Stimulating creativity through inspiration

November 15, 2012
Regina Maline Lead Designer

Recently, Regina Corbin, senior designer, and Jennifer Cooley, art director, took a couple of days to attend the Re:Design Inspire Seminar.

Here, Regina is going to share what she learned from these speakers, and how the sessions she attended are helping to change her approach to inspiration. In a follow-up, we’ll hear from Jenn about her insights into developing and maintaining inspiration to beat the doldrums of task and making sure your creative forces are turned on and tuned in.

Every year I try to find at least one opportunity to get away from the office, get away from Milwaukee and task other designers and creative people with filling my creative coffers. This past September, I attended the Re:Design Inspire Seminar in Chicago.

The last speaker at the event, Dana Arnett from VSA Partners, wrapped things up by talking about keeping your creative mojo. From my perspective, that means creativity is there for us, but it is our duty to allow it a way to get out. How do I think I’ll do it?

1) Make time to gather inspiration, even if you don’t need it for the immediate task.
2) Don’t limit your exploration to where you think it should come from.

A few times, during the two days of the conference, I caught myself feeling skeptical and would wonder how these professionals had time to heed their own advice. But what became more and more apparent is that these guys and gals build it into their routine, or in some cases, abandon their old routine for a new one (you can do that?!?)

We repeatedly left the confines of the venue’s conference room and explored the environment inside and outside the hotel. The experience empowered me to get out of my cubicle – my comfort zone – to find fresh perspective. When I run into a mental wall, I’m going to use that simple technique more often. The conference inspired me to slow down and use some fresh eyes every time. It’s simple, but it’s worth remembering.

This event was intimate, conversational and collaborative. Some speakers provided us with opportunities to concept and participate directly within the session, others inspired us with relevant visual presentations and dared us to utilize similar techniques on our own. It was so collaborative, the presenters were even attending and engaging with each other’s sessions. It showed me they, as the thoughtful and inspired creative professionals they are, could still benefit from being a part of the environment of collaborative inspiration the conference had built. I talked to them at lunch, we sat together in between sessions, and we learned more about them as creative PEOPLE, aside from the public work that often defines them.

On to the sessions, and how they can spark learning and growth in our own personal quest for inspiration …

Speaker: Wally Krantz, executive creative director, The Brand Union
Title: In the Eye of the Beholder: Inspiration from the Ubiquitous  @wallykrantz

The long-winded title of Wally’s session was “In the Eye of the Beholder: Inspiration from the Ubiquitous”, but the easier way to remember it is to gather inspiration without a filter. He led us through a sampling of the library of images he photographed while commuting and living in New York. He finds that being open, or unfiltered, in his approach to gathering visual information allows him to discover underlying shape, color or content patterns in the subjects he is drawn to photograph, which then becomes inspiration for his work. He also felt that roaming about gives him the opportunity to observe design in its workable settings so that it serves as a study in how best to cut through the visual clutter. His example was a florist’s delivery van parked on the street in front of a building. The graphics printed on the van were so detailed and full of visual information that, while in a clean unencumbered environment, it would have been dynamic and interesting. Yet, within the commotion of the street, with other vehicles, trees and buildings, it became a sort of urban camouflage and barely stood out visually. If you go to his personal site  you can see his catalogued photography.


Speaker: Martin Venezky
Title: It’s All About The Next Step

Associate Professor at California College of the Arts and mastermind behind the design firm Appetite Engineers, Martin Venezky spoke to the group about taking the next step in our creative path by looking for places where design hasn’t intruded yet. The subject matter for the projects he works on is sometimes straightforward, but his approach to how he designs the finished product is not. He works primarily with typography manipulation (most often by hand lettering or the use of a copier) and collage. He gathers magazine clippings, found objects and anything else that catches his eye and creates intricate, organized inspiration walls within his workspace. He devises an exercise of putting these items next to one another, finding relationships between them or creating patterns of shape or color in a thoughtful way. This approach allows him to see the odd juxtapositions that mimic what we all see in the real world, allowing the inspiration walls to take upon a life of their own.


Speakers: David Usui/Ben Wu, Lost & Found Films
Title: Taking Time: The value of slowing down in professional and personal work  @lostfoundfilms

I wondered what a couple of young documentary filmmakers could really bring to a conference about design inspiration. It was a nice break in the day to watch their thoughtful, serene short films and have them share with us some of the other documentary films that inspire them.

Their conversation with us stressed that in order to find inspiration, you need to consciously shift your perspective because there are stories everywhere. They expressed the desire in their own work to focus on exploration, not escapism. Their key message, evident in their filmmaking, was to slow down, give thoughtful meditation to a subject matter, create time within it, and take the time to create it.


Speaker: Lawrence Azerrad, creative director, LAD Design
Title: The Wilco Loft Exploration  @LADdesign

The Chicago venue gave the conference the perfect opportunity to highlight the creative inspiration the band Wilco gets from their Chicago roots. We took a short bus ride to the Wilco recording studio (destination: top secret) and listened to what Lawrence Azerrad, Creative Director, LAD Design, had to say. Lawrence is the designer behind Wilco’s album artwork, including the iconic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album featuring Bertran Goldberg’s Marina Towers, a Chicago landmark. The focus of the visit was not so much to delve into Lawrence’s work, but rather to spend some time in what is Wilco’s creative nest, seeing the types of things within the studio that would serve as inspiration for the band and talking a bit about how the band members’ connections with Chicago and its suburbs via family history, and Chicago’s musical history is a basis for much of their inspiration. While there I counted at least 200 guitars, a poster with the head of a camel that was titled “Rehearsal Room”, the largest mixing board I have ever seen in person, two drum sets, a work bench with a motley assortment of power tools and instrument parts, a CD/album/book library, a t-shirt from Matt Umanov Guitars on Bleecker Street in New York, an old office desk with two globes, at least four organs and a grand piano. There were stacks of amplifiers and speakers and lots of separation to create unique creative spaces within the single story loft. Apparently they also occupy a lower level and that is full of more equipment. We were also informed that the band was currently on tour so the musical equipment that we saw was only a fraction of the entirety, as most of the best equipment travels with the band.



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