The Beastie Boys Guide to More Creative Designs

smart article on the creative process

By Oleg Mokhov

10 December 2010 | Category: Design

Tired of creating me-too designs? Want to escape creating designs that look too much like others? Looking for a constant source of fresh inspiration? Well, you’re in luck, because this is the Beastie Boys guide to more creative designs.

The Beastie Boys were one of the most iconic and fiercely creative music groups from the ’80s and ’90s (and still rocking it in the ’00s and beyond). Ad Rock, MCA, and Mike D had roots in New York punk, became a hip-hop group, recorded landmark album after album, and fused a whole mess of musical styles into an incredibly creative music catalog. As such, they’re a perfect source of inspiration on how to be more creative – and in this case, create more creative designs.

Beastie BoysBeastie Boys are one of the most creative music groups and a great design inspiration source


Without further ado, here’s the Beastie Boys guide to more creative designs:

1. Be the Outsider

Perhaps the simplest path to more creative designs is to be an outsider in your niche. The reason is that you’ll have a fresh perspective and won’t be bound by the limiting ideas and styles of those who have been creating in a certain niche for a while.

The Beastie Boys were white and came from being a punk band, so naturally they put a fresh spin on hip-hop music. From dressing how they did in their punk band days, to their lyrics and attitude, and even the sample sources (prototypical rap-rock, before it became a dirty term), the Beasties created hip-hop music that was more creative than most of their peers.

Use any outsider aspects of yourself in your designs. If you used to create in a certain style, or if you paint or create videos or make music or do any other creative art form, use any and all of that in your designs. But most importantly, use your outsider perspective. What is normal and by-the-rules in, say, electronic music production, becomes fresh and exciting in web design.

Naturally, the more you create in a certain style or work in a certain niche, the more you’ll become enveloped by its rules and guidelines. It’s unavoidable, but what you can do to minimize that inevitable effect is to constantly consume or create things outside of your niche. Each time you come back to work on your designs, you’ll have that spark of outsider perspective again.

2. Fuse Separate Styles Together

Everything has been created. Nothing is original. Everyone copies everyone else.

It’s all true. So how come plenty of designers still are able to create pretty creative designs? And how can you go about creating more creative designs? By becoming someone that doesn’t just copy what came before but builds on it. And you do that by fusing two or more existing styles to create an exciting new one.

The Beastie Boys constantly did this. They fused rock and rap to create “So What’cha Want”, punk and rap to create “Sabotage”, funk, bossa nova, and so forth – the list goes on. So while the original source styles weren’t anything new, and their execution of it wasn’t anything extraordinary, what made it creative was the fusing of the two.

This actually makes it a relief for you, the designer. You don’t necessarily need to come up with ridiculous out-there styles or whatever. You simply find two or more separate styles that you like (like grungy and flowery/fairytale), see if it hasn’t been combined before (it’s okay if it has, as long as it wasn’t popular and/or good), and then fuse them together into a new style of yours.

3. Add Subtle Humor

Humor is one of the most effective ways to win people over. Everyone likes laughing and enjoys a good joke. Which is why most actors, politicians, athletes, public speakers, musicians, entrepreneurs, and whoever else, regardless of their niche, always try to include humor in their work. It just works.

The Beastie Boys constantly added bits of humor, and it made their tunes more creative. From a catchy song title like “Intergalactic” to a memorable line, to iconic album covers, to their entertaining interviews – anytime they added humor their work was more creative. It separated the Beasties from other serious-faced artists.

And it’s no different for visual designs. It’s tricky, since a lot of your design work can be for specific purposes or for serious-faced clients, but any chance you can get try to include some subtle humor. Most designers don’t do this, so you’ll automatically have more unique and creative designs as a result. This is especially effective if you personally have a more “serious” style – the dichotomy just makes your designs even more creative.

It can be including an animal instead of a geometric shape, or a quirky detail in a header, or the way you arrange words and highlight letters (that intentionally spell out something else). As long as it’s not forced and doesn’t appear to be cheesy, almost everyone will appreciate and enjoy your subtle touches of humor and will remember your designs more.

4. Don’t Repeat Your Past Work

This one is forehead-slapping obvious, but enough designers repeat their past work that it’s worth repeating. It’s easy to rest on your laurels once you’ve stumbled onto a good style. Don’t.

The Beastie Boys always morphed with each album. The result is that each of their albums were fairly unique and unmistakable for their other ones, let alone that of other artists. Now, they did pull from their previous work. But when they did, they fused those styles and ideas into a new context. Say, old-school hip-hop rhymes but on an instrumental that’s much different from their previous work (see their first album Licensed to Ill and fifth Hello Nasty). But never once did the Beasties completely repeat their past work.

As a designer, you shouldn’t either. Ever see those designers who bust out of the gate with a refreshingly unique visual style? And then they proceed to use it on any and every piece of work they do? And then that style becomes over-saturated and redundant? Yeah. Avoid doing that.

It’s tempting to repeat what you’ve done, especially if it works and easy to do. But you’re only damaging your future designs by doing so. By not repeating and instead constantly trying something new, you’re increasing the chances that your next design will be just as creative and fresh as your previous one.

5. Be Open to Collaborations

This one might be hard to swallow for designers that love working solo, of which there are many. But seriously, consider collaborating with another designer, even if just for fun on a wallpaper or visual piece of art or something.

The Beastie Boys were constantly collaborating with other artists, and their wildly eclectic and creative output shows that. Each of the 3 members are perfectly capable of playing instruments and producing music, yet they chose to be open to collaborations. Whether producer Rick Rubin on their first album Licensed to Ill, production duo Dust Brothers on their second Paul’s Boutique, or a wide array of musicians and artists on their subsequent albums – the Beasties constantly had a fresh supply of creative ideas and input that made their music much more creative. It’s a big reason as to why the Beasties’ hip-hop music sounds so different from other artists.

So consider collaborating with a fellow designer that you admire. On something, anything. Doing so will open up your eyes to new possibilities for your own solo designs. You’ll see how the other person interpreted and ran with one of your elements in a way that you wouldn’t have even considered. You now have a new creative idea to use in your next designs. Bam: more creative designs, and all you needed to do was be open to a collaboration.

Rinse and repeat by occasionally collaborating on projects—however simple, or even if just for fun—and you’ll get a constant supply of creative ideas.

The Beastie Boys Guide to More Creative Designs

If you want to create more creative designs—ones that stand out from others and have your unique stamp—then the Beastie Boys are a great source of inspiration. Their constantly creative approach to music translates really well to visual design.

Beastie Boys CreativityImage by: Michael Morel

To recap, here’s the Beastie Boys guide to more creative designs:

  1. Be the outsider
  2. Fuse separate styles together
  3. Add subtle humor
  4. Don’t repeat your past work
  5. Be open to collaborations

Over to you: how else have you been able to create more creative designs?


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