Where Do You Get Those Ideas?

Idea Scavenging

I get questions fairly regularly. “Where do you get photos and artwork?” “What software do you use?” etc. There is one question I get asked more often than any other, “Where do you guys come up with those ideas?” It makes me smile because typically the person asking has some misguided hope that there is some single, magical source that contains great ideas. I can see in their eyes the hope that I will reveal to them this secret book, or well hidden website that is somehow supernaturally filled with ideas and inspiration. Well, sorry to disappoint, but there is no single, mystical, creative idea filled book, or website. No supernatural crystals applied to your forehead, glasses, or mouse to guarantee effective communication seed thoughts exist.

The short and somewhat disappointing answer is that ideas take much time and work. Some designers may be extremely gifted, and have more ideas than they know what to do with, but not me. I really have to work for ideas, I have to scavenge for them. They typically do not “just come to me.” So here are some of techniques I use to scavenge for ideas. I hope they will be a help to you:


It is not just spiritual talk. There is no more creative force in the universe than the One who created all that is, and He resides within you. So pray for ideas that will help communicate the truth.

Define and apply

Whether in print, web, or video one of the first steps for me in trying to come up with a creative idea is to really understand what I am trying to communicate. Not just what information, but what feelings, and context. Ask yourself, “Is this project supposed to be high-energy and exciting; is it supposed to be calm and reflective; should it feel feminine, or masculine, or childish? 

Once you have defined what your project is supposed to feel like, you can apply that feeling to all of the design elements. If a project is supposed to feel high-energy and exciting, ask yourself what colors, typefaces, shapes, strokes, photos, and artwork express excitement, and use those elements.

Study the work of others

I am not necessarily talking about a straight copy of someone else’s design, but you can study the layout, the use of color or photos. It is better to look at a design and try to dissect the principles used to make it great than it is just to copy it. Ask yourself, “Why do I like this design?” But, in a pinch, just copying a design works too—don’t look at me like that; we have all done it :-)

Do something

Rarely do ideas come to me as I stare at a blank screen or sheet of paper. If nothing else is working you can start by just assembling the information that needs to go on the page or website. Ideas often come as you start laying out and moving around the pieces. Often ideas come from sheer accident. I know many times I have hit the wrong key command, but thought to myself, hey, that looks pretty good. As you exercise yourself to do something, one idea leads to another, which eventually might lead to a good one. 


When I really need some creative idea, I will often shut off my email and phone and clear off my desk. Thinking creatively is hard work and my brain is lazy, so if it has the opportunity to skip over and think about a menial email, or random paper on my desk, it will. Get back to work, brain!

Start outside the box

Sometimes if I am working at it but the creative juices are not flowing yet, I will put down my usual tools (layout program, keyboard, and mouse) and pick up a sheet of paper and a pencil. Thinking about a different way a piece can fold, or a different shape it could be can inspire some great ideas

These are some techniques that have helped me and I hope they are helpful to you as well. What are some of the things you do to come up with creative ideas?

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