Q: How you keep finding inspiration throughout your career?

A: You don’t even look.

I am about to ruin something for you. Are you sitting down? Great. I am sorry, but there is no Inspiration Fairy.

As a professional, you need to get used to the idea that creating new things is work. Rewarding work, sure. But work. Hard work.

There isn’t any magic dust. There’s no wishing well.

Our fellow designers put food on our tables and expensive spectacles on our faces by solving problems for people in novel and effective ways. We do this by breaking those problems down into constituent components, using all of the information that we can gather, and then synthesising something new and effective.

When you are presented with a new problem to solve, don’t surf the web, go to Dribbble or leaf through design annuals. Don’t waste your time, or other people’s money, looking for inspiration. You know why? Because inspiration is for dabblers.

I’ll say that again so you understand how important this is.

Inspiration is for dabblers.

We designers are given a problem to address and we use all of the tools at our disposal to create a strong solution to that problem. Dabblers go get cold-pour coffee and hope that an idea strikes them. And sometimes it does. But the truth is that sometimes is rare.

Chuck Close said something similar. “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work.”

You can sniff a dabbler a mile off. Ask them to explain their work and they’ll tell you what it looks like — what the colours are and which foundry created the typefaces. Ask a designer the same question and they’ll tell you what their work does.

To a designer, the aesthetics matter in so far as they are in service of an idea.

A dabbler starts looking for inspiration when they’re served up a problem. They’re only thinking when they’re on the clock, and every new project starts with a mad search to find something new or obscure to copy.

Sorry, did I say “copy”? I meant “reference”.

We designers are always on the lookout for things that are interesting, incongruous, or just plain new. It’s one of our main modes of being. A designer is never not working. So when you are asked to look at a new problem, listen. Think. Synthesise. And then solve.

Laypeople, including many clients, often don’t initially understand what it is that we designers do. Laypeople look at the colours, the images, and it looks like what they call Art. As designers — as professionals — it’s our job to destroy the idea that we get a visit from the Inspiration Fairy every night. When a designer is asked where they get their ideas, there’s only one answer that rings true.

“The ideas come from the work.”


Ross Floate is the creative director of Floate Design Partners, and he sometimes has been known to recycle.


This is modified from an article originally published at floate.com.au.

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