Creative outlets for web designers

John Reeve | July 21st, 2009 | , ,

“The artist is an exalted craftsman”
Walter Gropius
The Bauhaus Manifesto

As web designers, we are all too familiar with the frustrations that can accompany client projects. Building web sites is often driven by overbearing decision makers who inevitably want to see the logo bigger, text colored red and bolded, and several volumes of the Encyclopedia Corporatanica on the home page. It’s not uncommon for web designers to burn out and have their creativity stifled from getting the job done and the bills paid.

A web designer’s worth can be found in her knowledge and command of the digital medium. However, there is much inspiration and many creative outlets offered by the analog realm of graphic design. Creativity can often be kickstarted by stepping away from client projects and producing creative work of a tactile quality, something textured, tangible, and freeform. Here are some ideas and resources to get you started.

  • Do-it-yourself screen printing
    Having worked my way through college as a screen printer I have a personal love for plastisol, squeegees and silkscreens. The professional equipment is far too expensive to set up shop in my garage, but there are plenty of other methods for screenprinting at home. From paper stencils to handpainting emulsion onto the screen, many do-it-your-selfers can find a fun creative outlet in creating designs that you can wear. And with the grunge-chic designs showing up at places like Target and Urban Outfitters, you can have the real thing without the high prices or faux authenticity.
    » Do your own screenprinting with this tutorial from
  • Toner image transfers
    Requiring only a laser printer or copy machine and a blender pen, you can transfer your designs onto just about anything. I’ve used this technique a countless number of times ever since first learning about it in design school. I’ve burnished my designs onto journal pages, plain wrapped birthday presents, greeting cards, and wood signage. With just a few resources, the possibilities are endless.
    &#187 Learn how to transfer images
  • Letterpress
    When it comes to designing on paper, nothing beats a letterpress. The handmade uniqueness of each piece sets this medium apart from any other. And they aren’t just for weddings and baby showers. Letterpressed pieces can be used for self-promotion, company business cards and frame-worthy posters for the office walls.
    » Build a letterpress and use it to print things
  • Stickers, postcards, etc
    Everybody knows somebody who is in a band. Help promote them. Musicians trying to make a living at it usually have very little budget and very little time to meddle with your creative designs. And they are usually extremely thankful and appreciative of the effort and will use anything and evertything you can design for them to help promote the band. There are numerous sites that will take your design and mass produce stickers and postcards at a dirt cheap rate — a perfect solution for promoting that next show at the local dive bar.
    » Print stickers, postcards, and anything else you can think of online
  • Sketching and journaling
    Perhaps the oldest form of creative outlet known to designers is the sketchbook — a portable set of blank canvases for hashing out ideas, sketching out concepts, writing down our thoughts. I’ve always got one on my person and feel naked without it. A sketchbook and/or journal is the perfect medium for getting out ideas and concepts as they come to you, in their rawest form, in the middle of the night or on the bus. Flipping through past books can spark new ideas from old ones and remind you how far you’ve come as a designer over the years.
    » Tips for Sketchbooking and Journalling
  • Sell it on Etsy
    If you find yourself getting wrapped up in the do-it-yourself design projects, consider selling some of them online. Why not make a few extra bucks with your extra time? And who knows, it could turn into a full-time gig if you find there is a market for your wares.
    » Sell your work on Etsy
  • Print it on CafePress
    Suppose you have all these creative ideas you are working on but not the resources to execute them due to lack of space or materials. For you there is CafePress. Print up a few of your favorite designs on shirts, stickers, buttons and more. You can also browse the site for inspiration from other designers before creating your own designs. If you can think it, you can print it.
    » Create custom t-shirts and more

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Intervals is online time, task and project management software built by and for web designers, developers and creatives.
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John Reeve
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John Reeve

John is a co-founder, web designer and developer at Pelago. His blog posts are inspired by everyday encounters with designers, developers, creatives and small businesses in general. John is an avid reader and road cyclist.
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Jennifer Payne
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Jennifer Payne

Jennifer is the Director of Quality and Efficiency at Pelago. Her blog posts are based largely on her experience working with teams to improve harmony and productivity. Jennifer is a cat person.
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Michael Payne
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Michael Payne

Michael is a co-founder and product architect at Pelago. His contributions stem from experiences managing the development process behind web sites and web-based applications such as Intervals. Michael drives a 1990 Volkswagen Carat with a rebuilt 2.4 liter engine from GoWesty.
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