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When I was a newbie motion designer, I had a project I was excited to do something fun and creative with. I racked my brain for any spark of inspiration, and then one day I happened upon an old comic book that I thought had some really interesting illustration techniques. Immediately, the wheels in my head started spinning, and I thought, ?Hey, I know! I?ll make my video look like an old comic book!?

Keep in mind that at the time I was just starting out, so my plan was to use a comic style video filter on some footage, thinking it would achieve what I wanted. I thought it was a foolproof plan, until I started to run the footage through the filter. You can probably guess that, yes, it looked absolutely horrific. I quickly realized that I would have to go a different direction, and it fortunately worked out, although I was somewhat crestfallen that I couldn?t go with the vintage comic book look.

No doubt the world was saved from an atrocity.

Despite my initial failures, I never stopped finding inspiration in the design styles of previous eras. As I look back through my portfolio over the years, I can find so many instances where a particular design trend from the way back machine found its way into my work. In fact, many of my favorite pieces fall into this category.

As a designer, it can be easy to get into the rut of following and mimicking whatever style happens to be the fad of the moment. And there is nothing wrong with this. But it can be limiting, since we live in that same moment and tend to think along the same lines. The potential for creativity is vast, but is often locked into the context of the now.[quote]The potential for creativity is vast, but is often locked into the context of the now.[/quote]

But the beauty of design is that it is not limited to what is happening at this very moment around you, but has a rich body of work from which to draw inspiration. No doubt, every generation feels itself to be the most creative. But if you bring an attitude of humility to the past, you may find treasures just waiting to be unearthed.

Recently, I have been creating some explainer videos that are attempting to mimic vintage Public Service Announcements. Everything from the soundtrack to the vocal styling (and processing) to the artwork are meant to evoke this curiosity from another era. I have found the process absolutely fascinating, for in my research, I have been exposed to styles that I simply would never think of on my own.

In many ways it can be humorous to look back at old-school design and its techniques and like anything, it is littered with both the good and the bad. But when you start to wrap your mind around a completely different style that existed within a completely different era with completely different understandings of design, it can be eye opening.

One of my recent pieces takes on a sort of art deco style, which has been really enjoyable. Everything from the bold typography to the geometric leanings to the almost flat design aesthetic seems at times familiar, yet also quite foreign. It has forced me to think in new ways, to lay aside my natural tendencies, and work designer muscles I didn?t even know existed.

When you draw inspiration from the past, you have the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of pioneers and giants. The more you dig into design of bygone eras, the more you realize exactly how much what we do today is predicated on what has come before. It is easy to treat the past as a fossil locked in amber, but the reality is that it is still very much a living reality, borne out not only in what we can learn, but also in all that will be created henceforth.[quote]When you draw inspiration from the past, you have the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of pioneers and giants.[/quote]

The value of learning from the past is not simply to develop new techniques or broaden one?s aesthetic repertoire, as important as those things are. Rather, we have the chance to find new ways of thinking, to find ourselves not only in the present but to make the past come alive and open up its riches.

We learn both that no style lasts forever, but also that great design is timeless. We begin to understand that every era has its strengths and its weaknesses. We find that what is old can become new all over again.

So the next time you have a project that you find yourself struggling to move forward with, maybe it?s a good time to move backwards and draw inspiration from the past.

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