Start 2014 Fresh – Rethink How You Design T-shirts

Design Challenge!!  In an attempt to get your creative engine thinking in new directions this year, here is a baker’s dozen of some brief challenges to get you going.  Good luck!  (If you use any of these, I’d love to see the results.  Post a link in the comments section below)

  1. Take a Minimalist Approach.  I’ve seen your work. (well, not really but let’s pretend)  It’s too heavy and over-burdened with a reliance on distressed textures, extra stuff crammed in and a lot of superfluous junk to create a “mood” or some “action”.  For this exercise break that tradition and try to use as few items as possible.  Can you create the same intensity with less?  Was Mies van der Rohe right?  (“Less is More”)  Warning: this is very difficult to pull off.
  2. Restate the Problem from a Different Perspective.  We all know how you would solve the problem, but what if you approached the same design assignment from someone else’s perspective?  What design choices would an architect, construction worker or pizza maker use?  What about a fictional character?  Try to crawl into someone else’s brain and look at the design task from a different point of view.  (Yes, this is taken from Roger von Oech’s famous “Whack on the Side of the Head” book,
  3. Get Silly.  The reason children can come up with some very outlandish ideas is that they usually don’t have that voice in the back of their heads saying “Don’t do that”.  Well, now is the time to quit listening to the voice and get your silly cap on.  It’s ok.  Eat your dessert first while wearing swim fins and a big fake purple moustache.  Apply this concept to your next t-shirt design.  What kind of craziness can be unleashed?
  4. Juxtaposition.  Think about pairing two distinctively different elements together and try to make them work.  Textured and smooth.  Hot and cold.  Near and far.  Awake and asleep.  Big and small.  You get the idea.  Now, start scribbling up some thumbnails and apply this to your design!
  5. Let the Music Take You.  Try different types of music played in the background and let it influence the way you design.  Would a crisply played classical guitar piece by Andres Segovia work up a different design than one if you were listening to AC/DC, Miles Davis, Willie Nelson, or Yo Yo Ma?  A lot of people “see” music in color tones when they listen.  Some songs suggest darker colors or tones, while others exude bright colors.  Would the music suggest a different color palette?  What typestyles come to mind when listening to some different musical selections?  Bonus: think about the t-shirt market demographic you are designing for and select some popular musical choices of that group.  Let the music affect how you choose to arrange the elements in the design, colors, and even the shirt color.
  6. Keep a Notepad Handy and Do Something Else.  Your creative mind will keep trying to solve the design puzzle.  You can be mowing the grass or cleaning a toilet and Voila!  That perfect idea will hit.  Quick!  Jot that sucker down before you lose the thread.  Just keeping a bunch of those small yellow Post-It-Note squares around can do wonders.  I like them as they can be scribbled on, and if something nice comes out of the thumbnail, you can stick them up on the monitor and use them as a guide.
  7. Opposite Day – Otherwise Known as Get Out of Your Comfort Zone.  Maybe you are a Photoshop King and the master of manipulating images…but horrible at drawing.  Maybe you are a great cartoonist, but lousy at using photographic images.  Whatever the case, be honest with yourself and try going the opposite direction that you would normally take.  This is also called stretching the limits and it will be good for you.  Who knows, you might even learn something.
  8. Practice Asymmetry.  Take a t-shirt design, any t-shirt design and you’ll notice something…they all are balanced on the center of the shirt.  Every design element is usually exactly aligned right down that printer’s fold.  For this design assignment, that’s illegal.  I know it doesn’t make sense, and it’s hard to do as the “page” in Illustrator, Photoshop or CorelDraw (or whatever you use) starts off with a big white square.  However, t-shirts aren’t squares (last time I checked).  They are made of fabric and move with people.  This time, all of your design moves have to be asymmetric and unbalanced.  Use that tension that it will naturally create to your advantage.
  9. Think About the Ink.  What type of design influences can the method of how you print, help resolve how you design?  For example, what if for each color you use the thickness of the ink deposit increases?  Can you design dimensionally?  What if you started with the idea that you were going to highlight the use of glow in the dark ink?  Would that affect how you posterized the photograph of a bird to print on the shirt?  Could you design a tone-on-tone design, but use glossy ink?  Get out from your computer screen and down into the ink room for some inspiration.  Do something different for a change, will ya’?
  10. Use More Negative Space.  For this idea the challenge is to use your negative space more effectively.  Don’t just crowd the design with stuff.  Think about how all the elements fit together, and the white spaces in between.  Can you create more interesting uses of negative space?  How do your design elements fit together?  What is more interesting with your design…the small spaces in between things or large?  If you use multiple colors, how can the negative space be used to create motion, mood or reinforce an idea?  Can you use the negative space to create a new element that will be seen as a real thing (such as a bird, etc.)?
  11. Start with a Pattern from Your Environment.  Take some pictures of forklift tire marks from your shop floor, Ziploc bag of macaroni and cheese, the side of a stack of broken down cardboard boxes, or whatever interests you.  Throw that into your computer and use that to design your next t-shirt.  Can that texture be the start of a background or a new way to distress a design?  Does it suggest a new color palette to try?
  12. Think with More Emotion.  Can you approach your next design from an emotional perspective?  What design choices would you make when you are in love, or really angry.  Or both?  What does happy suggest?  Would the word relaxed make you take a different approach?
  13. The Timed Approach.  You have ten seconds to come up with an idea.  Just ten.  Scribble around and sweat it out.  (Use my yellow Post-It-Note trick)  How does it look?  Hate it?  Ok, you have ten more seconds.  Do another one.  Repeat as necessary.  Still not happy?  After ten minutes go to lunch and consider a career change.

What kind of crazy ideas help your creativity?  Please share!!

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