Back in September, I wrote about how comparison can be both a blessing and a curse for creatives. I talked about my own experience with ‘imposter syndrome’, and how we need to strike a balance between allowing other design professionals to inspire us, and becoming intimidated by what others are creating.

The Important point here is to strike the right balance and not get into a place where you’re allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by comparing your work to what you see on social media, and other places around you. Designers, I think, are often more susceptible than other creative professions to this because design is all around us. We’re tuned in to analyse images that we see in everything – the ads we see on TV, posters and branding on the high street, websites we visit, social media posts, stuff we buy…it all has an impact on us.

And as long as you can keep it in perspective, allowing those influences in can be a positive thing. For example, I really enjoy browsing through image-heavy coffee table books, design magazines, and websites. I love to save images that speak to me in both online and paper-based scrapbooks to search for inspiration when I’m feeling like the ideas just are not flowing.

No matter what kind of designer you are, there is an abundance of inspiration that can really help to get the creative juices flowing. But you have to allow it to inspire and not overwhelm. As a designer, you can do plenty of things to seek out the right kind of inspiration, as long as you remember to filter out those thoughts that lead you down the path of inadequacy.

Professional design goals 

I know from bitter experience – it’s so easy to get lost in the never-ending tide of images and design online. But the one thing that always pulls me back is remembering my own design goals. Thinking about my own style, the kind of projects I want (and love) to work on, and the type of people I most want to work with can often be all it takes to clear my head. 

Using those filters helps me question when I’m comparing myself with other designers – their designs might speak to me, yes, but their goals are completely different from mine. They might be targeting a completely different audience to me. 

If you feel that pang of envy on seeing someone else’s designs, think – would that style really appeal to your audience? How does it fit in with your own goals, realistically?

Test it out

In a previous post, I talked about how I created my own’ portfolio book’, or coffee table book, “Ten Yrs later”. As I mentioned, I enjoy looking through books created by other designers, so I decided that it might be good to see if I could create my own version of that. This is a great example of me testing out something that had long inspired me.

Making time to create your own personal projects, in my experience, is always a positive thing. It allows you to explore things you ordinarily wouldn’t when working on client projects. It lets you stretch yourself creatively and try out new techniques, technologies, and materials that your day job simply doesn’t allow.

So if you find that you’re drawn to a particular style or designer whilst you’re browsing, explore that. Test out the techniques they used, and see if that inspires something new. Try creating your own version of it.

 Social media…in moderation

I use my Instagram page to share my ideas and follow other designers I like and admire. Instagram is a fabulous place for visual creatives because it’s predominantly image-led (although video is also a big part of it now). 

By following people who are perhaps within your own design realms, you can use Instagram as a place of inspiration when you’re stuck for ideas – it’s a useful way to get you back on track.

Like everything, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole here, so if you find yourself feeling those pangs of envy or losing confidence, then pull yourself back (remember your own goals, as I mentioned above). Design is subjective – every one of us has a different style and approach, so don’t allow yourself to fall into that comparison trap.

Take it offline

Even if most of your work is online, don’t dismiss design in the real world. Sure, print is a different animal, but many elements and ideas are the same. Use that to spur fresh ideas and techniques.

Ideas can be found in the most unexpected places, from print media, books and magazines, store-front styling, the fashion people wear, and the colours of nature in our local parks and countryside. Seek it out, and use it.

Who will you inspire?

As with all of us, there will be days when you might feel as though you’ll never live up to your competitors. But remember, someone out there is looking at your work right now and thinking, ‘I wish I could create stuff like that’ (hopefully)…