Unplug and Get Juiced

David Carson Quote Tugboat Group Marketing Branding Web Design

There's nothing wrong with trying to emulate the greats. As creatives, it’s how we learn. It’s how we advance—it’s how we stay sharp.

We build skills when we analyze, reconstruct and strive for common ground with those whose work inspires us: editorial layouts worthy of David Carson’s hand, identities rich with metaphor and Paul Rand simplicity, punchy copy with short, sharp sentences, suggestive of Ernest Hemingway. Writing at his desk. In the rain.

But to create works that are new—original, even—it is essential to insulate the brain from the work that has come before. Impossible as it may seem, we must disconnect before any real progress can be made. We must close the graphic design tomes, put down the master’s compositions, and pull our heads from the deep and cavernous social media rabbit holes that burrow under the consciousness with ideas, anecdotes and information (none of which are our own). We need to free the mind to find new creative paths.

What is right for the product? The brand? The target? What is the big idea? What work of genius can possibly fill this massive, scary and crippling blank screen/piece of paper?

Hemmingway Tugboat Group Marketing Branding Web Design

Hard stuff.

Damn right it’s hard. Emulating the work of others is easy, comparatively speaking. Sure, that looks just like a Saul Bass poster (kind of), or an Alan Fletcher logo (I guess). Yes, that winding depiction portrays a magical moment just like J.D. Salinger would have (or could have). 

Regardless of how close we come, the target was never ours, proving that in almost every instance it is the big idea that is most elusive, and without one the result is the familiar.

Unplug. Get Juiced. Catch an idea.

Most importantly, resist the temptation of trolling for inspiration. With extreme prejudice. Do the work. Big ideas are crafty and elusive. Pick up the scent and hunt one down. Don’t sweat the details…just yet. Stay focused, be disciplined, and keep moving. Now is not the time for criticizing. Now is the time for wrapping up something sensible that can be articulated and rationalized. Then kick the living shit out of it.

Unfortunately, no matter how much distance put between influence and the creative process, there is no guarantee that the big idea will be new, or yours alone.

Are you kidding?

It's been done?

The same idea?


More times than we'd care to admit, that very gut-wrenching sentiment has reverberated through the Tugboat Group studio. It sounds horrible…because it is horrible. Our great idea…our genius…our pulled from thin air, made from nothing, completely original, killer idea already belongs to someone else?

That’s just piss poor luck.

At least it was caught before it hit the press. Don’t use it. Even if it only just looks like something else. 

Go back to the white boards and start again. And again. And again. Until you have something all your own.