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?

A Personal Record of Design – The Designer’s Scrapbook


I received a magazine from Vauxhall a couple of days ago and loved some of the images in it. I tore them out as I reminder that it was about time I updated my design scrap book. I have been keeping a scrap book of design bits for about 15 years. I am in no way a prolific collector hence I am just reaching the end of my second book but every now and again I will see something in a magazine, a greeting card, a leaflet etc that I like and will keep it to put in my scrapbook. When my design magazine shelf gets overloaded they go to the guillotine too. Sometimes I don’t even like the piece that I stick in the book, but there is an aspect of it that could be a useful reference, maybe the text is tipped at an angle or enclosed in a shape.

I thought you might find it interesting how design and illustration has changed over my scrapbook years. These are some of the first pages from my first book.


Notice below the Walkman ad, I thought this was great at the time (now I feel really old!). I think this must have been circa 1995. I remember futura was one of the “IN” fonts around then too.

old scrap2

My latest scrap book definitely looks different, some of it obviously down to changing fashion but I guess also to my changing taste.



Scrapbooks are a great source of inspiration. In effect you create your own graphic design book.

Do you collect anything or make scrapbooks to inspire your work?

Beyond Graphic Design


I am curious to what fellow graphic designers do beyond graphic design. If you are anything like me, your creative brain does not switch off at the end of the day. It annoyingly sometimes wakes you up in the middle of the night with what seems like a fantastic idea (at the time anyway), I know my partner is not always so enthusiastic when I try and tell him about it at 2am in the morning.

I have my trustee notebook filled up with crazy ideas from the bizarre – a pogo stick bike (think I must have had a couple of glasses of wine when I thought of that one), and a fold up hoover with caterpillar wheels that could go down the stairs easily. I also have the more sensible ones – inkjet paper pre-sprayed with photomount/spraymount with a wax backing sheet so you don’t end up choking to death while mocking up visuals.I am just been waiting for an idea that requires a plastic prototype so I can try out polymorph (some plastic moulding material that you just warm up mould, leave to cool and it goes hard again), looks fun.And what about websites, do you get ideas for websites (graphic design blog included) all the time, and stories, oh and children’s characters and kitchen gadgets and…and…

Or maybe its just me?

Brand-napping – a Winning Pitch


Dave Hirschkop, of Dave’s Gourmet must have been surprised when he began receiving grisly photos along with a hostage note with cut out letters saying “Do You KnoW wHERE YouR BranD iS?”

Along with the ransom letters was a photo of his sauce bottle with a gloved hand around the logo characters neck, photoshoped on the front cover of a newspaper. Further photos followed until Dave decided to call the number on the hostage note pretending to be an FBI agent.

To cut a long story short, the branding agency offered to to the rebranding for Dave for free. It was a much larger client than they would usually work for. They thought the project would be fun and raise their profile by working for a large client.

The full story is an artcle written by John Grossman which can be found at

Has anybody else tried an unsual way of marketing themselves that worked?

Unleash the Illustrator in you

Illustration Tutorials
I used to do a lot of illustration work within my design work, if a character was needed I would draw it. Now with budgets and deadlines getting tighter and more cheap royalty free images available I am afraid I often go for the quick easy option, buy and use a ready made image. For the first time in ages I actually did a bit of illustration for a job myself – something simple for some mother and baby packaging. I scribbled the basic illustration in pencil scanned it in and used painter to colour it up in a quite naive looking style. I had bought painter on sale a few month ago and never actually used it, I actually quite enjoyed it.

doodleThen while browsing blogs on the net I came across Its very different to other sites I have seen most of which have tutorials which are computer based. The interesting thing about this site is that the illustrator sets you a series of tasks (its like being back at a foundation course at college). If you want to try and get creative (or are just bored) try a few of Von Glitscka’s illustration exercises such as his doodle sheets. Take his doodle sheets look at them in all directions (don’t take the first easy thing that comes in your head) then draw something a character, a thing, anything. This is one of Von’s Examples the black the original shape the red his drawing, I did try some myself but am too embarassed to share.

PicassoAnother illustration lesson is to draw three things he suggests in the style of a famous artist. Here I have shown his illustration of a dog in the style of Picasso. He includes downloads as PDFs and jpegs of all the files and his examples.

Whether you are an illustrator, designer or student is well worth checking out.Images shown with kind permission of Von Glitschka.