1) Make the effort with mood boarding

When beginning a new brief or project for a client, inspiration and mood boarding is the key to any successful project. Hopefully, and in most cases, the client will have picked out a few images or bits of design that they like the look of and that they don't. Use this as a starting point to put together a strong moodboard of styles and visual treats that can guide your through the design process. This is such an essential stage of any design project and it can really mean the difference between something outstanding and considered rather than something unoriginal and ‘safe’. We like to use Pinterest and dribbble for mood boarding our projects, as you can easily build up a board or a bucket of your faves and share them with a client for a feedback. But good old print outs, collages, little sketches and paint splashes will do nicely too!

2) Refine your style and reference context

It can be easy when moodboarding to go crazy and throw in stuff, even if you're not 100% sure about it, or that visually or style wise differs from the other images in your moodboard. This is fine in the first stage of mood boarding but your goal is to refine it down to a more solid direction. Try to keep things consistent in terms of illustrative styles, line weights, colour usage and type treatment etc – this will help save you time in the long run. For example, if you're working on a logo, try to refine a direction and have it signed off by the client before moving forward – do they want a type only logo? Do they want custom script typeface or vintage sans serif type?.. This is a really important step and will help to give you a solid direction before putting pencil to paper. As a designer, there are so many various directions and style references you can use, that refining these in the first instance is just as important as the artwork you create!

3) Be inspired – don’t rip off designers!

Here’s an example of how I used Ryan Putnam’s awesome San Francisco illustration as inspiration for a piece for my City Bristol…

– I added different tones and additional shading
– I added different perspectives rather being just straight on
– I illustrated textures, clouds and water in a different way
– I used a similar sans- serif typeface but made it my own with additional elements
– I added a dotted background for the city title to help create a more separated section for the title.

Above you can see how using inspiration can work well. Straight up copying is an absolute no no in the design world and is a sure fire way to an unsuccessful design career! This can be a challenge sometimes, especially when you find something and think that it's perfect for a design project, try to use it as inspiration, then end up with something too similar!

For example, say if you find a logo that has a script font with a blue 3d on a sunset background and you copy each of these style references – thats a copy. Instead, you could use the piece to inspire you to use blue and sunset colours for a project that doesn’t involve a logo or script fonts. You need to use inspiration cleverly, and over time you’ll start to see how just one tiny detail from another designers work can inspire a completely different project you are working on. That’s the difference between being inspired and straight up copying!!

Joel Rosen is the Co-founder and Creator of Briefbox. Alongside adding fresh new briefs, resources and curating the Briefbox sets, Joel is also an active mentor to our community. A passionate illustrator and typographer, he is also the Co-Founder and Creative Director of UK based design agency, ORCA, where he leads his own awesome creative team on large scale brand and digital projects.