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Derek Hulsey and the Hard Work of Good Ideas
Derek Hulsey and the Hard Work of Good Ideas

Meet Derek, our newest Pivoteer and designer. He’s a graduate of the Art Institute of Indianapolis and a self-diagnosed “freak for communication and letters,” which is apparent in his lush lettering. And when he’s not creating fresh designs out of thin air? Derek reads classical literature and writes songs. Yep, we got ourselves a real renaissance man.

Here, Derek shares some of his personal insights into the creative process and gives us tips on where to look for inspiration.


Good ideas come to those who wait.

There are points of similarity and disparity in my different creative methods. For starters, I’m paid for one, and another is purely artistic and personal. Designing for an agency, you are given a starting-point and purpose first—from the client or the creative director—and you build ideas from there. But in my personal work, I’m more of the person who will sit around until inspiration comes to me unexpectedly. Being disciplined about coming up with ideas on-demand can be difficult at first; I had to learn ways to get into the right headspace before opening my sketchbook.

Inspiration is somewhere in-between.

When I’m working on ideas, the first thing I do is to look at other work that’s similar to what I’m expected to do. If I’m designing a logo, I look at logos from the same industry, which helps give me a sense of the industry’s visual language and what’s already being said.

Then, for extreme contrast, I turn around and look at work from somewhere completely unrelated. I’ll read something from 40 B.C., or listen to a new album, or go looking for wildflowers. Somewhere in-between is where inspiration comes. You need both.

When in doubt, check your bookmarks.

It also helps to keep a roster of favorite artists and online spots whose work always gets you thinking. Here are a few of mine that I highly recommend:

1. Design Observer. Mindful articles on everything related to design, architecture, and creativity.

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2. Public Domain Review. The most interesting, beautiful, and bizarre finds from the public domain—works and images that have fallen out of copyright. Always something unexpected to spark inspiration.

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3. Friends of Type. A very productive group of letterers who consistently post beautiful and whimsical work.

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4. The Language Log. A blog about language run by Mark Liberman from the University of Pennsylvania. Posts range from funny finds of mistaken word usage to highly specialized discussions about syntax.

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5. The work of Firecracker Press. A major influence of mine since early in my career.

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