This question has come about as a follow on from @Scott's "How do you break out of current creative mind sets?"

I work in a (smallish) company that produces all it's in house content such as email newsletters, web image (banners, flyers etc) and I am the only person that does these jobs.

As it is a company that sells IT hardware, there are a lot of flyers that get sent out to customers and also numerous banner changes on websites every week regarding promo's.

Because I work in an office as the only "creative" I don't have the luxuries of sketching or using mood-boards etc as these flyers and banner are sent out fairly quick.

I have managed fine working here for just over a year but sometimes I feel like I get mental blocks as I find myself repeating a lot of older "styles" I used on previous flyers/banner.

What I would like to know is:

How, in such a short time-frame can I get more creative with my work without using creative planning methods?

Any tips greatly appreciated!

  • 2
    - Bang head on desk until ideas fall out. Works.... uhm.... every time for.... uhm.... me.
    – Scott
    Apr 30, 2014 at 17:59
  • 2
    It's hard when you're the solo creative. But also don't be too hard on yourself. The key is that your work is appropriate--which doesn't mean each and every piece has to be a unique solution created from scratch.
    – DA01
    Apr 30, 2014 at 20:21

4 Answers 4


The best "instant breakout" I know when the mental molasses pours itself over my creative idea machine is to make something deliberately grotesque. I mean really, truly awful. Shocking pink background. Giant headline in Comic Sans. Turn all the text sideways. Wreck the kerning. Set the product name in the ugliest grunge font you have.

It only takes a few minutes. There's a point where you know you've exacted a suitable revenge on the corporate world, and can turn back to the project in hand with a fresh view and a happier frame of mind.

A less intense but equally workable version of this is to pick a completely inappropriate genre for the piece. How about a high-tech product flyer done like a gangsta CD cover? Or a saccharine-sweet Valentine? Again, 5 minutes is usually enough to break the logjam, and it's sometimes surprising what inspired ideas will suddenly be obvious that were unreachable a few minutes earlier.

This works for copy writing, too, if that's in your domain. It's amazing what writing "Immerse the Mk. IV gigabit router in lighter fluid, light with a match and chuck it at the idiot in the next cube" can do for your mood.

  • Love this idea, just fun the fun factor alone!
    – SaturnsEye
    May 1, 2014 at 7:30

I'm in the exact same situation as the sole in-house creative for my current position and my previous. The previous was slightly easier because it was a publishing company doing all of the ads for different small businesses (and email newsletters, brochures, rate cards, etc...) So the in-house stuff got a bit more difficult. Now I'm the sole in house for a manufacturing company. Here's some things that have helped me:

  1. I took a manilla folder and started printing different things out and noting what I found that I felt could be useful. That's how I was able to put this answer down so quickly, which frankly to my surprise received a lot of upvotes: How to promote three different products to three different audiences in one banner? I just happened to have it in my manilla folder.

  2. This board helps me especially questions that are for me, very easy how-to's. I like coming in and finding one on here that I can quickly make a nice step-by-step set of instructions for. It helps me get the juices going if you will. If its something thats interesting on here but I don't know the answer to I might go ahead and seek it out, adding that new skill to my abilities.

  3. Pinterest has proven a little valuable to save stuff too especially since I do some promotional video work as well.

  4. Looking at competitors ads helps. So does looking at other products our users might be interested in. Like those high end shoes. We don't sell high end shoes, or any shoes, but we do sell a product that doctors, lawyers, and bankers would want. How do these other companies market? Not only the visual but the headlines. They don't stay stuffy and corporate but promote a lifestyle in a lot of cases so that inspired me to do the same with some of ours.

  5. Trying to make sure I have at least 2 or 3 things to work on so that I don't spend hours and hours on a single thing. Need to take a break, look at other things, consider the pieces, then return to it.

  6. Talk to some of our most loyal customers to get feedback. Attending smaller "industry days" that our distributors have hosted has been really beneficial for giving me some one on one time with them. Since my company sells exclusively through dealers I tell them I'm working on making new materials to help you all out, is there anything you think your clients look for that I should include?

  7. Finally, as I said in that other question you referenced --- when I'm on lunch I'm on lunch. When I'm not at work, I'm not at work. I clear my mind and go enjoy the world. Take a walk on my lunch break. Ride a bicycle to work. Dance, drink, laugh, all of that stuff keeps me fresh when I show up the next day. Especially since you mention time (and I was incredibly busy / overworked) at the last job... this is very important. This doesn't take any of your work day. If you go home and sit on your couch watching TV or spending your evenings driving from one place to another fighting with your spouse, or yelling at your kids, or anything else then its going to reflect. You have to find things that bring you peace and actual happiness.


In yesterday's, Next Draft, came this article: Stanford study finds walking improves creativity

  • Excellent answer, and I think it touches on most or even all of the problems I have with working under constrained times. I will let other have the chance to answer but this could be my chosen answer, thank you.
    – SaturnsEye
    Apr 30, 2014 at 15:37

A method that has helped me on occasion to quickly activate my creativity is mindmapping. Write down some keywords related to the job, and start doing free association with them. Write down anything that comes to mind, do not judge yet. Then freely associate from those terms. This way you're bound to come up with keywords, terms, colours or other things that inspire.

You can organise your mindmapping in a 'spiderweb' model by having one central keyword and work your way outwards from there, connecting with a line all keywords that are linked by association.

Another option is a mindmapping matrix: write some four to seven keywords, say five, in a loose row, and for each write down your first free association keyword below. Now associate with the five new terms independently. Repeat until you have a matrix of five or six rows.

  • Was about to upvote then saw SaturnsEye wants without using creative planning methods. I think this is sound advice though.
    – Ryan
    Apr 30, 2014 at 15:14
  • I know, was in doubt to post. Yet for me this is a very quick method that can work wonders, so I thought I'd be bold. Thanks!
    – Vincent
    Apr 30, 2014 at 15:15
  • +1, as although I don't have time to "creative plan", this is still a very quick method which can come in handy.
    – SaturnsEye
    Apr 30, 2014 at 15:21
  • 1
    See Tools for Brainstorming/Mind-Mapping Ideas for some online and downloadable brainstorming software options.
    – Dom
    Apr 30, 2014 at 16:08
  • @Dominic thanks for that link! could come in handy
    – SaturnsEye
    May 1, 2014 at 7:23

If pressed for time I use the "what if" method almost exclusively.

I get all the information on the digital page, then start with the what if.....

  • What if I use a red sans serif for the headline?
  • What if I set the body in two columns?
  • What if the body is in three columns?
  • What if that were green instead?
  • What if I reversed that subhead?
  • What if this were monochrome?
  • What if I vary the type size for the header?
  • What if that were larger and aligned right?
  • What if I made the grid larger/smaller?
  • What if this were exclusively for women?
  • What if I use the colors I saw last night I liked?
  • What if I put the header at the bottom (for banners)?

When I first started out, I worked in a fast paced production-oriented position which required me to often complete 80-150 various layouts in a single day. Things like business cards, fliers, postcards, etc. And I was the only creative as you've mentioned.

I found, for me in that situation, that often the best work came from simply avoiding anything I had done before. If I laid something out and then thought "Wow, that looks very similar to that thing I did last week." I'd redo it. This forced me to discover new solutions to common design problems. I'm generalizing. I'm certain at that pace I repeated some layouts, in some degree, at least once. But with the "what if" method I learned to explore colors I normally wouldn't, or positioning which was not always "traditional" but still worked for that project.

Templates also help a great deal. Not full blown templates but off-hour sketching. You can sit watching TV at night with pad and pen and simply rough out some various layout concepts for various things. This takes little effort in general. You don't have to deal with the on-the-job pressure of "GET ER DONE!" and can simply jot down variations quickly as they come to you. You don't even need to take the sketches to work. Simply putting them on paper will help flex the creative muscles.

I find I often have ideas or notice things I find interesting simply doing regular, everyday tasks. I'll see a label in the grocery store I really like the color use on. Or, I'll see the titles for a movie and really like the general layout used. For me, it's these small things I need to recognize as inspirational and hopefully utilize some aspect of them. By just sketching whenever I'm sitting and basically doing nothing else I learn to solidify the concepts of things I like or want to try. Then when I do sit down to work, those concepts are more easily recalled.

Oh yeah... and...

enter image description here

  • I do a bit of the same from your last two paragraphs but with less sketching. For me I either jot down in words or snap a photo of whatever caught my eye.
    – Ryan
    Apr 30, 2014 at 18:46
  • That works too. I purposely don't get too detailed. Photos can tend to lend more to duplication rather than inspiration where layout is concerned - it's the concept I want to remember, not the direct usage. But I do photograph color combinations I like. In the end.. it's whatever works for you! :)
    – Scott
    Apr 30, 2014 at 18:49

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