Finding design inspiration in the every day


When she was in Year Four, my now-teenage daughter was given a Magpie Book by her class teacher. The premise was simple: note down words and phrases you love and you can later use it as a resource for creative writing. As a girl who'd always had a talent for words, this took her writing to a whole new level. As well as 'harvesting' new words, she had the opportunity to actually think about them. To notice what she liked and why. The opportunity to broaden her vocabulary and challenge her vision of what was possible.

That year her creative writing was better than ever. Her teacher was amazing, for sure, but I'm sure it was the magpie book - that process of hunting for inspiring words and phrases that had opened her mind to play. To challenge herself. To explore. To be more confident.

Hunting for design inspiration

Do you magpie anything?

Like many of you, I didn't study design at University. But I've spent the last twenty years immersed in the industry, I've founded, grown and sold a design agency and written two bestselling books on branding. In self-publishing those books I've been both Creative Director and Designer.

I live and breathe design. I notice layouts, beautifully styled, lit or composed images and gorgeous type treatments. I'm a sucker for an interesting colour combination, an unexpected foil technique or an unusual format.

And I have magpie books of my own. Lots of them.

I don't just look for inspiration when I have a project to do. I don't restrict my research to Pinterest (although I love a good pin as much as the next person). Looking for design ideas in the every day is a part of what I do. It's how I live. I can't sort through the post without a pile of tear-sheets of inspiration. Not all make it to my sketchbooks, but they are all enjoyed for the ideas they bring.

If I find a particularly beautifully designed book or magazine I'll sometimes 'unpick' the layouts to see how and why they work. I'll look at where the text boxes and images are placed and how they relate to each other. I'll explore why I love them and whether there is anything I'd magpie for my own brand.

Surrounding myself with inspiration feeds my soul and means that I constantly have a bank of ideas to work with. It means I have a finely tuned sense of what will work - for both my own business and others, and I always have perspective and a benchmark on which to draw. It's fundamental to my work.

You may not be a designer, or harbour any desire to be a designer. But as an entrepreneur, every day you're creating pieces of communication that you'll share with your clients and colleagues. Doesn't it make sense that you create something which has the impact your business deserves? Understanding how design works. Immersing yourself in inspiration, opening your mind to what's possible is fundamental to unlocking the potential within your business.

If you haven't already, I implore you. Start your own magpie book.

Set aside a sketchbook or scrapbook that you can use to document what inspires you visually. Paste in things that you love and most importantly, annotate. Ask yourself why you love them and why you're responding to what you see. Enjoy! They'll probably be some of the most inspirational books in your home.