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5 IRL Places for Creative Inspiration

by Margaret Penney | November 24, 2016

Finding inspiration for creative projects online is practically effortless these days, with a bevy of websites dedicated to creativity, the arts, and graphic design. Behance, Pinterest, and Instagram are just some of the most popular, but there are many more sites that present niche content related to typography, packaging design, or print design.

Something you may find with online design projects that are showcased regularly is they are all inspired by the same visual culture, follow the same trends, and blend together a bit—that’s why it’s important to try and find inspiration offline in real life (IRL) too, if your aim is to distinguish yourself as a creative and create something new-looking or different.

The Library

The library is a great resource for creative inspiration. You can find arts and graphic design books from the past as well as newly published books, magazines, maps and encyclopedias, and children’s books.

Old art and design books are a great way to gain retro inspiration for type styles, patterns, and color palettes. While new design books help you stay up to date on all the latest trends. Magazines are great for finding out what is fresh in editorial design, what font styles are trending, and what kinds of layouts are being used in major magazines.  Maps and encyclopedias can provide interesting ideas for line art or illustrations or spark your creativity to come up with interesting new visual concepts. Children’s books new and vintage are also a great resource for learning about illustration styles.


The Bookstore

The bookstore has many of the same sources of inspiration as a library except that everything is of the moment and new to the marketplace. You’ll find up-to-the-minute inspiration for typography, layout, color, photography, and image styles. Bookstores sometimes have a small gift section as well and you can find inspiration for packaging design projects here too.


In Nature

As a child of the 70s, I have many fond memories of going on nature walks in the forests of my town Reston and gathering acorns, leaves and pebbles. As an adult, I try to go on hikes and nature walks just as I did in my youth. If you’re a designer who appreciates natural color palettes, textures and materials in your designs then nature walks are a must for inspiration. You can collect materials to scan and create collage style artwork and textures. If you don’t have a backpack, just bring your camera and snap shots of objects for inspiration. Camera phone apps like Real Colors make it easy to gather palettes directly from your photography which makes creating true to life color schemes a breeze.

Thermal Stone Designs

Thermal Stone Designs

The Shopping Center

Shopping centers or malls are a great place for finding inspiration for product, packaging, environment, and signage design. If you have clients in the retail space then keeping up on the latest in retail marketing design is very important.  Window shopping is your purpose and function when you are a designer so make the most of it. It’s also difficult to find good examples of label design online, so shopping centers are particularly useful for finding inspiration for this type of design project in particular.

Stuart Weitzman Flagship Store Hong Kong

Stuart Weitzman Flagship Store Hong Kong

Thrift Stores

Last but not least, the thrift store is a treasure trove of creative inspiration for designers and artists.

The old books you find in a thrift store are not the ones necessarily kept at the library, they tend to be more obscure cast offs or smaller press publications. So, you can find a lot of quirky typography and illustrations in these books from bygone eras. I personally find a lot of type and color inspiration from cookbooks from the 1950s. You can find cookbooks from this era where I live, I imagine because people don’t eat things like ambrosia salad anymore! However, even the name “ambrosia salad” is inspiring in a way that is new again, because we don’t hear about that type of food anymore, ever.


Thrift stores are also a great place to find old cassette tapes and records. The records often have great cover art when design was created non-digitally. Some of the cover art is frame worthy and can be a great way to decorate on a budget too.






Margaret Penney is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Margaret is a teacher, designer, writer and new media artist and founder of Hello Creative Co.


For creatives seeking a thorough training in illustration and graphic design, Sessions College offers accredited fully online illustration certificate and illustration degree programs. Contact Admissions for more information. 

This blog is powered by Sessions College, the leading online school of visual arts.

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