From buses to border control – strange places designers have been inspired

Last week, we looked at the design of the classic Land Rover car, which was first conceptualised with a drawing in the sand of a Welsh beach in 1947. We ask designers about the most bizarre places that they have formulated ideas.

Dana Robertson, creative director, Neon
Dana Robertson, creative director, Neon

“Ideas can and do happen anywhere. But, in terms of unusual places for inspiration to strike, I’ll always remember solving a tricky brief while not quite literally chained to a desk, but undeniably incarcerated in quite a scary little room – with just chair and a table, I was being held as the “guest” of Russian border police over a visa malfunction, when flying out to present work. Unsurprisingly, the concepts I came up with in that rather tense four-hour detention period all revolved around ideas of freedom, liberation and movement…”


Mike Dempsey, founder, Studio Dempsey
Mike Dempsey, founder, Studio Dempsey

“It’s not exotic or glamorous. My place of inspiration is the top deck of a number 38 London bus. Between 1986 and 1999 I’d jump on a classic Routemaster each day to journey from Islington to Bloomsbury where my then company, Carroll, Dempsey & Thirkell, was based. There was something magical about sitting on that top deck, especially in the pouring rain. With notebook to hand, I would wait to catch the ideas, and they always came. One of the fastest and most significant was the identity for English National Opera (ENO). I still have the scribbled idea from that memorable journey.”


Caz Hildebrand
Caz Hildebrand, creative partner, Here

“The strangest place where inspiration struck me was in a builder’s merchants. I was looking for a washer to fix a tap when I noticed a wall chart of plumbing grommets. There were rows of amorphous black shapes crudely screenprinted onto a sky blue background with stock numbers and technical specifications. This poster gave me the idea for mine and Jacob Kenedy’s book The Geometry of Pasta, which explains how to match the perfect pasta shape with the perfect sauce and enjoy pasta as the Italians do.”


Alan Dye, director, NB Studio
Alan Dye, director, NB Studio

“I was extreme rock climbing a couple of weeks ago, hanging literally by my finger nails, being battered by the wind and sleet, when I had what I thought was this amazing idea that would solve my new client’s problem – actually, that’s a complete lie.

My ideas generally come when I’m not thinking about them – unfortunately, I have a dozen briefs in my brain at any one time. What I’ve learnt is, don’t rush – let your subconscious catch up with your conscious and grab it before it goes.”

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