Create space for inspiration

How can we remain creative, stuck in front of a computer day in, day out? Tim Elliott argues that we must get out more and allow ourselves to be distracted again

As professionals in the design industry it may seem strange to question our commitment to creativity itself, but how many of us prioritise the time and space necessary for creativity to flourish?

Most creative people absorb the world around them to stimulate and feed their talent. But as our workload increases, our opportunities to gather inspiration diminish. Constant meetings, e-mail clearance or sitting in front of a Mac are not conducive to original thinking. The very technologies that are supposed to free up our time can take over and stifle the opportunity to take our minds where they need to go. The world is obsessed with advancing communications technology, but is there just a bit too much communication and not enough pondering and experimenting going on?

We should be taking every opportunity to absorb the things that capture our imagination and store them for future use. Such moments can be found anywhere. If we accept that constant inspiration is essential, how do we reconcile this with our lack of time to ponder?

Let’s consider the workplace. If you’re a senior member of the team you have a responsibility to encourage an inspiration-friendly culture within the work environment. Unfortunately, the nature of office equipment encourages homogenisation. Accounts department technology looks similar to design studio technology, but if you are running a design group rather than a financial institution, you need freedom to express creativity within this space.

We’ve all cottoned on to the fact that surroundings massively affect our thought processes, but we could loosen up a bit. Encourage eclecticism, nature tables, show and tells, budgets for books and publications, Web wandering and music, music, music. We all benefit from light relief and visual stimuli, stepping stones to new ideas. I was once shown the Museum of Dirt, a collection of international soil samples from all the locations a design team had visited doing their work. A nice twist on the inevitable ‘snow-shakers of the world’ collection.

But what about getting out of the building? Sometimes your beleaguered team needs more forthright direction to visit design shows, art galleries, bookshops and cool new locations. It’s easy to get out of the habit when you’re busy. Many of us travel in our work, but eight hours in meetings are rarely as inspiring as an hour plodding the streets of an unfamiliar city – which is after all 99 per cent the result of human design and creativity, good and bad. Who knows how many ‘original’ ideas your team may come back with?

And how about bringing the ‘real world’ into the studio? Many people do their own thing outside of work. Could this be displayed in your workplace? Both fellow staff and your clients are inspired to know that we sometimes ‘get a life’ beyond our work. A creatively minded person’s photographs is a great area to plunder. An eye for the unexpected can reap a rich harvest, so get them to share the quirky stuff as well as the holiday and wedding pictures.

While communication technology demands more and more of our time, experience-grabbing technology can help us fight back and equip ourselves with a very personal reference library. We all benefit from websites like Flickr and YouTube that take us to places we can get inspiration from.

The essential piece of equipment for collecting inspiration in today’s world is the digital camera. Yours may be an expensive high-end device or it may be your smartphone. Either way, my advice to someone starting a creative career – never travel without the ability to capture. Keep all the good stuff as your digital scrapbook. Shoot where you never should, be prolific (it’s free) and don’t just use it to back up your ideas, make it stimulate your thinking. Regard it as your brain’s external hard drive. We may only have a finite amount of time in the day, but we can make it easier for ourselves to absorb the inspirational things from the world around us. So collect stuff, use it, abuse it, refer to it and defer to it.

Tim Elliott is creative director at Jack Morton Worldwide


Don’t run a sweatshop, run a sweet shop. Give your people a stimulating environment to work in. A place where thoughts are shared, ideas displayed and discoveries made
You need to get out a bit more. Galleries, films, lectures, cool bars, bookshops and backstreets all stimulate the mind and generate debate and common reference points
Get it while you can. Travel with a camera and capture the world around you. Build up a reference library of your ‘found stuff’. If your team is away on business, encourage them to go out and explore and bring back some ideas

Latest articles