooks

Being creative is always difficult when the pressure is on, so keep a sketchbook and scrapbook to hand. Use the scrapbook to collect interesting design material together. Use a sketchbook to keep your design ideas and thoughts in one place.

See my post A Personal Record of Design – The Designer’s Scrapbook


Other ways to help Creativity

Don’t forget how much it can help to talk through a project with a friend to help springboard ideas.  If you are really stuck, move onto something else allowing your mind to think about the creative project in the background. It is amazing how the best ideas often happen when you don’t realise you are thinking about your design project – in the car, in bed, walking the dog etc.

Further Recommended Reading – Books

Any books by Edward De Bono
Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius for Business and Beyond
The Business Playground
Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck

Twenty Sources of Package Design Inspiration

Some of my freelance design work involves packaging design and as such I am always looking for inspiration for creative packaging solutions. Most recently I have been working on some pet food packaging for which I will show my design process in a future post. I have always felt that packaging design is one area of graphic design that is far less publicised than other areas such as logo design.

1. Look in your Cupboard
You only have to open one of your kitchen cupboards to be bombarded with packaging design, and for some reason those food packaging designs have connected with you in some way and persuaded you to buy them. It’s useful to look at these to work out the key element of a successful piece of packaging design.

What made you choose them before you even knew what they tasted like? Was it the beautiful photography, the fun typography, the copy writing, the colours? Can you take this and apply it to your design?

food packaging in cupboard

2. Online Supermarkets
You could take a walk around a local shop or supermarket to source packaging  ideas, this is fine if the products you are looking at are relatively cheap and you can buy a few, but otherwise it could be a problem as most Supermarkets will not allow you to take photos in the shop. Many of the online supermarkets only offer small images of their products (the big UK ones do) but Amazon groceries do. Mashable has a list of 50 places to buy groceries online so its also worth checking out some of their other links for different product packaging design.

Amazon food package design

3. Deviant Art
A quick search on Deviant Art for packaging and you get 15366 results. You can choose to view the designs by popularity from the design community or newness.

packaging Design Gallery at Deviant Art

4. Packaging of the World
Packaging of the World
is a gallery of packaging design broken down into different sections such as toy, vintage, alcohol, and there is an interesting addition of a student/concept packaging design section.

creative packaging solutions on packaging of the world

5. Sustainable packaging ideas
Sustainable Gallery
is a gallery of ideas for sustainable/recyclable packaging design. Sections include compostable, recyclable and reusable packaging design.

sustainable packaging gallery

6. Brand packaging
Also from the same company as the sustainable packaging gallery is Brand Packaging featuring packaging arranged in categories of  rigid plastic, paper/board, flexible, metal and glass/

brand packaging

7. Istockpack – for packaging templates/box nets
If you are looking for inspiration for the shape of your packaging istockpack might give you a few ideas. You can search for packaging templates (box nets) and download then for free. If you have any packaging templates you want to share you can also upload them to the site

packaging templates and box nets from istockpack

8. Lovely package
Lovely package
is a packaging blog where readers are invited to submit their packaging designs.

lovely package design

9. The Package Unseen
The Package Unseen
is a blog written by a package designer which features not just images of beautiful packaging design but the author also writes about packaging design history and his influences.

packaging blog package unseen

10. The Dieline
Probably one of the most well known blogs on packaging design The Dieline is a great source of package design images but also gives a little background to why the packaging was created as it was.

dieline packaging blog

11. Box Vox
Box Vox
Another packaging design blog started by Randy Ludacer who has a small packaging design company in NYC.

boxvox packaging design blog

12. Dzine Magazine
Dzine Magazine
is another packaging blog with inspirational design images

Dzine packaging design blog

13. Enveloop
has plenty of packaging images and they can be viewed by country as well as type.

package design blog by Enveloop

14. Flickr Package Design Groups
Type in the search package into Flickr and many packaging design groups can be found, a few are listed below

flickr package design gallery

www.flickr.com/groups/packaged/ – general packaging design
– food packaging
– soap packaging
– general packaging design
– Toy Packaging
– Japanese Packaging
– Packaging From 1940- 1970

15. Packaging Design Magazine
Package Design Magazine
is website targeted at the package design industry including packaging images and news.

packaging design magazine

16. Behance Network
is a network of creative people, where individuals can also upload their work. A whole variety of package design ideas can be found here.

beahnce package design network

17. Book: 1000 Package Designs
packaging design book - 1000 package designsI have always found it much more difficult to find books on packaging design than most other design subjects. I have recently bought 1000 package designs book which is basically packaging eye candy. If you are looking for the reasoning behind the design work its not for you but if like me its just for inspiration its spot on. I have a couple of the other books in the 1000 series and they are all good (except avoid the icons and symbols one).

18. Book: Demographics Packaging
package design book - DemographicsAnother good packaging book I have previously mentioned is Demographics which breaks packaging down into target markets by age ie. packaging for kids, teens, adults, mature adults. The book shows a variety of packaging design with a few case studies including the design of X Box packaging and Sainsbury’s kid’s food packaging.

19. Strata 3D Packaging Case Study and Showcase
A case study for a package designer showing their package design process to 3D visual in Strata Design 3D for producing a new sauce label design (3D software which I use myself for 3D visuals). Also available on the Strata site is a showcase of 3D package design visuals.

strata 3d packaging design case study

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20. Other Package Design Links
Beautiful and inspiring package design
from Smashing Magazine
inspiring package design
Abduzeedo 30 beautiful inspiring packages

Useful Resources for Package design
Presto Visual royalty free images of boxes, bottles, tubes and other packaging on to use for your package design visuals – found via davidairey.com
A free online barcode generator – make sure you donate if you use

Area 2 a Graphic Design book for Inspiration

I was pleased to given a free copy of Area 2 which i was asked if I was interested in reviewing. Even though its a freebie I don’t believe in giving a good review unless I feel it is deserved, but fortunately I really like this book.

graphic design book for inspiration

According to Phaidon who publish the book:
10 of the most respected figures in the field have come together to select 100 innovative designers, working in media ranging from books and magazines to posters and typography. 100 critical essays introduce each designer and lavish full-colour spreads provide an insight into the visual character of their work.

The book is a real bombardment of inspiration, it reminds me a bit of a fashion catwalk where you see trends being set, which then will trickle down to the high street or in his case other designers. This isn’t a book you can just have a quick flick through, it is huge (over 400 pages) it is packed with design and illustration and is the sort of book you will keep noticing something new in each time you look. I was please to see some of my favourite character designers included too – James Jarvis and Friends with You

You can buy Area 2 from Amazon

Inspiration for Package Design

I do quite a bit of package design for surface graphics. I have always found finding inspiration for package design online and in books quite difficult, it just seems to be an area which is not as popular as other areas of graphic design. The type of package design work often featured in books is for areas such as cosmetics and food rather than looking at all areas.

On a recent project to design some packaging for some surge protector trailing sockets I was searching for some inspiration one of the best sites I found is a blog called the dieline which is a feast for the eyes in package design. Broken down into different categories the dieline features all different types of package design not just the more popular areas.

package design blog

I have searched for package design on Flickr before with little success, but what I discovered when I looked again is that I had done the wrong search. A search for “packaging design” rather than “package design” was much more promising yielding nearly 9000 results (not bad!).

packaging design

package design bookI also ordered and received a book from Amazon called Packaging: Design Successful Packaging for Specific Customer Groups (Demographics) which is very good, it splits packaging design down by target age, kids, young adult etc etc. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book as the cover looks quite eighties, but the content inside is good.

What packaging design inspiration sites and books would you recommend?

Greeting Card Design at the Spring Fair

Last week was a busy one for me. I went down to Birmingham Tuesday and Wednesday to the Spring Fair to look around the exhibition and meet a couple of people. If you have never been to the Spring Fair before (I hadn’t) it’s a large exhibition featuring toys, gifts, kitchenware and cards. You wouldn’t believe the amount of greeting cards I saw. Its obviously a very worthwhile place to go if you are looking to license your own designs both for inspiration as to what is happening in the industry.

I was especially interested in the card exhibition halls to see what sort of designs are being used on children’s cards as this is one of the areas I would like to push my character designs into.

If you are interested in looking round an exhibition like this there are a couple more in the UK this year The Summer Fair in London and The Autumn Fair which is again in Birmingham.

Design Case Studies 12th December 07

design case studies

Design Case StudiesDesign Case Studies is a feature where graphic designers/illustrators are invited to show off a piece of work and talk us through their design process from initial ideas through to their final design. Andrew Davies (pictured left) is featured this week and talks about one of his designs.

1. Your Name?
Andrew Davies

2. Your Location (City and Country)?
Savannah , GA

3. Your Website or Blog URL?
website: www.iamparagon.com
blog: www.paragonblog.com

4. Project Title?
Madgenius Inc. logo and stationery

5. What was the brief?
Create a corporate identity for a new advertising agency, MadGENIUS Inc.

6. What sort of research did you do?
The name “MadGENIUS” immediately conjures up images of labs, test tubes beakers etc so I started there and looked for images that helped create that sense of scientific experimentation.

design ref

7. How did you start? (eg. planning, brainstorming, sketching, moodboards etc) Please supply images of planning/sketching stage.
After research I always follow with sketches. But thankfully had the help of the other creatives at the agency who also threw in some of their ideas.
One even took a picture of his face, which I used as the basis for one of the sketches. Some of them are shown below.

design sketches

8. Where did your inspiration come from?
The style loosely came from some cartoons of mad scientists I found (first image) as well as iconic Russian constructivism (below) using heavy geometric shapes and sharp angles.

russian book design

9. Where did you go from here? (talk through with client, work up visuals etc)
After the initial round of design concepts (below) to try out some different directions.

design round 1

There were several rounds of revisions, some shown below.

design round 2

10. How did you present the concepts? What sort of feed back did you get from the client?
Since I was an in-house designer at the time I just sent rounds of emails out to the other stake-holders and got feedback either by email or when I managed to round them all up for a crit session.

11. Where did the design project go from here?
After a few rounds we started to gravitate toward the character of the Mad Genius, spokesperson of the agency, and so began to flesh out how we wanted to pose him. (below) It was one of the sales guys who came up with the idea of using the shadow of the Mad Genius projected against a wall. With that idea the underlying story for the logo became that we happened to have caught the Mad Genius at that moment of discovery as he bursts through his lab door finger pointing in the air, shouting, “Eureka!”

final design

12. What are your thoughts on the final design are you pleased with the outcome/anything you would like to change?
I’m satisfied with the final logo design and how it was subsequently propogated throughout the other other brand elements. (see stationery below) Of course there are always nit-picky things you want to improve on designs you’ve done in the past, But I’m happy with it.

logo and stationery design

If you would like to take part in Design Case Studies Please read this post.