I’m not a work-from-home person. I know there are people out there rejoicing at not having to commute or being able to spend all day in their pyjamas, but I live right around the corner from the office and I’m a casual dresser anyway, so when the coronavirus pandemic forced the entire Mahlab office to switch to work-from-home, neither of those benefits were enough to make up for what I felt would be a huge loss.
I’m a textbook people person. As Mahlab’s creative director, I see so much of what we do as a collective effort. I love brainstorming sessions that result in a cover that looks better for being designed by committee. I’m the type of person who will send a mock-up to an editor and then immediately trek downstairs to talk it through with them in person.
I was concerned that once these in-person interactions disappeared, my creative spark would fizzle and die. But needs must, and creatives have to find creative ways to stay, well, creative.
Lucky for us, there are so many resources available online that replicate what we can no longer do in person. Here are some of the ways I’m turning to the wider world for inspiration while still being a good physical distancer.
1. Indulge in some eye candy
I.LOVE. PINTEREST. It’s such a rich vein of creativity and one of my favourite places to browse for inspiration. I could spend hours pinning things to different boards and scrolling through the art, photography and typography on offer.
I find it’s also a great way to collaborate with others, and the team here at Mahlab uses it so editors and designers can easily share ideas for covers and feature spreads. Rather than spending paragraphs trying to explain that abstract collage of imagery and illustration you have in your mind, find some visuals to do the talking for you. Create different boards to curate and share gorgeous portraiture, illustrations, collages, graphics, page layouts — whatever catches your eye — and then make them collaborative so you can see what others on your team love.
And no conversation about eye candy would be complete without the doyenne of visual media: Instagram. It’s just awesome. Even though most of the world is on lockdown at the moment, I’m amazed at how people are unleashing their imagination to create feeds and feeds worth of great visual content. Follow any and every account that piques your interest, and scroll baby, scroll!
2. Virtual brainstorms
There’s nothing like gathering your coworkers around your computer screen, showing them a concept you’ve poured hours into, and then asking them to rip your work to shreds so you can build back better. It’s easy to do when in an office, but much harder to replicate when everyone is remote.
Still, the design team here is doing our best to bounce ideas around and keep brainstorms a part of our work days. Our rule of thumb is why email, when you can call? The next time you’re feeling stuck, hop on a video call with a few of your coworkers, share your screen and have a virtual brainstorm.
We’ve had a lot of success doing this so far. Since we’ve started working from home, I’ve been part of virtual brainstorms to design magazine covers, social media assets, website artwork — pretty much everything we would have done if we were looking over someone’s shoulder back at the office.
3. Browse online collections of portfolios
Most designers have a portfolio of their work, but these rarely see light unless we’re on the hunt for a new job or commission. Luckily, this practice is adapting to the digital age. Online portfolio sites like Behance, Vimeo and Ads of the World provide places for creatives from a variety of professions, roles and mediums to share their work. Jump on any of these sites and have a browse. I dare you not to be inspired by what your peers are doing around the world.
4. Upskill yourself — no more excuses!
One of the biggest reasons I hear for deferring training is ‘there isn’t enough time’. Now that we are all living the hermit lifestyle, use those extra hours to hone your craft and learn a new skill. Websites like LinkedIn Learning are old mainstays for online training, and many universities are offering free or discounted online courses at this time.
Take the hours you would have spent commuting to and from the office and apply them instead to an online course. Even a half hour a couple times a week during your lunch break is enough to become proficient at something.
Another idea is to tap your coworkers for their skills and knowledge. Mahlab has moved its Lunch and Learn sessions and Masterclasses online so we can keep learning from each other and gaining inspiration from what our deskmates have been doing.
5. Take a (virtual) tour
Bless those people at Google Earth — they have been preparing for this moment for years, and now it’s their time to shine. The company has spent years creating virtual tours of sites around the world that you can access from the comfort and safety of your home.
This includes world-famous art galleries and museums around the world, such as the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, New York City’s Guggenheim, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, and The British Museum in London. You can even view now-closed exhibits, go behind the scenes of sports stadiums, and get up close to iconic monuments like the pyramids.
If street art is more your thing, take a ‘walk’ through neighbourhoods around the world with guided tours of street art in cities such as Buenos Aires, Austin, Bratislava and Paris. Or find one in your neck of the woods and go for a tour in person.
Nature is also a huge source of inspiration, and something about bathing in a little green does wonders for creativity. Being housebound makes this much harder, but the National Parks Service in the US has put together a gorgeous series of videos exploring national parks around the country. Each site tour is guided by a park ranger, so you feel like you’re getting insider knowledge and gaining access to sights that are rarely seen.
Hopefully escaping to a world outside the four walls of your house provides some much needed relief and inspiration.
6. Ignite that creative spark
If you were looking for a sign that it’s time to start a new hobby, this is it! Crafts like knitting, bread-making and pottery are seeing a huge surge in popularity. Plant stores have literally run out of plants. Jigsaw puzzle makers are experiencing some of their best years yet. When confronted with so much free time, people are turning to creative outlets to keep their minds and bodies well.
One thing I’ve been doing is getting up early every morning to photograph the sunrise. I try to go to a different location each time (while following the physical distancing rules, of course), which means I always capture something new and interesting. Taking those few moments to appreciate something like a gorgeous sunrise makes it much easier to get through the more mundane aspects of the day.
Find something that appeals to you and set yourself the task of taking on a new creative challenge. This can mean learning to paint, taking an online language course, spending hours building the entire Rebel Alliance fleet from Lego, something — ANYTHING!
I promise, you’ll be amazed at what it does for your creative thinking.