Recently I’ve been trying to evaluate where I’m at with my design work and where I want to go. As a part of that, I’ve been working on pinpointing some of the things I could have done better so I don’t make the same mistakes again. Being honest and open about where you’ve gone wrong is key, I think, to getting better and growing as a person and as an artist*. I thought I’d share 5 of those mistakes with you now so that you can avoid them and to hold myself accountable to not making them again.


This is the mistake I wanted to share the most because I think it’s the one that other people will benefit from the most. I should have started sooner. I knew I loved design, and I didn’t just jump in. I hesitated and worried and then hesitated some more. Trying to freelance hasn’t been easy, and neither has starting up this blog. But now that I’ve started I wish I’d had the guts to do so earlier. If there’s something you want to do just have a go at it. The worst thing that can happen is that you’re not very good at it – I know that sometimes that is the WORST thing if you’re not very good at failing or if you’ve pinned your dream on something, but if you’re not very good work at it, get better, or combine it with something you are good at.


I’m an anxious introvert so networking isn’t something I naturally want to do, but it’s definitely something I should have tried harder at. A lot of my work has come from referrals and I could have worked harder to keep those connections branching out by meeting people in person and asking for introductions. I also should have been more proactive in reaching out to people I want to collaborate with. I was really good at reaching out to people for interviews when I was writing on behalf of The Oxford Student, but less so when I wanted to reach out to someone just as myself. I’m starting to do that more now, and honestly, everyone has been so lovely and I don’t know what I was so scared about.


There are some projects I worked on which I know could have been done better if I’d spoken up a bit more about their direction and their execution. While my job was just to design, I should have been better at the start about making everything I worked on the best it could be as a consultant as well as just as a maker.


I realise now I should have put even more thought into what I wanted this blog to be, what I wanted it to say and how I wanted it to benefit other people. I’m still in the process of working that out, and I definitely think some of this comes from doing. But I could and should have defined my direction more before I started because it would have helped this site feel more cohesive and helped my channel my ideas more.


Everything that I can do digitally I taught myself, and I’m quite proud of that fact. But I think I would have benefited from taking more classes and really pushing myself rather than just getting by on what I could work out myself with a minimal amount of googling. I’m not saying I should have gone to design school (although I do sometimes think about it) I think I should have taken better advantage of resources like Skillshare. But it’s never too late, right?

What mistakes are you learning from? What do you wish you could tell your younger self about now that you’re a bit older, a bit wiser, and a bit further ahead?

*super uncomfortable with even kind of referring to myself as an artist

I just created my first ever mood board for a personal project. That’s right. I’d never created an inspiration or mood board for one of my own projects. I’d always thought they were a bit pointless. But I think I’m a convert. Inspired by that revelation and my excitement about having some inspiration back in my personal projects, I wanted to write a post all about finding inspiration, which I think goes hand in hand with my other piece on creative thinking.

8 things to do before 8 am


As I just said, I’ve just put together my first inspiration board for a personal project and I’m kind of in love with it. I’ve not shared a picture of it here, so I can keep what I’m working on as something that’s just mine for a while. Creating an inspiration board can be a great way of drawing together a lot of ideas so you can synthesise them and find links, it has also served as a great way to remind me of the concept I was striving for to keep me on course. My board includes some reference images, colour palettes, a couple of quotes, images of objects and scenes I really love, and some fragments of work I love. I’ve only used fragments of artists’ work because I don’t want to be taking too much from them, rather I’ve taken sections for the inspiration of quality of line, or textures and materials, or I’ve drawn over them to highlight composition. That distinction was really important to me in terms of finding inspiration, I didn’t want to steal ideas and I also didn’t want to be overwhelmed by work that I liked because I know that my own won’t be the same, because it’s mine, and that’s not a bad thing.


When I say get outside I don’t just mean going for a walk, although that can be a great way to come find inspiration. I love just walking and looking and listening and absorbing. Make sure you look up when you’re walking around, you’ll see so much more. When I say get outside, I mean get out and try new things or go new places. If you can, travel somewhere new and let a new culture or location inspire you. If you can’t, just visit somewhere new in your city, or look at it from a new vantage point. You could also try out a new class or go to a museum about something you’ve never thought about before (if you’re in London I love the Wellcome Collection for that kind of inspiration). Get out, experience something new, and let the world around inspire you.


This kind of goes hand in hand with what I just said but don’t just look to one source for inspiration, and in particular don’t just look to one artist. That’s how you end up in a dangerous place. If you’re working in design why not look to architecture, or classical artworks, or nature, or fashion? Looking outside of your field for inspiration will help you come up with new ideas and help you find your own style. I love using my Pinterest to gather up lots of images that have caught my eye and varying where I get my inspiration from.


If I’m looking for a bit of a quick fix for inspiration I put some music on. There’s just something about engaging with a different sense that makes my brain work differently, whether I’m inspired by a feeling or a lyric I normally come away more productive and engaged with whatever I’m doing. I also love using smells to evoke memories or to inspire me. Try engaging with your senses (yes this is an excuse for a snack) to see which bits of your brain they will switch on and inspire.


Back in January, I started a painting everyday journal, to encourage me to just play with paint again. Pretty much everything I’ve created in there has been an abstract watercolour, and I’ve found a style I like that’s really different from anything else I make. It’s so easy to become comfortable in doing things a certain way or with a certain medium, but challenging yourself to try something new or present your ideas in a different way can be really inspiring. Using watercolours more hasn’t just been fun it’s made me want to incorporate them into my work more and it’s inspired me to try some more abstract pieces of work. Finding that style on my own through experimentation has also given me the confidence to try more new things, which I think has been just as inspiring as the work itself.


Surround yourself with people who inspire you. That doesn’t mean you need to be in an artist’s collective, but it does mean you need to find good people. I constantly find myself being inspired by my friends, by the things they say, by their bravery or intelligence or just their drive to be good people. I think that’s really important. Find people who can inspire you to approach the world in a different way or just to be better, and make sure those people are people who support you in your creativity. If you’re struggling to find people in the real world, reaching out and starting conversations on social media, especially twitter, can be a great way to get involved in a new community and speak to new creative people.


I’ve started carrying around a little idea notepad with me in my planner so that I can jot down anything that comes to me and have all of those ideas stored in one place. Having a catalogue of ideas, however small or frankly rubbish, is really useful to come back to, either to remember what you wanted to do or for some inspiration from your past self. Once you have an idea, don’t wait to work on it. You don’t need to have the perfect idea to have a go at something. Sometimes just starting and working gets you thinking as you go, and sometimes you need to work through 5 bad ideas before you find your real inspiration and a good idea.


Quite often having a deadline can be a good thing, and sometimes we work best under pressure. But coming up with an idea when all you’re thinking of is coming up with an idea can be the hardest thing in the world. You are not going to be inspired all of the time. It’s just a fact. If you are, please share your secrets with me. Give yourself some space and time to think, and perhaps try out some of these creative thinking exercises, and let inspiration come to you as you go without overthinking it (this comes from the world’s biggest overthinker).

On the phone the other day I found myself answering the question “how are you?” with, now customary, “I’m alright but I’m just so busy, I have so much to do all the time”. I am always busy. I don’t stop. I genuinely can’t remember the last time I didn’t have something to be working on. In fact, I started this blog in part because I worried I might not have enough to do.

Being busy, and complaining about being busy, seems to be a central element of the modern condition. In a day and age where we all have to be actively getting better all of the time, to be hustling to get ahead, being busy is a badge of honour.

We’re all meant to not only be working hard, and partying (reading brunching) hard, we’re also meant to devote time to meditation, to fitness, to social causes, to being well read, to making health foods, to watching every new Netflix show, to looking good, to being the perfect young professional who simultaneously stays on top of all of those things whilst appearing not to care too hard about any of them. We all realise that aim is completely paradoxical in nature and impossible to achieve, but it doesn’t stop us working, from trying to get a little bit closer.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I think it’s human nature to want to be better, to improve.

I’m also not saying there’s anything wrong with the fact that we’ve become a generation of side hustlers. It seems like everyone has a side gig right now. In London, part of that need for a side gig is financial. But in part, we’ve become side hustlers because we were told we could do anything when we were growing up and we believed it, and even though we might now know it isn’t wholly true and that some of us really do need to do those office jobs we swore weren’t for us, we still want to believe a little bit. So we keep that dream alive by creating a side hustle that gives us hope that we might one day get there, that however unlikely we might just make our pipe dreams a reality. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, there’s a whole lot right with that. If you want something, I really do believe you should work for it.

But the other side to working for our side dreams, for working on our quest to reach the lofty standards society has set, is that we’re working to keep ourselves busy. I realised when I was on that phone call that being “just so busy” had become my identity. I realised that I hadn’t stopped, I hadn’t allowed myself to stop because I’m scared of what happens when I do. Who am I if I’m not working on the glimmer of a hope that I might get to be a designer? Who am I if I’m not constantly doing something? I’m still scared to stop. I’m not sure I want to know what the answer is.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but I don’t think I’m the only one out there who’s keeping busy because they’re afraid to stop.

Normally in these posts, I try to share something to help fight the negative feeling I’ve described, to help me, well us, feel a little better. Doing that here would, first of all, feel a little ironic; setting a worksheet to help stop work just doesn’t seem right. But I also don’t know what to do about it other than stop, and right now I’m not sure that I can. I mean I physically can, no one dies if I stop blogging, if I take a week off meal prepping, off trying so hard. But I don’t know if I can bring myself to do it. So, this time all I’ve put together is this image, which you can print or use as a desktop as a reminder, just as I am, that you can and should take a break, that you don’t have to be so busy.

Everyone wants to think more creatively, but it’s not something you can do overnight. However, there are a number of exercises you can do to try and stimulate your lateral thinking and your creative instincts when you’re trying to generate ideas. These are just a few of the things that I do when I’m struggling to come up with an idea for design projects and in my day job.


Either explain the problem you’re working on or describe the product you’re designing without using the letter e to yourself, or to someone else who’s around you. In doing this you not only have to be able to summarise and clarify your thoughts to be able to put together an explanation, you also have to do it using different words, which can help you reframe your thinking and lead to some new ideas. It’s also just a silly challenge.


This might sound counter to the idea of thinking outside of the box, but sometimes a blank page can just be too intimidating, and by putting some constraints on your project you can come up with ideas more easily. Create some arbitrary constraints of size, or shape, or use, or audience, or really anything, on whatever you’re working on and then try and work to those standards. Even if what you come up with isn’t the final idea, having a starting idea to work from should help get the ball rolling.


Lateral thinking problems have been proven to help you think creatively. There are loads out there on the web that you can try for free to strengthen your creative thinking muscles.


There are no truly new ideas. Creativity is all about creating connections between things that other people might not have seen or thought of before. To get your connection juices flowing try and create connections between whatever you’re working on and something completely unrelated. What is similar about the two things? What could they do together? How can you link them?


Taking a step away from a problem can help you get a fresh perspective and sort out any existing thoughts. Personally, I like to do something physical like baking, because it engages completely different bits of my brain and allows me to subconsciously ruminate as I make something really delicious.


One of my favourite quotes is Henry Ford on his invention of the car: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse”. The solution to just making faster horses is to think about the problem rather than the product, what are you trying to do? If nothing already existed how would you fill the gap?


Imagine you’re your grandma or your nephew or Beyoncé what would they think of what you’re working on? How would they use it? How would they solve the problem? Getting out of your own head not only helps you try and think about a problem differently it can also be a great tool for seeing whether or not your product will cater to its audience. If you’re not very good at pretending, and even if you are, actually call or speak to someone else about the problem too for exactly the same reasons.


When you’re generating ideas, sometimes it’s about quantity over quality. You’ve got to go through a few, or five-hundred, bad ideas before you can get to a good one sometimes so why not get started by just writing down everything you can think of. If you’re lucky something will jump out at you or start forming as you go. If you’re not, you can refine down everything you’ve written to pull out the key elements of the work that you want to focus on.

I was reminiscing about GCSE Graphics, the last time I formally studied graphic design, the other day and I decided to redo a piece I did all those years ago, using the skills I have now. So, this the updated version of the 12 Elements of Graphic Design poster I did when I was 16, now as a set of shareable graphics.


Use lines to divide spaces, direct the eye, suggest movement, or create emphasis.


Using distinct colour palettes consistently brings continuity to your work.


You should think about shape not just when drawing but when composing your piece to create an underlying structure.


The space between elements can be just as important as the elements themselves. Use negative space to order and balance the objects in your design, or to create an image of their own.


Texture can give tactility and depth to designs, but use it sparingly.


The typeface you choose can affect the how people interpret your text, and the overall tone of your piece: sans serif fonts are easier to read online, and serif fonts work better in large blocks of print. When you’re varying font-types, try to pick ones with similar proportions.


Vairy scale to give weight to certain elements and add interest to a page.


Creating a hierarchy in your piece, especially when it’s informational helps viewers navigate your design by signalling importance or narrative.


Emphasise elements by varying colour, shape, texture, scale or framing them, but don’t overdo it. If you have too many focal points on a page, it will end up doing the opposite of the desired effect.


Create harmony in a piece by co-ordinating the proximity, similarity, or continuation of elements, or by using repetition.


While asymmetry can sometimes create emphasis or an unsettling composition, most designs aim for balance by using varying levels of symmetry (it doesn’t have to look like a butterfly) and structured composition styles such as a radial composition.


Create contrast to bring dynamics to your work through the use of light and dark, complimentary colours, or varying line or textures.

I put all of these images into a little poster which you can see here too!