As a freelance designer working through tons of graphic design ideas every single day, it’s easy to get stuck in a creative block. Many graphic designers fall into the rinse-and-repeat loop of creating designs that are technically different from one another, but which lack character. And while that may be fine on platforms like Fiverr, it’s not great for professional work.
We get it, constantly producing new graphic design ideas for brands is a tough cookie to crack, but it doesn’t have to be. In this article, we’re going to explore nine graphic design ideas to boost your creativity as a freelancer. Going through some of these, think about how you can apply the same principles to your own graphic design projects.
1. Channel great ideas by going through your old work.
Even if you don’t have a portfolio yet, there is a good chance that a lot of the work you’ve done in the past started as just an idea. Fast forward to a couple years later and you’re now refining rather than defining your graphic design projects. This is awesome if you’re striving for efficiency in your profession, but it can stifle your creativity over time.
Instead of using the same process for each design assignment coming your way, take some time to go through your older work, and jot down what inspired you to create the final product. You’ll see that a lot of the work you’ve done is just ok—probably not stellar—but also that quite a few pieces are intriguing, well-made, highly professional.
You want to gather the best of both worlds. Don’t disregard “ok” work—try and understand why it came out to be that way. Was it the client’s budget? Or were you having a hard time with a specific technique? Gather all this information and, by the time you’re finished, you’ll have an entire sheet of unique ideas that can help you channel your inspiration.
2. Look at other graphic design work for ideas but don’t copy 1:1!
When you have a new project that you don’t really know how to tackle, it’s “easy” to look up Behance, Dribbble, and the many other sites that offer so-called “visual inspiration.” However, these platforms are driven by trends in graphic design, and the work displayed doesn’t necessarily represent uniquely creative processes.
Graphic design clearly lives in between art and practicality. Most clients will come to you with a vague idea of what they want based on “that amazing ad they saw on Instagram the other day,” but is it really beneficial to copy that ad 1:1? Before you go out to recreate a style, ask yourself what the end goal is, and what the client really wants.
If the client is a small business owner, then creating a unique-looking piece of design is much better because it’ll give their own branding credibility over time. But when the budget is tight, creativity becomes a luxury. In those cases, you should either convince the client that you’re worth more or refuse the work altogether if it doesn’t suit your requirements.
3. Use pop culture as a source of design inspiration.
You might not love pop culture, but you can’t deny its impact on the people around you. A good example of this is holidays; everyone was talking about Halloween last week! And now that it’s over, Christmas is next (is Black Friday even a holiday?). Think about it, there’s a lot of good to extract here:
- By thinking about a specific holiday, you’re significantly reducing the scope of your work, making it easier to focus on what matters most.
- Once you’ve identified the subject of your project, and once you know the type of holiday it’s related to, you can run a list of inspiring examples from previous years to gather design ideas.
- Pop culture is… popular. And that means that your client is likely to get a big return if the work is done well. It might not be the ultimate driver for you as a graphic designer, but it is for clients.
- You get to experiment a lot more with color. Halloween, Christmas, Easter; they all have distinctive color palettes that inspire great ideas.
If you don’t believe us on this, check out what we found on Dribbble in the image above. Some of this work is absolutely fantastic, and it serves a specific purpose that can only be achieved via targeting pop culture directly. Trends aren’t evil, they’re your friend! But like anything else in design, don’t overdo them. Set the stage for an inspiring creative process.
4. Colors are everything; go through different palettes!
Don’t stick to the same old combinations. When you use colors, think creatively, and use gradients to your advantage. One tool that can help you find amazing new color palettes and ideas for your graphic design work is coolors.co. This smart little web app can show you various color combinations at a glance.
The two most notable features are the Generate tool and the Explore section. The first tool allows you to generate either random colors pressing the spacebar (not very useful for graphic design work) or pick colors from an image in case you already have a rough idea of the color signature that you want to achieve. Other features in the Generate area allow you to save, export, and modify your color palette.
Even better than the Generate tool though, you can use the Explore section to look at various palettes created by fellow graphic designers and tweak them to your own needs. If you’re willing to spend $5 on it, you can also integrate it directly with Adobe Creative Cloud apps. Otherwise, you can export and save your own PDF files for free.
5. Sketch out draft ideas before you start working.
Never hammer into graphic design work without warming up first. Even though your life is likely guided by digital software like Photoshop or Illustrator, try not to make it your one-and-only tool when you get up and running. Having a physical notebook is still a great way to jot down ideas and gather inspiration before starting a new project.
Graphic design involves both a corporate styleguide and a creative process: if you only focus on the guidelines, you end up with work that feels uninspired; if you only focus on the creative process, your work won’t reflect client expectations. Knowing how to balance the two things is what makes a graphic designer a key player for any organization.
Learn to always prepare for work rather than jumping right into it. Even if your client hasn’t asked for it, sketch something out first and provide feedback if necessary. If something doesn’t quite fit with your ideal outcome, tell the client and see what their response it. You’ll be surprised by how welcoming many clients can be.
6. Don’t aim for graphic design perfection; aim for character.
Perfectionists are all-over the place, and they’re stuck thinking about that one project that’s been sitting on their desktop for months. You don’t want to be that person. It’s frustrating and it leads to nothing more than a bad experience on both ends. Instead of looking for perfection in your graphic design work, aim for character.
This means giving your project a tone and a style that are uniquely yours. Whether these projects are built for a client or for yourself, you have to gather and consider a wide range of options before you can direct your attention to only a few assets. Take all of the techniques you’ve learned over time and boil them down to just a few elements.
Once you’ve identified these elements, bring them together. Say you wanted to create some pixel art for example, but wanted the impact that is typical of modern graphic design. A well-designed gradient could do the trick, but retouching traditional techniques like dithering would also be a good choice. Outline all of these ideas on a notebook and give the project character by identifying the common denominator.
7. Experiment with physical elements, not just digital assets.
You can browse the internet and gather as much visual inspiration as you want, but if you want to produce unique ideas that resonate, you have to experiment with real, physical elements. If you’re the type of graphic designer that values real-world involvement, there are a couple of reasons why you should do this:
- It’s a huge creative boost. When you use your own hands to get things done in a physical space, things assume a different form. Working directly on digital devices stifles this type of involvement, leading to repetitive design patterns.
- You can easily transform this creative process into a digital asset. Simply take a picture of the result and lay the foundations on Illustrator. Once that’s done, start adding the special computer effects that you usually work with. This will give the entire project a truly unique signature that is solely yours.
- It’s not always about money. Sometimes it’s about what takes you one step ahead of the competition even if the financial side doesn’t quite match up. If working for a client gets you up there with other
Some elements that you can play around with are quick sketches, drawings, straight lines, geometric shapes or even everyday objects like cutlery, groceries, and anything that could suit your purpose. Getting back to touching and drawing things with your own hands means giving your work a lot more character and purpose.
8. Look around in your city; you’ll get a ton of ideas!
Your work is defined by who you are, and the city you live in usually dictates a lot of that. Don’t overestimate the fact that you can work with the entire world from the comfort of your own home via platforms like Fiverr; the physical environment around you still affects both your personal and professional outcomes.
Once in a while, get away from the internet and start looking around for the sake of it. Bring your camera (or your smartphone) with you and start taking pictures of things that you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. If you like to write, jot down a few thoughts as you go through some of these elements in your city.
You might think that the place you live in is boring, or that you know pretty much everything about it, but you’d be surprised to know that a lot of what you see isn’t necessarily all there is to know. On your days off, let that kind of thinking drive you towards more inspiration and a creative outlook.
9. Don’t be afraid to do your best job.
Finally, stop finding excuses for repetitive work. Committing to personalized work is hard, and it takes time before you can really hit the nail on its head with each project, but by no means should you lose sight of the end goal. The idea of being a freelance graphic designer in the first place is to have the drive to produce your best work.
No matter how small the budget is, or how difficult the project turned out to be, give it your 200%. Always ask yourself this question before sending work out to clients: “Would I use this piece of design for my own work? And if so, would I be so proud of it that I wanted to display it on my portfolio?” You should aim for a yes in both cases.
If you’re lacking ideas in graphic design, take what you’ve done in the past and make it better. Don’t use templates and don’t copy other people’s work. It might be easy to do so at first, but you’ll pay the consequences later on when clients start noticing the discrepancies and the uninspired look of your assets.
If you’ve learned something in this blog post (and we hope you did), it’s that graphic design work doesn’t have to become stale. The more you work for corporate clients, the more you’ll start obsessing over strict requirements instead of focusing on ideas and creative processes. If you don’t want that to happen, break things up a little; don’t just work for clients.
And if you’re looking for relevant feedback that can lead to amazing graphic design ideas, why not try Greyt.me? It’s a neat app created specifically for visual artists and graphic designers just like you. It lets you share your previous or current work to get direct, transparent feedback.
And best of all? It’s completely free for you to try. So why not start collecting some valuable feedback right away? Sign up, upload your first project, and help other graphic designers in the community achieve their best work. Break free from the status quo with Greyt.me!