Refilling Your Creative Well

If you’re a designer, your best ideas usually aren’t going to happen while you’re sitting in front of a computer. To get yourself thinking outside the box you have to get out of the one you’re sitting in! All of my best ideas seem to pop up while I'm having new experiences throughout the city.

It’s vital for creatives to set aside time away from the computer and see things from a different perspective. Attend talks and lectures on design, visit museums and galleries, or just get out there and explore! Particularly in places like New York, you have access to some of the world’s most inspirational hotspots. For your pleasure, here are some of the Radish design team’s favorite places for refilling our creative well:

Paula Scher and Adrian Shaughnessy in conversation at an AIGA NY talk
Adrian Shaughnessy and Paula Scher in conversation at an AIGA NY talk

AIGA Talks

The American Institute of Graphic Artists (better known as AIGA) is the professional association for designers. It's also a nonprofit that hosts events for creatives, including talks that offer rare opportunities to see well-known designers. AIGA is headquartered in New York but they have 68 chapters across the country, each of which hosts its own local events.

In the last year, the Radishes have been lucky enough to attend several AIGA talks. We've had the chance to hear many of our design heroes speak, including Aaron Draplin, Michael Bierut, Christoph Niemann, Paula Scher, and Hillary Clinton’s design team, just to name a few. Each of these talks gave valuable insights into the creative processes of designers that have decades of experience.

Illustrator Christoph Niemann at an AIGA NY talk
Illustrator Christoph Niemann at an AIGA NY talk

What Should a Doubtful Designer Do?

Christoph Niemann gave one talk that really stood out to us. He shared his creative process with the audience and discussed the struggles faced by artists and designers. What really stuck with me from his talk was when he discussed some of the doubts designers are most likely to face:

  • “I’m out of ideas.” Niemann touched on how one has to accept their limitations as a designer. His advice for dealing with the fear of being out of ideas was to just keep creating. As long as you keep giving your best, something good will come out in the end - sometimes only after a long, painful process. He advises that when you're stuck, list everything you know and don’t know about your project, see if you can find any bridges between them, and build on those connections in your work. A lot of what you’ll come up with is garbage, but usually something will click, and that’s when the magic happens!
  • “I’m not good enough.” Niemann also talked about how people told him to relax and not be so hard on himself. One strategy he gave for testing the quality of our work was to simply share it on social media. This is a great way to get instant feedback on whether or not your ideas are any good. He warned, though, that a lot of likes don’t necessarily add up to the one like that really matters (that of the client).

Another great piece of advice that Niemann gave was to every now and then act as your own harshest critic and look at your work from the eyes of a professor or creative director. This is a great way to check whether you’re repeating things or if you’re getting lazy in your work. On the other hand, there might also be good things to discover in your work that you weren’t aware of.

Creative Mornings

Creative Mornings is a breakfast lecture series for the creative community which started in NYC and has since grown into a community of local chapters around the world. These lectures happen on one Friday every month, and offer an inspiring start to one’s day. Last year’s lecture from Piera Gelardi (the Executive Creative Director at Refinery29) comes to mind as one of the most uplifting that the Radish team has ever seen. Gelardi’s talk focused on going beyond one’s limitations and living a courageously creative life. She shared some truly valuable and transparent insights into her creative process and her work.

Art Director Piera Gelardi from Refinery 29 at Creative Mornings NYC
Art Director Piera Gelardi from Refinery 29 at Creative Mornings NYC

Gelardi explained how the Refinery 29 team gets together once a week in the Peach Pit (their nickname for Gelardi’s office) for a brainstorming session. This allows the team to connect with one another, hatch new ideas, and help each other solve problems - sometimes with candy and rosé to help the process along. Nothing is impossible in the brainstorming room so there are no limitations, just thriving creativity.

Gelardi's Tips for Courageous Creativity

In her talk, Gelardi walked the audience through the three core elements that make up courageous creativity:

  1. Be the most you. When you bring your unique personality and strengths to the table, you can turn a boring brainstorm into a Peach Pit.
  2. Create the conditions for creativity. It’s important to cultivate the conditions that will nurture creativity in yourself and others.
  3. Friction creates sparks. When you have different people in the room with different opinions and different backgrounds, really interesting things can happen.

Gelardi stressed that being the most you—staying true to your values and trusting your intuition—is crucial. Like Niemann, she also touched on the fear of running out of ideas and spiralling into self doubt. One of her own solutions for being stuck is to jump into an activity that sparks ideas, like opening a magazine or doing word association.

The Creative Morning lectures are a really nice way to connect with your local creative community. The talks are bound to leave you with new energy and inspiration to create something different that very same day.

Looking at Other People's Work

Looking at other designers’ creations can sometimes feel pretty intimidating - especially when you start comparing them to your own work. On the other hand, it can also push you harder to bring your work closer to their level. Following other designers’ projects on channels such as Instagram, Dribbble, and Behance is a great way to get inspired. Looking at the annuals from Communication Arts and the winners of competitions such as D&AD is another great way to keep up with what other creatives are doing. Personally, I always feel really inspired by learning about the history of graphic design. A lot of older design is incredibly well thought out. Plus, the manual labor that went into it is a reminder to be grateful for Photoshop!

The following places in NYC are great spots to get inspired by creatives of the past (and present):

  • Cooper Hewitt. The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum always offers something cool to see. It currently features an interactive installation called Citizen Design where visitors can help envision a new America.
  • First Thursday DUMBO gallery walk. Every first Thursday of the month, the DUMBO galleries stay open late and host special receptions and events. It offers a chance to visit Brooklyn Bridge Park and see the rotating outdoor art installations.
  • Chelsea gallery walk. A staple of the Radishes’ art excursions, Chelsea Galleries also stays open late every Thursday. You’ll be sure to see art ranging from the ordinary to the totally wacky.
  • Brooklyn Street art. Radish Lab’s office is in the heart of Bushwick’s most famous street art scene. The streets around the Morgan and Jefferson L stops are filled with murals from amazing street artists. This graffiti also gives us a colorful backdrop for photos and easy access to post-work golden hour photo safaris.
Bushwick street art
Bushwick street art

Get Inspired!

Living in New York, there’s no shortage of places to refill your creative well. You just have to take advantage of what’s out there to see, and diligently take the time to do so. My advice is to bring your camera, document everything you see, and create a personal inspiration board. Your creative well will never be empty again!