Welcome to Design Insights! Here seven remarkable practitioners and studios discuss the creative and the practical side of working in the design scene, featuring Kessels Kramer, Studio Lowrie, Lauren Harewood, Sthuthi Ramesh, Jennifer Whitworth, Barkas and Vanderbrand. Check back each week for more wonderful words of wisdom!
This week, we’ve spoken to our resident creatives a bit more personally, discussing their changing tastes and how they (and their processes) have evolved since starting in the industry. Whether it’s a redirection in discipline, ideological reevaluations or personal judgements, a lot can happen in a relatively short space of time – gone are the days of staying at the same job, the same desk, and working on the same stuff for decades (thankfully!). Instead, it’s such an exciting time to be a creative, with so many avenues, fields of study, people, practitioners and projects to explore. So let’s embrace the change and see what our trusty creatives have to say about their stories.
Over to you, team!
WHERE DO YOU FIRST TURN TO FOR INSPIRATION, AND WHAT IS THE MOST UNUSUAL PLACE YOU'VE FOUND IT?
To answer honestly I do get my greatest sense of inspiration just from observing the world around me. I’ve been finding a lot of joy in noticing synchronicities and connections in both the natural and human world (and also the frequent ways where the two intertwine). This is things like the ecosystems beneath our feet, and the culture of human expression through music and folk traditions. In a roundabout way, this usually somehow feeds back into my sense of motivation in design. I tend to get really sucked into a project (for better or for worse) and find myself looking everywhere. I have a memory of a few years back working on a food-based editorial platform and getting really into cooking and baking at the time. The fun thing for me about the kinds of projects that we’re lucky enough to do by working in design is that you get to try on so many different hats, and immerse yourself in so many different worlds.
I find it really hard to go searching for inspiration, and research for me is perhaps more of a helpful starting point. My go-to when there’s not necessarily a clear direction is to dive into the past and explore a theme, style, era, or concept through books and archives. Even if it doesn’t directly impact your visual approach, it’s really helpful to be aware of what came before you.
My preference is finding books (and for that my local Donlon Books is my favourite – for such a small place they have a book for every kind of niche) or of course going to a museum in person. For times when that’s not possible I trawl through the internet, reading and digging anywhere and everywhere. Some sites I go to for archival references are archive.org, Flickr commons, and also I recently discovered Google Newspaper Archives. Flickr is also amazing because there’s an incredible kind of person on there that dedicates so much time to uploading scans of graphic ephemera from the past. I’m endlessly thankful to those people!
I go for a walk when I get briefed at first. Just to collect all my thoughts. Then I turn to books. I tend to randomly pick books and see if I can find any relevant Ideas and inspiration. Lastly, I do check Are.na or Pinterest for visual reference. I try to avoid this as much as I can, but they do help with some initial mood board set up.
For inspiration, I try and get off my computer as much as just because I spend so much time on it. For the unusual or unexpected I like to cruise around second-hand book shops and record stores. You never know what you're gonna pick up, last thing I bought was a book on 'Radical Social Care' - which I'll probably never read but the type was sick. As for websites, I don't have set sites I kinda just see where I end up. You can find some great archive references on Flickr and I use Are.na a lot as you can find the weirdest mood boards, it's also handy for categorising your findings. You'll be surprised at some places you'll find it though, the other day I was just cruising Discogs and found myself 2hours in with 100 tabs looking at early 90s cassette artwork. I got no work done that day.
Sorry, it’s boring but honestly, the internet. Obviously, there are lots of creative and design sites, but everyone knows them so we don’t need to go into details.
Outside of the design industry sites, Wikipedia, Reddit and YouTube are good for introducing yourself to subjects in broad strokes. YouTube is also great for idiocratic takes, the deeper you go the weirder and better it gets. Business Insider, Bloomberg and Wired tend to be quite interesting too.
We have loads of obscure books in our studio, but they are more for general inspiration rather than a place where projects start properly.
Creative Directors Julie Vander Herberg and Anna Vander Herberg of Vanderbrand
Although we find inspiration in digital content everyday such as design resources, are.na, and Instagram, we are most inspired by our daily lives. We draw from real life and use tangible experiences to inform design solutions. We also look for trends outside of the design industry, most often in adjacent fields: interior design, photography, art, retail, hospitality, and architecture.
I’ve felt most inspired by recent trips to Basel and Zurich in Switzerland. Beautifully designed posters are everywhere on the streets. The importance placed on art and design in Switzerland is amazing to see and makes me jealous as a Londoner. I was visiting one of the mountains in Lucerne (a small town with medieval architecture), and there were posters all around from the Weltformat Festival. Bright colours, abstract typography. Hugely juxtaposed to the mountainous green landscape around it. It was beautiful! The Swiss Design Awards in Basel showcases some of the most forward-thinking work I’ve seen. Kunsthalle Basel puts on some fantastic art exhibitions, and Museum für Gestaltung Zürich is a must-visit for anyone wanting to learn first-hand about the Swiss design legacy.
We have this idea that when you work on a project, you should always find an element of inspiration not from the internet. It could be everything from a special book, an exhibition, a building or a bus ride. It’s very important for us to add something unexpected to the mix, so the work we do doesn’t become expected.