Photo by Nick Fewings / Unsplash

Original and timeless design hardly manifests on the spot. It might seem like generating successful design can be as effortless as pulling a rabbit of a hat, but the process often takes a lot of trial-and-error and multiple brainstorming sessions. When you’re tasked with routinely creating stunning artwork, sometimes you’ll run into moments when the inspiration well simply runs dry.

Regularly practicing short design thinking exercises can refresh your perspective on current design problems and flex your creative muscles. If you’re finding yourself pulling a blank, try these daily projects for rejuvenating your creative thinking.

Translate one medium into another

Think of a pair of unrelated mediums, such as visual art and sound, and translate one into the other. One project idea is to listen to some jazz music and transform it into a watercolor painting: what forms would it take, what are its connotations? Drawing influences from separate areas forces you to find common ground in unlikely places. For example, you might be surprised at how you respond to a song based on your visual interpretation.

Make your own alphabet

Typography is such a key part of a designer’s arsenal. Iconic type automatically creates an instant connection between an art style to a brand or product. What if you were to make your own? Identify a set of motifs so your letters look like they belong to in the same type family. Mix up the boldness and movement of line strokes. Don’t be afraid to try unusual shapes or pictorial forms, and approach each letter as a complete character with its own personality.

Photo by Jason Leung / Unsplash

Do a sketch progression challenge

Short, timed exercises are a great way to witness the progression of your style. Begin with an idea or concept to draw. Try drawing it in one minute, then snap a photo of the finished product. Even if it looks like a couple of scribbles, it’s worth documenting. Then repeat the process again 10 minutes. Then 30, and so on.

It’s cool to see how your drawings evolve into the next. See where you’ve added the most details and embellishments. This mini-reflection allows you to see in real-time which areas you prioritize and what you instinctively go to to make your design pop.

Create your own logo

Logo design has to do several things at once: communicate brand identity in a small image, immediately capture attention, and not be an eyesore. Drawing a logotype is a common exercise for graphic designers, so make it a recurring habit. Design your logo based on your personality, background, or skills. Choose whether you want it to look flat or three-dimensional, then produce different stylistic versions. In making a logo, you challenge yourself to generate unique iterations of the same initial design.

Study the natural world

Often, Mother Nature is the best designer. Biodiversity offers some of the best inspiration: you can see it in the layers of canyon formations, fractals in snowflakes, and varied geometry of plant life. The repetition and patterns found in organisms and natural phenomena serve as some of the best graphic design influences. Look through photos of nature and draw a design containing a set of natural elements.

Photo by Stefan Kunze / Unsplash

Sketch a mind map

Peer into how your own brain works by sketching your conceptual train of thought to make a mind map, another helpful design thinking project. Gaining insight into your own creative process will help you discover how you arrive at certain ideas. You could spot where you need to develop different ideas or which sprawling thoughts lead to dead ends. Mind maps are your personal expression of your creative workflow, so you can refer to them at a later time whenever you’re feeling mentally stuck.

Take things out of context

Our senses and artistic instincts can be dulled by routine and familiarity. Frame new perspectives by thinking of how an object can work outside its intended use. Remove things out of their environment and think of how that item would be adapted to its new one. How might something aerodynamic function underwater? It can be as simple as inventing new uses of common household items, such as light bulbs used as a terrarium. In a way, you’re coming up with new designs by “recycling” old ones.

Re-design an existing product

Are you one of those people who look at abstract paintings and think “I could’ve done that”? Now see if you actually can, in this case through the lens of object design. Think of a branded product or everyday item, such as a chair, and come up with your own. How would you change the color palette, textures, materials, or silhouette? We’re often encouraged to not re-invent the wheel, but in the field of design innovation sometimes involves breaking with tradition.

Photo by Jorge Garcia / Unsplash

Draw a storyboard

Well-crafted stories aren’t limited to film or writing. Storyboarding is a fun way to play with color and composition on a deeper level. You can experiment by drawing for the early stages of character development or background of a scene. Create a short narrative by making your own storyboard using a stack of index cards and sketch a single frame on each card. Stitching together a sequence of scenes tests your ability to not just engage viewers with compelling visuals, but a cohesive, exciting story as well.

Be a tourist for the day

On the days you’re not content to sit at your desk and stare at the wall, get some fresh air outside and go on a mini field trip. Bring a pencil and notebook then visit a busy urban area or people watch at your local park. Write down any and all observations that spring to your head.

You might notice that for every brilliant design, there’s probably a couple faulty ones. How can traffic signs be improved, or how could a brand execute their advertising better? What can you improve or what shouldn’t even exist at all? Taking note of how people interact with things in their environment will help you identify any problems that might impede or disrupt visual language.

Once you’ve refreshed your creative energy, try out these courses:

Comics: Art in Relationship

Comics: Art in Relationship

California College of the Arts


Graphic Design History: An Introduction

Graphic Design History: An Introduction

Maryland Institute College of Art


Introduction to Graphic Illustration

Introduction to Graphic Illustration

Cornish College of the Arts