Help a design hack get inspired to be creative FOR REAL
November 14, 2006 9:38 PM   Subscribe

Art directors: Any books or publications that can help inspire me to create better marketing materials for a small tech company.

Rambly Background: I was originally brought in to web develop for a small, vertical market hi-tech hardware company. Their market is strictly business-to-business, not for the general public and the target audience is engineers and suits. After a while I noticed that their various marketing materials like brochures, data sheets, trade show posters where very - blah. After some friendly taunting, they basically said "If you can do better, do it!"

So I researched what a few competitors have been doing in odd vertical market magazines you've never heard of, I hacked out a few (very good) ads that they absolutely love, and now the pressure is on to take on even more design responsibilities since they will not budget hiring a realâ„¢ designer. I am obviously out of my league here, but this is exactly the sort of challenge I thrive on!

My formal schooling is *completely* unrelated to art of any kind, so I'm essentially self taught here. In addition to development and lots of non-graphics gigs, I've done graphics production work for over a decade, and on a technical level I am a whiz with Adobe products, Quark, Flash etc. I understand color theory, design grids, font choices and generally have decent taste but I have always had an Art Director around to smack me with a stick on the concept/design end. Well now, I *am* the art director (and production monkey, and cook, and bottlewasher) and I'm scared of running out of hacky, but good, ideas.

As I've described, my M.O. so far has been to see what everyone else in the industry does (which actually is pretty sucky quality too) and from there synthesize from best of that (in addition to some actual creativity). So on the design side I am clearly a hack, but I also have a wierd originality chip on my shoulder so I am sensitive to the fact I just want big-picture inspiration on where to go, and will trash any ideas with a too obvious pedigree.

Question: So on the design side, where can I turn for inspiration for mostly print assets? Once again let me emphasize that I don't want to steal a bunch of stuff out of a book and pass it off as my own. That isn't satisfying to me and I'd work in other areas before stooping to that. But even real art directors have shelves of inspirational tomes, "Best of" design books, and concept galleries/reviews. What are these?

Sorry about the length, I just wanted to head off any gripes.
posted by ernie to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Communication Arts Design Annual. Print's Regional Design Annual. Both currently on the shelves at a Borders or Barnes and Noble near you. (also HOW's design annual, though not currently out.) They're not cheap, but they'll pay for themselves many times over - they're many a designer's crutch/bible/swiss army knife for inspiration. There are plenty of "Best of" books in the design section of these bookstores, but nothing will be as up to date or give you as good a picture of what's going on right now around the country and around the world as a design annual. No need to steal from them (though some people do, of course...) - in my experience they simply provide me with an infinite source of ideas and thoughts and "hey, I could attack my piece from this angle" and "wow, I never thought of approaching something that way..." sort of inspiration. (Not to say these mags are perfect - of course they favor certain trends and agencies, blah blah blah... but on the whole if you're looking for inspiration, they're good stuff.)

Also, the commarts website is full of excellent portfolios and agency/design firm websites which are an equally excellent, if sometimes less consistent, source of ideas and inspirations.
posted by ab3 at 11:13 PM on November 14, 2006

I'm sure you've probably already checked out some/most of these, but I'll mention them anyways, just to get 'em out of the way :P

Lurzer's Archive: FANTASTIC quarterly maga-book compiling some of the best ads from around the world

PRINT magazine: I'm not even a print designer (I do broadcast design), yet I still buy every issue of PRINT,

Communication Arts magazine: Pretty much required reading for every advertising/creative/design geek. The various annuals they publish every year, while very pricey (every time I buy one of these at my local bookstore, the cashier always comments that they can't believe I'm paying $30 for a magazine), are well worth it.
posted by melorama at 11:20 PM on November 14, 2006

On a more "figuring out layouts and such" level, I'd recommend The Graphic Design Cookbook -- Koren/Meckler, published by Chronicle Books. It's an endless source of thinking about layouts differently.

In fact Chronicle puts out a number of amazing books -- both about graphic design (like "Some People Can't Surf" about Art Chantry) and just beautifully designed books (like "Taxi Driver Wisdom")

The Art Director's Club annual books are a nice source of really beautiful advertising.

Also, I second Comm Arts and if you're interested in conceptual ad-stype stuff, Lurzer's as well.
posted by Gucky at 8:12 AM on November 15, 2006

Response by poster: Man these are all great, thanks! It's going to be hard to mark any as "best" though, but if I have to I still thank all these suggestions even though I just dumped $70 on two magazines issues (Comm Arts & Print annuals). Got the cookbook tagged on Amazon as well.

Eventually though I'll get everything mentioned as I'm kooky like that.
posted by ernie at 9:23 AM on November 15, 2006

You might also want to spend an hour or ten browsing through YouWorkForThem, which is pretty much an online candy-store for design geeks. The books are pricey, but highly varied and definitely on the ball as far as keeping up with contemporary design trends.
posted by melorama at 12:59 PM on November 15, 2006

For regular all-around great inspiration, I'd rush out and get Eye Magazine, and I'd also second Print, How and Communication Arts.

As for books, you can't go wrong if you get This, this, this, this, or this.
posted by ninthart at 1:05 PM on November 15, 2006

I'd second's fantastic, although it's WAY too expensive for such a thin magazine (in the US, it costs around $30-$40, since it's an "import" rag).

They did a great article on Romek Marber, however, that for me, was easily worth throwing down that much coin for such a slim mag.
posted by melorama at 1:22 PM on November 15, 2006

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