This article has been submitted by Lauren Krause via e-mail as an entry to the Group Writing Project – Source Of Inspiration. Special thanks to Tara from GraphicDesignBlog for promoting this group project.


lkportrait Lauren is a gifted artist. She works as a Graphic and Interactive Designer. Her design philosophy is worth noting: “Design doesn’t have to be complicated to be good… The most important thing to keep in mind about design is that it is supposed to deliver a message, if the message is lost in the design, form has overtaken function.”


written by Lauren Krause – laurenmarie.net

Scrapbook ideas

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.

I have a small collection of Communication Arts magazines that I look through every so often, especially the Design Annuals. Similarly, other design books are a great source of inspiration.

I love scrapbooking and I have several idea books from that industry. These are SO useful for layout options, where to place images in relation to text, background ideas, and they’re also great inspiration for icons (the stickers and stamps).

Design sources from past

I recently discovered antique shops while spending time with my Gramma for Mother’s Day. These are the most awesome source for typography and graphics – everything in these stores is authentic! You cannot find resources like this online and it’s something else to be able to hold your inspiration instead of stare at it on a screen. It’s really very cool.

Yoga and Sumi-e

Yoga. Clear your mind. It helps sometimes to not even think about the project.

I love looking at Sumi-e art. It’s so simple. So beautiful. I wish I could paint like that!

Thinking outside the box

Design something without the computer and with non-traditional materials. I once made a scene using spices, yes, like the kind for cooking or baking. Although that was just for a class project, I know I’ve seen ads using snack crackers in the shapes of people and animals. This is a great book, too: Great Design Using Non-Traditional Materials. It’s not very long, but well worth the few bucks that people are selling it for on Amazon. It showcases designs using things from corrugated cardboard to glass.

A professor in college had us write half the alphabet down the side of a page and then in a column next to that write the other half. We had to come up with phrases, titles, product names, etc. with the two letters. Like say Z and P were next to each other. Zebra Phobia. What could that look like as book title? Might make a cute children’s story. It’s a weird way to loosen those creative juices.

Powerful associations

I like word association and pulling out the thesaurus (or using Thesaurus.com). I like the examples of playing with language, too, by using metaphors or a positive negative.

Sometimes making the design look like a typical design from another industry can be catchy. For example, we had a car commercial in the U.S. a few months ago, with corresponding magazine ads, that looked like an advertisement for an allergy medicine. It sure made me stop and look twice.

I like to think about the essence of the product, service, etc. and try to do idea associations with it. I mean, what is money? Really? Some paper that we place a very high value on that really has no intrinsic importance. And what other forms could it take? How would I redesign it? Make it liquid? Interesting ideas come from this exploration.

Storming your brain

And above all: brainstorm. Really brainstorm. No idea is a bad one. If you can’t illustrate it, describe it, write it down and come back to it later. Don’t say no to anything. Don’t erase. Stream of consciousness or free-flow writing can help, too. You know, when you just pick a topic (probably the job at hand) and start writing for a set amount of time. You can’t stop (or erase!), even if you can’t think of what to write, you write just that; write about why you can’t think of anything. But only do it for a set amount of time, otherwise you might go too far off topic and then it’s not productive! It is immensely helpful to be able to go back and bounce these ideas off of another designer; s/he usually has a different point of view or way of thinking about the topic.

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13 Insightful Bits in response to “Graphic Designer’s Snapshots of Inspiration”

  1. Hey! It’s me! How cool is this? I hope everyone enjoys my inspiration. And seriously, go visit an antique shop. The magazines, book covers, travel souvenirs, board game boxes, toy packaging, matchbooks… all those print materials are really neat. And authentic. Wow!

  2. Lauren, I enjoyed your post. At lot of those things ring true for me. I have done a little cross-advertising work, i.e. making things look like other styles of work and it can certainly be inspiring.

    I tried to base a web design on the work of Charles Rennie-Mackintosh once; It was awful, but the experiment was fun and it led onto something good in the end.

  3. Hi, LaurenMarie, you’ve just given us great tips! And you are so right: nothing has to be complicated to be good.

  4. Vivien

    Lauren, thank you so much for such an incredibly resourceful article.

    What do you think, everyone – should we beg Lauren to guest write for InspirationBit more often before she decides to get into blogging herself? :-)

  5. Yes. More guest posts. Yay!

    Great article Lauren. I really liked your point about getting inspiration from non-traditional sources.

  6. I am SO glad you have enjoyed my inspiration. And, how sweet! I feel wanted! I would love to write more, the only problem is that I don’t have many ideas of what to write about. If you might give me some topics… practice would definitely be good before I decide to jump into running my own blog, if I decide to go that route. Commenting on other people’s posts is pretty fun!

  7. I liked your point on Powerful associations! Great tips in here, Lauren!

  8. Vivien

    Lauren, how about writing on these topics:
    - Pick one of your favourite client projects and share with us your design process, your inspiration for the project’s concept and artwork
    - a similar topic but this time pick one of the most dreadful projects you had to work with and share with us what had helped you to, despite everything, come up with an incredible result and make your client happy.

    What do you think?

  9. Well, I don’t have too much freelance experience, but I just completed an annual report for the Girl Scout council I work for here in Southern California, so I could write about my process for that. I just landed a big freelance website gig, but that’s been troublesome and even though we started dialogging about the project almost 6 months ago, I just sent them a proposal this week. So I can’t quite say anything about that project because it’s had a rough start (and it really hasn’t even been pushed into full swing yet). But I am excited for it to get underway, my first website other than my own portfolio that I will build using a completely tableless layout!

  10. Bes

    Nice Lauren! :)

    Scrapbook idea is a nice one, allowing us to put thoughts into some kind of a physical form. The past archives, or design sources from the past, should surely help spur up more ideas.

    Thinking outside the box, that is an interesting concept that many people do not do, or force themselves to do. They should try to make it part of their normal thing, to question things and come at their own conclusions, thus developing a mentality that thinks based on unique reasons since every person thinking on his/her own will probably have unique analysis about things.

    Associations can help also, like with memory; good point. I am guessing from your example of the car commercial that is was more a good example of a catchy commercial than a powerful association, though I may be wrong. Ads are everywhere, so sometimes its hard to see how they are affecting us. Good point in bringing it up.

    Brainstorm: I always think that brainstorming occurs every moment of the day, but so many people go crazy when they try to do it even for an hour. It should be a constant thing, trying to think and come up with ideas or thoughts, and from my own experience, it can be productive to brainstorm all the time but it adds a lot of stress to your own character because of imagining and coming up with all the possibilities about something or everything in the universe. Of course, majority of the people today feel stressed already about a lot of things and cannot brainstorm or think aggressively all the time, so dedicating a little bit time helps.

    Good post Lauren. :)

  11. Thanks! So many nice people leaving positive feedback. This could get addicting!

  12. This is a tasty article, Lauren. Now I’m inspired to go through all the ephemera that has been handed down in my family (I don’t need to go to an antique shop!). I like the idea of scrapbooking. I paste pictures in my journal for inspiration, which I suppose is a bit like that. Thanks for sharing.

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Hi, I'm Vivien. Thanks for visiting my Inspiration Bit. I often find myself scouring the internet looking for either answers to many questions I have or websites that inspire me, sites that I can learn from. On what topics you might ask — any topics that interest me, anything from web design to typography and art, from blogging to entrepreneurship, from programming to open source.
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When I'm not blogging, I design web sites, teach programming, play with my daughter and try to balance family, work, friends and a somewhat active social life on