10 unexpected sources of creative inspiration

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Toaster.

First of all, let’s answer your initial question. What the heck is Toaster?…besides, of course, a household appliance that turns bread into something more exciting. Well, we’re a global digital agency originating from Google Creative Lab in London. We blend creativity, design and technology to help our clients bring to life beautifully crafted experiences across all touchpoints.

Our team at Toaster San Francisco is in the thick of the Silicon Valley hustle. We are die-hard consumers and purveyors of ad culture. And the average Toastee (yes, that’s what we call ourselves) has scrolled through 5 creative blogs and completed an online engineering course before our morning coffee each day. So you can only imagine how productive we are after the caffeine hits.

But, to stay on top of our creative game, it takes more than industry articles and traditional resources. We have to become students of the world around us.

Here are 10 unrelated and even uninteresting things that have provided creative inspiration for some of our best work.

1. Road surface markings

LEFT. TURN. MUST. Those words painted on the road might look odd from a pedestrian’s perspective. But the reverse-ordered type is intended for drivers to read as they approach (with speed and headlight range also considered). We as creators can benefit from adopting the specific mindset of our audience, even if it seems ridiculous.

2. Mom & pop diners

Yeah, you read that right. Think of the sheer lack of polish at some mom & pop diners you’ve been to. Sometimes you get to appreciate classic stainless steel and Art Deco architecture, but most of these privately owned cafes are full of flaws and can even be downright ugly. Yet they still maintain a refreshing “no frills” utilitarian charm. It’s usually because they foster their own brand of curb appeal with more personable 24 hour service and consistent menu offerings, all at a price that won’t break the bank!

3. Trump's hat

As difficult as it is to compliment president-elect Trump we all have to admit he outsmarted the entire country with his “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” campaign. The bold white letters on his trademark red hat said something so simple and clear that it resonated with the majority of US voters (if you subscribe to the rules of electoral college, that is). It also provided inspiration for countless internet memes, which in the end only served to strengthen Trump’s platform.

The simple text field on a white screen hasn’t changed in almost 20 years, however it remains Google’s proudest and most celebrated product, and for good reason… (the power of the world's best search engine doesn’t hurt, either). It’s a long-standing testament to the practice of reducing noise, cutting out the clutter, and keeping the objective in plain sight. The Google Search bar should be an inspiration for all of us.

5. iOS calendar spam

Sometimes inspiration comes in the form of something negative, for example the “retail deal” notifications from my iOS Calendar - a product I don’t even use. This reminds me that we really don’t have time or attention to give to any interruptions, let alone spammy ones like these.

6. Silent films

With the obvious lack of dialogue in silent films, actors would have to practice exaggerated body movements and gestures to get the full point across. Cinematographers used shorter, more efficient clips and practiced techniques like dramatic pauses, extreme camera angles and varying zoom levels to tell the story.

7. Nature

It’s no secret that “getting some fresh air” can help to alleviate stress and get our brains re-focused on the task at hand. But we can also draw inspiration from the great outdoors by taking note of the way plants and animals adapt to their ever-changing surroundings. Changes in advertising, media, tech, and consumer behavior are all things that might have us coding hands-free from through our VR headsets to create the next big waffle maker. You just never know.

8. Toddler conversations

I have two inquisitive kids under the age of 5. In our occasional chats about my job, someone invariably starts the “why?” train of questioning. And, believe it or not, this actually helps me untangle complex briefs and distill ideas down to a core purpose, in layman terms. Which can lead to more articulate and insightful creative solutions. I mean, if I can’t describe it to my kid, it certainly won’t fly with the client.

9. Vintage cartography

Talk about hand-crafted masterpieces. The cartographers of the old world must have been the most detail oriented and cerebral scientist/artist hybrids. There were no computers with sophisticated drawing, measuring, or layout software. No Google Maps to QA their work with. No undo function. Not even typewriters. These guys used whatever scientific means available to them (probably a crappy telescope and a quill pen) to draw their most accurate perception of geographic landforms. And their perception became reality.

10. American ninja warrior

Because the project you won for that amazing client can be like overcoming the double salmon ladder up a warped wall, only to arrive at the ultimate cliffhanger. Make sure you get a running start!

We'd love to hear your thoughts on any other interesting sources of inspiration you use in your work. Connect with us on Twitter to let us know.