top of page

69% CHAT

  • Writer's pictureJulia Woollams

Ideas XYZ


Ideas XYZ

Graphic design is intertwined with technology. Designers over the decades have embraced emerging technologies to push their work into new territories. Think of the distorted typography of the late nineties when the first iMacs came onto the market, the rise of coded/generative design in the late noughties or the design projects of recent years utilising AI as a tool.


I am in the age group (end of Gen X) which missed the laborious methods of photosetting type, having solely relied on computers to set type throughout my career. Instagram on the other hand didn’t come into being until nearly a decade into my professional life, so the shiny world of global design that it portrays wasn’t around to inspire my ideas as a younger designer.


As technologies evolve and new ones develop, I’m interested to hear from designers who belong to different generations on how they come up with ideas for their work and whether this differs by age. Are you more likely to ‘think’ in analogue as a Gen X designer and in digital as a Gen Z designer, or does it just depend on the individual?


Here I chat with six designers, two from Gen X (1965–1980), two from Gen Y (1981–1996) and two from Gen Z (1997–2012) to hear about their ideation processes, how technology might aid them, where they go for inspiration, and whether social media influences their ideas.


Thank you to Anna Barton, Émilie Chen, Alan Dye, Insun Heo, Piers Komlosy, and Beth Kellaghan Mcgurk for sharing their views.

 

Anna Barton


Anna Barton

Anna is a Senior Designer at Nice and Serious, a creative agency that partners with charities and brands to make creative work that amplifies social and environmental causes. As well as client work, she’s worked on passion projects for causes she cares about such as gender equality, LGBTQ+ causes and refugee charities. She’s been a designer in a number of London based studios since graduating from Kingston in 2014. As well as her day job, she’s currently a mentor for Creative Mentor Network, has talked recently at Ladies Wine & Design and visits Kingston Uni to join crits and tutorials. More on Anna: LinkedIn; Instagram


Q1: What’s your process for coming up with ideas?

Anna: I’ll always start with a pen and paper, and come up with ideas by jotting words down mainly, accompanied with a few scribbles. I’ll usually then use post-its on a wall to do a general dump of ideas and then move them around to categorise them into territories or routes. I’ll then take photos of post-its or scribbles and get them in a deck that acts as a digital board of ideas that can be easily shared with the studio on Slack. I usually find some online reference to back each idea, which helps the ideas come to life for the rest of the team. If we weren’t working so much online these days, my preference would be printing references out and getting it all on a physical board – it’s more helpful to talk through and see everything in one place to make connections.


I’ll always start by not looking at anything to try and get my creative brain working to think of original ideas.

Q2: Do you typically use technology to aid idea generation?

Anna: I’ll always start by not looking at anything to try and get my creative brain working to think of original ideas. But, to help explain ideas to others, I do find it helpful to use visual reference online. I’m not the best at drawing from my imagination so always find it helps me explain thoughts quickly.


Q3: Where do you go for inspiration when coming up with ideas and do you think social media influences your design decisions?

Anna: I used to use Pinterest a few years ago but now have a big chunky folder saved on my laptop with any inspiration I’ve found over the years that I’ll flick through to spark a thought. If I’m looking for something specific I’ll turn to a few blogs such as It’s Nice That or Creative Boom. And sometimes sites such as Visuelle or Visual Journal are helpful when it’s about finding more of a visual angle to an idea. I also have a folder of studio websites bookmarked on my browser that I’ll go through too. I think social media definitely influences design decisions – I have a folder of saved images on Instagram that I also go through to help spark ideas. It keeps me more up to date with trends emerging which I think I’m influenced by.


Q4: X, Y or Z?

Anna: Gen Y – I’m 30!

 

Émilie Chen

Émilie Chen

Émilie is a French designer and art director based in London, working across posters, book covers, editorial design, branding and exhibition graphics. She has worked in-house at the National Theatre, Penguin Books and Pentland Brands, and currently counts amongst her clients the Almeida Theatre, the Young Vic, the Henry Moore Foundation and Wimbledon. Inside and outside of work, Émilie is passionate about making the industry a more inclusive place. Since 2016, she’s been a volunteer organiser for the London chapter for Ladies Wine & Design, an international community group and events series for women and non-binary creatives. Émilie has given guest lectures at LCC, CSM, UCA and Ravensbourne. She has a Domestika course on generating ideas for art direction coming out this year. More on Émilie: website; Instagram


I find that writing (as opposed to typing) helps me to really take the words in, and that sketching on paper is the best way to let my ideas flow freely.

Q1: What’s your process for coming up with ideas?

Émilie: I lean heavily towards analogue methods. I always carry a sketchbook with me, which I use to scribble down key sentences from the brief, initial thoughts, and rough sketches. I find that writing (as opposed to typing) helps me to really take the words in, and that sketching on paper is the best way to let my ideas flow freely. There is something about the sleek look of the screen that makes me more judgmental: ‘does this look good?’ becomes a worry over ‘is this an interesting idea?’, so I try to delay the moment I have to move to the screen.


Q2: Do you typically use technology to aid idea generation?

Émilie: Not at the idea generation stage, no. I haven't tried Midjourney or Adobe Firefly so far, but I'm sure I will at some point – there's a part of me who has concerns over the ethics of these tools, but there's also a part of me who is curious to see what they can do!


Émilie Chen work

Q3: Where do you go for inspiration when coming up with ideas and do you think social media influences your design decisions?

Émilie: It completely depends on the project. There’s been a few times where I’ve ended up on some very niche corners of the internet while doing research! But I have some go-to websites including Google Images (the reverse image search function can be super helpful), Wikipedia, Getty Images and Trunk Archive, and my favourite design blogs are It’s Nice That and Coverjunkie.


I use Pinterest on most projects too, but I’m mindful not to get on it until I’ve already spent some time on background research – otherwise it gets overwhelming, and can skew my perspective.


I also often refer to my collection of books (one of my all time favourites is Taschen ‘Book of Symbols’) and to the boxes of reference materials that I’ve collected over 20 years: art and design postcards, magazine pages, packaging, print collateral… It's great to mix things up, and getting off the internet helps me to keep things fresh.


I also admit that I spend way too much time on Instagram on a daily basis! It definitely has an impact on my work – from inspiring some new ideas to giving me an awareness of what’s popular in design / photography / illustration. But the thing that I value the most about it is how it has allowed me to connect with creatives I’ve never met – in the past year there are two photographers I’ve commissioned after they reached out to me through Instagram DMs.


Q4: X, Y or Z?

Émilie: Gen Y.

 

Alan Dye

Alan Dye

NB began its journey in 1997 – Alan and his business partner Nick Finney have been bending the rules ever since. Along the way they’ve won a bucket load of awards and talked, judged and designed for businesses all over the world. Their team is made up of mavericks who see the world differently which means they defy convention to create change for their clients. Alan firmly believes bold creatively solves business problems. More on NB’s latest project here.


Inspiration is all around us, from dew like diamonds on a cobweb in winter, to the reflections in a puddle on a dirty London street…

Q1: What’s your process for coming up with ideas?

Alan: Walking, daydreaming, doodling, researching, talking…trying not to think about the problem and letting the subconscious catch up with the conscious mind. Being a designer is a way of life, it's a 24 hour job, you’re always on, like osmosis absorbing everything around you…as for analogue or digital both.


At NB we also have studio sessions – where the brief is floated to the entire team and we spend maybe an hour debating, arguing, sketching and mark making – it’s a wonderful rewarding process and completely pushes the boat out of the harbour with a handful of creative approaches – these then generally evolve and get whittled down to two…Ideas that scare, flip the brief on its head and fuck things up a bit.


Q2: Do you typically use technology to aid idea generation?

Alan: Interrogating a brief naturally takes you online in the first instance, but we always deploy pencils, crayons, inks, potato prints, illustration, photographs and paper – nothing beats a pen and paper. Although, it really doesn’t matter as long as it generates a good idea.

Alan Dye / NB work

Q3: Where do you go for inspiration when coming up with ideas and do you think social media influences your design decisions?

Alan: I really don’t go anywhere, I don’t have a special place – it's everywhere and totally random starting with my head, books, on the tube, staring out of the window, having a beer, sketching with the NB gang…Inspiration is all around us, from dew like diamonds on a cobweb in winter, to the reflections in a puddle on a dirty London street…just don’t overthink it and try and stay in tune with your instinct and gut feeling…


Q4: X, Y or Z?

Alan: A beautiful ageless Gen X – 22/12/66.

 

Insun Heo

Insun Heo

With a background in graphic design, Insun is currently working as a UI/UX designer at healthcare startup Noetic. As a curious and creative person, UX design is a combination of all Insun’s favourite things – research, ideation, talking to users, collaboration, etc. She especially finds joy in designing user experiences that keep the users happy and as far as possible from any frustration. More on Insun: website; LinkedIn


This categorised inspiration board I created on Figma is definitely my go-to source for ideas after the initial research stage.

Q1: What’s your process for coming up with ideas?

Insun: In a nutshell, my process looks like this; 1) find the problem 2) do research around it – on both UI and UX 3) create a library of inspiration 4) start visualising my ideas on Figma through wireframes.


As a UX designer, my first step to coming up with great ideas is identifying and understanding the problem I need to solve. Thoroughly understanding the problem helps me identify design opportunities that can effectively address the problem. I usually delve deep into the problem through both firsthand research such as user interviews and analysing existing research. I also pay attention to applications that can serve as valuable references whenever I encounter them. I usually screenshot them and save them in my inspiration board on Figma. I categorise them based on their functions, such as the ‘sign up screen’, ‘home buttons’, ‘community page’ etc. Later, I revisit these entries to analyse them on their visual language, user flow, spacing, etc. I also proactively explore top rated apps within specific fields that pique my interest.


Currently, I’m focusing on healthcare apps as that is the industry I’m working in, so my Figma inspiration board is mostly filled with healthcare app examples. This categorised inspiration board I created on Figma is definitely my go-to source for ideas after the initial research stage.


My process for coming up with ideas relies quite heavily on digital methods but I do enjoy using analogue methods such as reading books when I want to find out more about the research process (e.g. effective user testing and user research methods).


Q2: Do you typically use technology to aid idea generation?

Insun: I almost always use technology to aid idea generation due to the nature of my job (designing mobile apps and websites). What I do most via technology is going on mobile apps and websites to educate myself on the latest industry practices and prominent/common user flows. I also use AI (e.g. ChatGPT) occasionally for UX copywriting.

Insun Heo work

Q3: Where do you go for inspiration when coming up with ideas and do you think social media influences your design decisions?

Insun: I have my own inspiration library on Figma as I mentioned above which I visit almost everyday. I also regularly look for new inspirations via the Apple app store and newspaper articles that list the best apps in a certain area. Although I also do go on pinterest/behance time to time, I find that the app design examples on there are usually quite conceptual and not up to real life app standards.Therefore I only use them when there are not many real life app examples available but prefer relying more on the app store for inspiration. For example, I go on there and browse categories like "Apple design award", "health & fitness" etc to look at popular & verified examples. Among the social media channels, Linkedin does influence my design decisions as I follow several UX design educators there. However, I don’t find myself particularly influenced by Instagram or TikTok although I do occasionally check their user flows for reference.


Q4: X, Y or Z?

Insun: Gen Z – born in the late 90s.

 

Piers Komlosy

Piers Komlosy

Piers is a design director with over twenty years’ experience in design, advertising, copywriting, and other wonderfully strange creative things. A graduate of Central St Martins, Piers has worked with some of the world’s most interesting brands, including Virgin, Orange, Ericsson, Inmarsat, and the BBC. He created brands for the likes of The Shakespeare’s Globe, Vodafone, Virgin Galactic and Virgin Atlantic, designed a national badge for Football Italia and a series of stamps for The Royal Mail, and launched multi-award-winning advertising campaigns for Puma and Guinness.


Q1: What’s your process for coming up with ideas?

Piers: A process? I’m not sure I’ve ever really found a process for coming up with ideas. If I have a process at all, it boils down to; simply filling my head with everything I can about the subject (and this can be done in anyway at all, but will usually involve consumption through a digital device, but not a specific media or app platform), and then take a stroll / daydream / shower / snooze. Then stop. Then force myself to look at the subject from every angle I can. What if it was bigger? Smaller? Wider? Made of cheese? What does the subject do all the time? What do they do sometimes? What don’t they do at all? And so on, until it’s time to repeat the process again. Some problems require more visual stimulus than others, but I find that the really interesting ideas are not hiding in visual reference.

So I guess I would define this as a hybrid model. Using technology to get information, but going analogue when it comes to thinking. I have recently been utilising AI tools, like Midjourney and others, to create content. But they don’t create the idea. Not yet anyway!


I have recently been utilising AI tools, like Midjourney and others, to create content. But they don’t create the idea. Not yet anyway!

Q2: Do you typically use technology to aid idea generation?

Piers: Finding visual stimulus on the computer is the modern equivalent of flicking through design mags, D&AD annuals and fashion magazines for inspiration. I do the latter a lot less than I used to, and use the many design inspiration sites to collate visual reference, to help the design process. The trouble is, sometimes looking for inspiration is not the same as thinking about a solution. Because there is now so much graphic design visual inspiration on the internet, it’s far too easy to ‘do it like that’. But the ability to create mood boards and design approaches using inspiration sites is definitely a large part of getting to a solution, but ‘analogue thinking’ for me, will always play a big part in the process.

Q3: Where do you go for inspiration when coming up with ideas and do you think social media influences your design decisions?

Piers: I use all the inspiration sites, like Pinterest, Designspiration, Instagram etc, and also look at design studios work too. Anything. So yes, I am influenced by the media I consume, social and traditional. Today, AI is the new technology kid on the block. Social media for me, is now no different from normal media. I am now starting to use AI tools in the creation process, to create and edit images and motion. It is fascinating, and will bring a new way of working to us all.


Q4: X, Y or Z?

Piers: Gen X.

 

Beth Kellaghan McGurk

Beth Kellaghan McGurk

Beth is a graphic designer and art director, with a keen interest in motion. Her expertise lies in cultivating conceptual and creative thinking to shape meaningful work. She is deeply passionate about channelling her creativity towards projects that hold social value and make a tangible impact. Research and attention to detail are an important part of her practice, that informs her ideas turning into impactful design that drives positive change. More on Beth: website; Instagram


Q1: What’s your process for coming up with ideas?

Beth: I often flick between sketching and digital inspiration when coming up with initial ideas. However, I find that looking through digital inspo loosens me up. It stops me from overthinking the brief or coming up with obvious, overused design solutions. When searching on platforms such as Pinterest and Google image search, I use keywords from the brief to find a range of visual references.


I try to actively prevent restricting my inspiration to solely graphic design. It's just as helpful to look at other design sources, including fashion, architecture, product etc; this really opens up my approach to graphic design. Once I have collected enough references, I'll go through and pick out what works and what doesn't and section them into mood boards.


I then usually sketch out my initial ideas, some will be related to the digital inspiration I collected, and others will not be digitally informed at all. My initial sketches are often typographic based, I like to play around with manipulating letterforms relating to the brief. I find this kind of ideation the most organic and unique, which sometimes works great, but sometimes doesn't. This is why I often flick between these two modes of working in the first stages of a project. I find the digital method is almost an algorithmic-like approach which leads to ideas forming but has the possibility of falling into trends. Whereas sketching is more organic, which similarly can lead to obvious thinking. This is why I like to use both in tandem, one informing the other towards a solution.


I find that looking through digital inspo loosens me up. It stops me from overthinking the brief or coming up with obvious, overused design solutions.

Q2: Do you typically use technology to aid idea generation?

Beth: I always use technology during idea generation. It's a really key resource within my practice for two reasons. It allows me to see what is out there in the market already, which helps me identify what's working, what could be made better, and a gap in the market. It also allows me to constantly expand my own visual library of references in my head. While some argue that there is no longer any originality within design, access to such a vast digital library of resources opens my thinking of what design 'is' or has been. It allows diverse voices to be seen and heard, from professionals to amateurs. It also helps me keep up with emerging trends such as motion graphics, which I taught myself using a number of TikTok and YouTube tutorials. My next target is getting on top of AI within the design space. I've dabbled with ChatGPT, but I want to understand how to generate visuals. While the rapid rate at which technology develops is scary, I think if you take the initiative to keep up to date, it can open up the bounds of possibility in your thinking, keeping your ideas fresh and ever expanding. I hope AI won't take over; I find comfort in the fact that there has always been a fear of technological advancements, such as the impact computers would have within our industry. However, it was those who adapted that allowed the bounds of what was possible creatively to soar, it is my hope this will be the case with AI.


Q3: Where do you go for inspiration when coming up with ideas and do you think social media influences your design decisions?

Beth: My key inspiration sources when responding to a brief would be primarily Pinterest and Google image search, as I can search for visuals related to specific words. However, outside of a brief, I routinely collect design inspiration from social media, such as TikTok and Instagram. I follow people whose designs inspire me, which has altered my algorithm to introduce me to more related content, all of which I collate into saved folders that I can refer back to when approaching a relevant project. I find that the inspiration I see on social media is more organic, I don't actively seek it out like I do on Pinterest, for example, but when things pop up, they are usually far more unexpected and often teach me something new; I would say social media is more up to date with the newest technologies or trends.


Q4: X, Y or Z?

Beth: Gen Z.

 

Thanks again to Anna, Émilie, Alan, Insun, Piers, and Beth for sharing their views.

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page