The daily design project (or weekly illustration or photo project, or any number of other variations) has become a popular practice in recent years.
But artists and designers aren’t doing it because it’s trendy; they’re building skills, trying out different techniques, and discovering new ways to look at their work and the world. It’s also a great exercise in perseverance and provides a rewarding way to measure your progress.
These projects don’t necessarily have to be a daily event; they could be weekly. Many last for a year, but you could try one out for a month instead. Whatever the approach, the point is to make it a regular part of your routine — just set aside 10 to 15 minutes (or more if you like!) to let your creativity flow. But don’t be too hard on yourself. If you miss a day, it’s not the end of the world. And the results don’t have to be picture-perfect; this is about growth, not perfection.
Ready to give it a go? Take a look at the 20 inspiring ideas below and try one of them, or make up your own.
01. Do what you know, just more of it.
Even if you’re an expert in a certain area, there’s always room from growth. Learning is a lifelong process, and intensive practice (after all, practice supposedly does make perfect) plus a good creative challenge can help you take your skills to the next level. T-shirt designer Chow Hon Lam (a.k.a. “Flying Mouse”) experienced the benefits and difficulties of such a challenge when he launched his “Flying Mouse 365” project, where he designed a t-shirt every day for a year, developing and drawing each new idea in a 24-hour period.
Chow went all-out for this project, pursuing it full time for one year. Such a big commitment isn’t without its challenges. On his website, Chow describes the effort as requiring “a delicate combination of creativity, skill, patience, and dedication.” But he also had fun with the project. As you’ll see below, many of his designs feature humorous or clever imagery.
“I believe everything has its very own story — a cup of tea, a watermelon, a pussy cat, a cloud, or even a chair…
I try to create a story for them. I always believe they have something to say, but they just can’t speak. Some people tell a story through a movie, some people using a novel or comic, and some tell their story though a song. For me, I tell my story though a t-shirt; the amazing part of t-shirt design is I can tell a different story everyday.” – Chow Hon Lam, interview with TeeRater
02. Think outside the box.
One more of Chow’s ongoing concepts is worth looking at if only as an example of how projects like these can help you think creatively or “outside the box.” His “Part Time Job” illustration series imagines how superheroes and other characters might use their special powers if they needed to make some money on the side. The result? Hilarious scenarios like Darth Vader using his lightsaber to trim hedges or Thor putting his famous hammer to use to do some blacksmithing.
03. Notice your surroundings.
It can be easy to go about our busy days and forget to notice and appreciate our surroundings — whether the beautiful shapes and colors of nature, the friendly smile of a stranger on the street, or the interesting architecture we pass by every day. New York-based graphic designer José Guízar decided to be intentional about noticing one particular aspect of his daily trek through the city, which turned into a weekly illustration project known as “Windows of New York.”
“The Windows of New York project is a weekly illustrated fix for an obsession that has increasingly grown in me since chance put me in this town…
A product of countless steps of journey through the city streets, this is a collection of windows that somehow have caught my restless eye out from the never-ending buzz of the city. This project is part an ode to architecture and part a self-challenge to never stop looking up.”
04. Work on your lettering.
Hand-drawn typography is making a comeback in a big way, thanks to the craftsmanship and one-of-a-kind quality it lends to designs. Typography skills, whether analog or digital, are a valuable asset in the design world, and for that reason, many artists practice their lettering on a regular basis and post it on a blog or on social media. However, designer and letterer Lauren Hom took a slightly different (and more entertaining) tact with her “Daily Dishonesty” blog.
“Daily Dishonesty is a book and award-winning hand-lettering blog…
It combines my love of typography, humor, copywriting, and illustration. The blog documents the lies I tell myself on a regular basis.”
05. Carry around your camera.
Looking at the world through the lens of a camera makes you start to see things a little differently. You notice details you never paid attention to before, and you begin to look at your surroundings as photographic compositions. And in a field as versatile as photography, there’s always another angle to attempt or untried technique to experiment with — that’s why professional animal photographer Jaymi Heimbuch is still honing her craft with her “52 Weeks” project.
Currently 12 weeks in, Heimbuch has committed to doing one photo shoot a week (with her dog, Niner, as her subject) for 52 weeks (or one year). Having the same subject throughout gives her the opportunity to focus on trying out new or challenging techniques and getting creative with her presentation.
“Creativity is one of those things where the more you use it, the more you have…
Personal projects open the valve to that unlimited store of imagination. They stave off burn-out and inject freshness into your ‘real’ work. They encourage you to build on what you’ve tried before, seek inspiration from new sources, push your skills past their current limitations. But they also have to be something that does not feel burdensome.”
06. Pull together some color palettes.
Sometimes choosing a color scheme for a project can be a frustrating part of the design process. How do you know which colors are right? Nigel Evan Dennis came up with the idea to create color palettes based on things that inspired him — a location, a music album, a movie, a sports team. He explains, “The goal is to find colorful inspiration from things that surround us. Daily.” That goal became a project known as “The Day’s Color.”
“Everything you see contains a palette…
Some beautiful. Some ‘ugly.’ Some dark. Some light. Some hot. Some cold. But they are all inspiring. They are all engaging. Color can adjust our perception. It can affect the way our food tastes. It can increase the emotional and intuitive level of an experience. It can turn us off, turn us on. It is psychological. It is emotional. Color is a wonderful thing. Retain it. This site is dedicated to my love of color.”
07. Practice, practice, practice.
Maybe you have had an aversion to the word “practice” ever since you had to take those piano lessons as kid. But don’t let that trip you up — like it or not, good, old-fashioned practice is still one of the best ways to improve your skills (in any area). Web designer and illustrator David Wehmeyer understood that when he launched his “One Year of Design” project, which features a wide range of work, from icons and illustrations to logos and typography.
“I believe that the best way to learn design isn’t at school…
You can learn and achieve a lot more by reading books, blogs, watching tutorials, asking questions to other professionals, getting inspired by the products and ads around you or by the work of other people. I also think that the most important thing to be a great designer is experience! Musicians and athletes practice as much as they can to excel in what they do; why would it be different for designers?”
Wehmeyer explains on the project’s website how he made a personal choice to substitute design practice for time-wasters like watching TV or surfing the Internet, setting aside about a half an hour each day.
08. Find your inspiration.
Inspiration can strike at any time. So if something inspires you to be creative, run with it! That’s what Alex Timokhovsky did with his “Daily Quotes” project. He decided to illustrate some of his favorite quotations (from famous figures like Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, and even Star Wars’ Yoda) as a way to improve his lettering and calligraphy skills.
09. Break out your Pantone swatches.
It’s a familiar tool for designers and printers, that book of every color under the sun that looks like a pile of paint chips you might pick up at a home improvement store. Designer Inka Matthew took this tool normally used for work and made it part of a personal project. In what she calls a “visual journal” and a “creative distraction,” Matthew matched small objects that are part of her everyday life to their corresponding color in the Pantone Matching System (PMS). The resulting (and ongoing) project, “Tiny PMS Match,” started in June 2013 when Matthew noticed a brilliant blue flower in her front yard and, as a designer, wondered if there was a similar Pantone color.
She was encouraged to continue when the concept got a good reception on Instagram, and now takes pictures of objects (using an iPhone 5 and editing in Snapseed) that mark celebrations, seasons, vacations, and everyday pleasures like the beauty of nature or her kids’ favorite toys of the moment.
“After I found the object I wanted to match, I would go through my Pantone color chips book until I found the color that matched the object’s…
I placed the object on top of the chip to make sure they match in color. I used natural daylight to find the right match, since indoor lighting distorts the colors. Sometimes I could find the color match fairly quickly, sometimes it took longer (several tries).”
10. Create some characters.
“Each day I am challenging myself to illustrate a new character…
For some reason, character design is something I struggle with, so I thought I would force myself to improve through mileage.”
So far, the challenge has been a 46-day project, with some time between entries. With each day’s illustration, Woodard comments on his process and what he’s learning. For example, for his woodsman character (see below; the Paul Bunyan-esque man with the blue ox), he wrote: “I have really started to enjoy working in this style, creating basic, solid geometric shapes to create the main forms, and then using dry brushes or charcoal pencils to do all the line work and shading. As I am creating new characters, I am starting to see a lot of the same techniques applied again and again throughout my work. This style is feeling the most natural for me. This is a good sign!”
11. Review your ABCs.
The humble alphabet has inspired many a creative project, from Jessica Hische’s widely admired “Daily Drop Cap” project, to this impressive 3D alphabet from Alexis Persani, to photo projects like this one. Designer and creative director Michael Mahaffey took the concept in a new direction with “The Hipster Alphabet,” a design project infused with plenty of humor and irony that he started as an effort improve his understanding of HTML and CSS.
12. Make it quick.
A daily or weekly creative project doesn’t have to take up a lot of your time. UX designer Jono Hey chose a daily (now weekly) project involving quick sketches — no re-dos or final drafts allowed. The resulting (and growing) collection of tips, trivia, and random thoughts — all diagrammed in a charmingly loose, comic-book-like style — he dubbed “Sketchplanations.”
“In 2012 my sister bought me a book with a page every day for a year for a sketch…
I used it to practise my drawing. When I finished it I needed a new challenge. So I set myself the challenge of explaining something with a sketch — as explaining is a handy skill. Over 2013–14 I posted one sketchplanation a day….[and have since] migrated to once per week.”
13. Make it personal.
Having trouble coming up with a project idea? Look around and see if you can tie it into something that’s part of your everyday life or that’s unique to you. That’s what Tiffany Ford did with her “Daily Color Block” blog. Part fashion illustration, part visual diary, the project documents Ford’s daily outfit and accessories choices with simplified, color-blocked illustrations. Ford, currently an illustrator for Cartoon Network, wrote on the blog that “the idea of the project was to create a graphic description of the colors and shapes that you choose for yourself everyday.”
“While many of us may not think we consider color too much in our lives, the reality is that color is a very present deciding factor in how we choose to define ourselves…
My idea of the color blocks was to create a collection (or grid) of what kind of colors and shapes we choose for ourselves, and eventually, create a self portrait based on decisions, rather than appearance….I thought that maybe when we do these color blocks, we’ll start to see a greater picture of how we uniquely experience color, and how we view ourselves as individuals.”
14. Pick a theme.
Choosing a theme can be a great way to structure your project and express your creativity without spending a lot of time thinking about what each day’s activity will be. Designer and illustrator Rocky Roark built his “Daily Doodles” project around the theme of vintage vehicles.
“This is a fun little series that I started a while back for the fun of it…
I recently decided to bring the series back and start adding to it. These are just a bunch of fun, quick doodles of old modes of transportation that I find super cool, and I hope you do too!”
You can see another set of Roark’s Daily Doodles here. This one’s theme is retro entertainment (think TVs with “rabbit ear” antennas, radios and boomboxes, etc.).
15. Make it part of your routine.
If anyone has a good grasp on the perseverance it takes to commit to a daily creative project, it’s David, the artist behind the “Accidental Typographer” blog. He started doing a typographic sketch every day in January 2013, and has kept it up for over two years.
Limiting himself to around 10 minutes each day, he describes his approach in this way:
“Playing with hand-generated type. But also playing quickly; each 2013 day in ten minutes or less…
Typically while watching the news. Like to leave them a bit messy to show ‘process’….mostly it’s trying to just let the four-year old inside of me play and not worry about whether they end up perfect.”
16. Experiment with a trend.
Experimenting with a trend can be a great way to try out new skills and think about art and design in a different way. David Navarro embraced that approach with his weekly “FlatGuitars” project, describing it as “an illustration tribute to all of those guitars I’d like to have in my personal collection and, of course, the guitar heroes behind them that inspire us with their music.”
“752 Photoshop layers after, I finished this pretty much realistic Gibson Explorer…
This was the beginning of the project, realising this way of illustrating guitars will take ages. But it was pretty entertaining to mess around with brushes trying to get the best result possible. So it was easy to make the decision and start simplifying those illustrations to make the design process something more affordable time-wise, trying to keep the same spirit. I’ve illustrated 69 guitars so far, and in the future I’m planning to get to 100.”
Riffing (pardon the pun) on the trend of flat design, Navarro makes the project fun and stays motivated to keep up with it by choosing a subject he’s personally passionate about. The project features intricately detailed, 2D illustrations of legendary guitar models, many of which have been used by famous musicians (including the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, and Carlos Santana) and bands (like Journey and AC/DC). As a fun extra feature, each post includes audio of a song by an artist who has used that guitar.
17. Fine-tune your skills.
Pushing yourself to be creative on a regular basis, while challenging, produces measurable progress — which is immensely satisfying. Anthony Wartinger watched his design skills grow throughout his “Daily Design Project,” 366 days (due to a leap year) of typography and illustration exploration.
“It was tough, taking a portion out of your day, every day, and forcing yourself to focus on being creative is quite exhausting…
Don’t get me wrong, it was crazy rewarding. I honed some skills that needed fine-tuning, and I was given some amazing opportunities that I would not have had otherwise. At the end of the day, I am so very happy that I did it, that I have something that I can point to as an example of what being creative is all about.”
18. Go with the flow.
If you feel like a themed or structured project might hamper your creativity, then follow Jory Raphael’s lead and let your moods, interests, or day-to-day inspirations dictate the content of your project. That’s what Raphael did with both of his “Year of Icons” projects. The first was completed in 2013, resulting in a collection of single-color icons, and the second (currently in progress for 2015) features a variety of multi-color icons.
“I don’t know why, but one of the things I loved most about my original Year of Icons project was the randomness…
You never knew what the icons would be from day to day. Heck, I never knew. I’m hoping to continue the trend this year.”
19. Challenge yourself.
Daily or weekly projects can be whatever you need them to be — you have the freedom to make your own rules. Designer and illustrator Yoshini Gunawardena customized her creative project, the “30 Day Drawing Challenge,” to fit her schedule and preferences. She also made it easy to sit down and get it done by assigning a specific task to each day, such as “Draw what’s in front of you” or “Draw your favorite fairytale.”
20. Start a friendly competition.
There’s nothing quite so motivating as a little competition, even the friendly sort. That’s why letterer Martina Flor and calligrapher Giuseppe Salerno put their game faces on and launched “Lettering vs. Calligraphy,” an ongoing project that they describe as a “playground to challenge their skills.”
“The adventure aims to explore the capabilities of the two technical approaches where they draw/write a letter or a word responding to a keyword given by a moderator…
It takes place online and the visitors are invited to vote for their favourite execution. The result is a wide library of letters to inspire themselves and others, little seeds that might become bigger projects.”
Now that you’ve had a behind-the-scenes peek at some daily and weekly design projects, it’s time to take the plunge yourself and choose a project idea. You can be sure it will be challenging (in a good way) but also rewarding, and you’ll be a better designer for having done it. Make sure to keep us updated on your progress here!