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What Inspires Good Graphic Design?

In the last blog entry, we spoke to Callum and Josh about their reasons for becoming graphic designers and, from that, the advice they wanted to give to those looking to make the same journey. This entry builds on all that good stuff to unravel the designs that inspired, and continually inspire, the way they work. Their individual tastes, and how these inform their attitudes and perspectives, are small but significant signs that each and every designer brings some unique magic to the art that they create.

The Inspiration

Josh has found a great deal of inspiration in the artwork that emerged from Kanye's DONDA studio; calling out GEO designs' DONDA tour poster as a prime example of the design that he uses to shape his own creative approach. He's also quite fond of the work that Dewey Saunders did on Anderson Paak's Malibu; an R&B/hip hop/neo soul album released to critical acclaim in 2016. The album is striking in its capacity to capture the feel of the music; something that, I suspect, is probably an incredibly tricky thing to do.

Callum's formative inspiration was the design work of Shepard Fairey; an urban artist and activist who emerged from the skateboarding scene. You'll recognise his work in the OBEY trademark, which he created as a student, and Obama's 2008 'HOPE' poster campaign. The combination of illustration, typography and pattern work that Fairey spearheaded pushed Callum towards becoming a designer, showing him that the profession could produce the kind of bold, iconic, idealised, and impactful artwork.

The Best Place

When asked what each of them loves designing most, it didn't take long for me to receive a pretty definitive answer. Josh enters an unbeatable flow state whenever he's given an opportunity to design a book or album cover. Creating a visual representation of the meaning of a particular narrative is both a uniquely challenging but also intensely rewarding experience for him. Nothing quite satisfies his creative itch in the same way and, based on what inspires him, this being his ideal work isn't much of a surprise.

Callum has a soft spot for illustration, but designing websites has quickly become his favourite task. Distilling a brand's visual style into a functional website -- with a powerful and engaging look, feel and tone of voice -- presents endless challenges and, through them, incredibly rewarding opportunities for growth. In light of his organised mind, its no wonder that he enjoys capturing brand identities in such a structured and defined way.

Design Dreams

If given the opportunity to work on any project of his choice, Josh would be thrilled to design album covers and other marketing materials, such as tour posters and merchandise, for an artist or music label. Music and art are the two things that he loves most, and having the freedom to combine them, create an entire suite of music marketing content, and work closely with an artist, would give him an unbeatable experience to flex his creative muscles.

Within the same ballpark, Callum would jump at the opportunity to design all the promotional material for a music festival. Be it designing posters, wristbands, or even animations, he would relish the opportunity to amalgamate illustrations, colour choices and designs into material that fully captures the freedom and good vibes that all festival-goers rightly expect.

Bottom of the Barrel

When asked if they hate a popular or well loved form of design, Josh was quick to point out Spotify Wrapped in 2021. For those unaware, the music streaming service provides an annual report spelling out your listening habits over the last year. This report is usually incredibly well put-together and very easy on the eyes, but the 2021 version, especially in genres, was deliberately ineligible.

Although there's something to be said for the abstract, experimental, anti-design approach, the execution here only served to make the information (the thing most users wanted to see) far more inaccessible than anyone expected. As Josh said in the last blog: simplicity may not always be the right approach, but it certainly would have helped a lot here.

Callum provides a far more whimsical, but no less infuriating, example of bad design: video game box art. For every Super Mario Bros 3 and Red Dead Redemption, there's a Petz Monkey Madness or Cheggers Party Quiz. More than just bad design, though, what frustrates Callum most is that the industry is filled with designs that are painfully average and generic; usually featuring a man looking wistfully in the distance, holding a machine gun.

As some Japanese alternatives have shown, box art can be amazingly creative and nuanced. The reality, however, is that video game box rarely strays from a comfortable middle ground of mediocrity. The solution? Put Callum in charge.

Animation Town

In an attempt to steer the conversation back towards powerful and positive uses for design, I asked the pair to name their favourite animated film. Josh took a little while to think about his, but he settled on Akira; a Japanese animated cyberpunk action film released in 1988.

With its use of jaw-dropping hand painted designs and other analog forms of creation, the overall art style and mood had a huge impact on what he thought was achievable in a film approaching 40 years old. In a similar vein, Josh adds that everything Studio Ghibli has ever done is nothing short of inspirational.

Callum's answer was not, to my surprise, a film -- but his choice fully justified breaking the only rule that I gave him. The Witness -- the final episode of Love, Death and Robots' first season -- uses a gorgeous animation style, blending aesthetic realism with a creative use of colour, to create a story that, in Callum's experience, feels like a comic book come to life. Whilst Akira is a good example of groundbreaking animation in the past, Witness is a perfect example of the mind-boggling avenues that animation seems to be taking into the future.

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