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Inspiration and where it comes from

As a design client I need alternative ideas and different solutions to enable me to make the best choice for my requirements. As a design teacher I find that many students take the first ideas that pop into their heads and run with it. I ask the students to make alternatives and inevitably they say “I can’t think of anything else”.

What is the best way to bridge this gap? Is it possible to teach people to be inspired?

One method I’m trying is ‘The Creative Habit’. It’s an idea I got from Jim Groom when participating in his DS106 Digital Storytelling class. The idea is simple – to be creative you need to create, so you have to be creating things all the time. You need to get in a ‘Creative Habit’.

To get in the habit, you need to be inspired and then create something with that inspiration. It’s okay to copy an idea, but it should then be remixed and interpreted in your own way. This process needs to be constant, so I’m setting my students small achievable tasks each time I see them in class, then setting them further tasks for homework. The task can be a simple as “Do today’s Daily Shoot” (see below), or “Look at the style of these 10 images, now make your own in the same style”. Each small piece of work builds up into a portfolio of diverse objects that can be used as further inspiration, and these can be shared on Flickr, a blog or a personal website.

Two sites I’ve been using for creative ideas are:

  • The Daily Shoot – a photography site that gives you a new assignment every day.
  • Abuzeedo – a graphic design site that shares ‘daily inspirations’.

I set myself ‘Creative Habit’ tasks too, for fear of my skills becoming rusty. Here are a few of my recent creations.

  • Musical Birds. A while ago I read about a composer named Jarbas Agnelli who had been inspired by a photograph of birds sitting on five overhead wires. The birds looked like musical notation and he used the positions of the birds to create a piece of music. Taking inspiration from this idea I decided to make an interactive animation based on it.
  • I teach Art & Design Context, a unit about art history. Students find the subject rather dull, so I encourage them to try to recreate the styles in their own images.I particularly like Art Deco style of the 1920’s and 30’s so created a tutorial on recreating this style using Adobe Illustrator.
  • After seeing an ‘invisible man‘ image on a website I tried making my own and plan to do this activity with my students.

In getting the Creative Habit I hope the students will learn to see inspiration all around them, generate lots of ideas and create lots of designs. At the end of the year they should have a substantial portfolio of work, and increasingly it’s the diverse portfolio that’s securing students a place at university or attracting employers.



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