Maintaining A Work-Life Balance When You’re The Boss: UX Designer Shane Mielke’s Top Tips

Creative Cloud

Being an in-demand UX designer can be a double-edged sword; while you can make great money and stay engaged working on interesting projects, it’s easy to throw yourself into your work and lose track of your personal life. UX designer and author Shane Mielke is at the top of his game, but it hasn’t always been easy for him to find balance. Years ago, just as his professional life was really ramping up, his family started to grow. With his first daughter on the way, a wife embarking on a new career, and a move to a different city, life got busy.

Shane responded by pushing himself to “provide,” grinding 24/7 to generate as much business as possible. It wasn’t long before his work-life balance tanked. Years later, just when it looked like his work may cost him his family, he did a full pivot and rethought his approach to life and work. We asked Shane to share some practical tips he discovered for making sure your professional life doesn’t destroy your personal one.

When did you know you had to make a big change?

When I got the magical shoulder tap. My wife said ‘honey we need to talk.’ It had been six or seven years of non-stop hustling at that point.

It was hard, because I felt like it was almost like a slap in the face. You feel like you’re doing the right thing by taking on all this work to provide for your family, and now you’re being asked to pull back on it. But really this was a catalyst and growing point.

How did you make the transition in your life?

There’s always something that’s going to need to be done at work. The way you combat this is having something better to do outside of work. You have to have a wife or husband who’s like, it’s 5 o’clock, we have to go. Maybe it’s kids who need to get to tutoring or sports. Schedule a vacation months in advance that you’re financially committed to and can’t get out of. Or maybe you just need to schedule something for yourself (like setting an hour aside everyday to go work out).

Instead of planning your day around the work you have to do, you plan your day around the things you want to be doing outside of work. I now worry more about disappointing my wife or my kids than I do about disappointing a client.

What this means is I really need to hustle to get my work done so I’m not in trouble in my personal life.

So it’s about eliminating the little distractions?

That’s a huge part of it. Take a mason jar, and fill it half way with sand (the little distractions and unimportant tasks). Now take some rocks (the really important things in life) and try to fit them in. You won’t be able to.

You need to switch things up and put the rocks in first, then the sand goes on top. You have to focus on the big things first, then see how much room is left for the distractions.


What’s your advice for ‘setting hours’ when you do project-based work?

As an employee, you already know you’re getting paid, you have the insurance of an employer. As a freelancer, you don’t have that guarantee. You have to be aware that you are a business and your time is valuable. If you go over and above the scope of work, too often, you end up making less money, being more tired, and your personal life will suffer.

If you keep that in your mind, you will develop a detector in your head on whether a project might be a bad fit for you. Every project is an amazing microcosm of time spent working, deadlines, and budgets. There are times when you have to look at a project and say ‘it’s not going to be quite as creative as I wanted because time’s running out, and I’m not willing to put in the crazy extra hours.’

Then there are other projects when you say, this one’s special, and you can tell it will be worth the extra time and energy. Factor all of these variables in, and use them to help you determine when you’re going to tap out and when to say no.

How else can you be efficient as a UX designer, for the sake of your personal life?

Have a good understanding of your own style. Sure you need some diversity of skills to avoid always doing the same type of project, but once you understand the things you like to do, it eliminates some of the doubt in problem-solving and design and you can work faster.

There comes a certain point as a designer when you have to trust that people are coming to you for your solution and not waste time second guessing.

What’s at stake if you don’t consciously prioritize your personal life?

The thought process for many UX designers, especially younger ones, is ‘we’re doing something that’s pretty fun, it can be done at all hours of the day, so why not work around the clock?’ Those designers need to know what the possible consequences are. You could end up divorced, you could end up with your family hating you, you could end up with health problems because of your poor diet and caffeine consumption.

The more people know about these pitfalls early in their careers, the easier it is for them to make decisions about how long they work at a certain pace, what they agree to do, or the kinds of work they do in the first place.

In today’s day and age, you can and should really craft your own career and pathway. You can do high level work, and do the things you want to do within the hours of the day. In a way, it’s like having your cake and eating it too.

Check out Shane Mielke’s work and learn more about his book, Launch It, over on his website.

A Look Back In Time At Some of The World’s First Websites

Creative Cloud

Happy Birthday, World Wide Web!

Yes, the World Wide Web as we know it turns 26 on August 6. To celebrate, we’re taking a trip back in time to visit some of the web’s first sites to see how they’ve evolved since they first his our screens.

Websites have come a long way. Formerly static, the web is now a highly visual medium. It has become a resource that has reshaped and redefined how we live our lives, interact, conduct business, and store information. Websites didn’t always hold the cachet they do now. These days, a website’s presentation says a lot about the business, product or brand behind the website, which is one of the reasons why designs have become richer and more elaborate.

“The web can be made to work with any type of information, on any device, with any software, in any language. You can link to any piece of information. You don’t need to ask for permission. What you create is limited only by your imagination,” Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Inventor of the World Wide Web, said last year.

And imagination is key to designing a web product that stands out. But, as you’ll see here, sometimes a simple design is all you need to stand the test of time.

Then & Now

In honor of the WWW’s 26th birthday, we explore three of the world’s first websites to see how they looked when they first hit the web, and how they look today. Thanks Way Back Machine for the trip down memory lane.

Internet Movie Database (IMDB)

IMDB was created by computer programmer Col Needham and launched on October 17, 1990. The company took to the web in 1993, but we were unable to find an image of the site from that early on. However, this screen cap taken from 1996 shows a very simple design with several hyperlinks.

imdb 1

In the 2000s, the site began to resemble the version we know today, embracing a busier design and more offerings. Users can now purchase DVDs from the website and check movie showtimes by entering their zip code. There is more to the website now, including movie/tv news, a category for independent films, and an option to sign up for a newsletter delivering weekly showtimes directly to your email inbox. What was at the top of the Box Office in 2000? The Fast & The Furious.

imdb 2

And finally, we get to today. Look how much cleaner the design is. From the navigation to how the box office listings are displayed, everything has been condensed and organized in a simpler way.

imdb 3


Launched in 1993 by VJ Adam Curry, who ran the site unofficially and personally at first, MTV was an early adopter of landing pages.

mtv 1

Once you clicked inside though, the site was not much to look at. Unfortunately much of the images weren’t archived, but you get the general idea from the screenshot below.

mtv 2

I also wanted to show you this screenshot from 1997. The site is now beginning to get a bit more advanced by offering users two options: a frame-based website they call “decaf,” and a “scrumptious” java offering that promises you’ll never look at the web the same way again.

mtv 3

Fast forward to today, and MTV’s site is much more visual, consisting almost exclusively of images. Top navigation has been swapped out for a more mobile-friendly and contemporary user interface, and the logo is placed subtly beside it.

mtv 4

The Economist

Lastly, we thought it would be neat to look at one of the first online news sites. The Economist launched an online component to complement their magazine offering in 1994, but the first available screen cap is from 1996. Calling it an “experimental home page” featuring limited articles from the current issue, the Economist’s website cost only $120 to make and was named one of the world’s top ten news sites, beating out Time-Warner’s Pathfinder website, which is said to have cost $120 million to build.

Here’s what the Economist’s website looked like:


And here’s what Pathfinder’s website looked like. The earliest screen cap we were able to find is from 2000, so it might not be an accurate representation of how the two sites compared initially. However, it does show how news was organized then—very much resembling the layout of a traditional newspaper.

economist 2

This goes to show that you can create a meaningful website without a large budget, a testament that is still true today.

The Economist’s website today, like IMDB’s, is much cleaner. Navigation is fluid and easy, while visuals, though carefully selected, are complementary rather than the main focus.

economist 3


And just for fun, here’s what we looked like back in 1996.


Happy Birthday World Wide Web! We look forward to seeing how you evolve over the next 26 years.

Do This, Not That. UX Dos and Don’ts if You’re Just Starting Out

Creative Cloud

There’s this great quote usually attributed to Nathaniel Hawthorne: “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” I’d say that UX design is kind of the same. Seamlessly taking the user from A to B and giving them exactly what they came for is damn hard, and certainly not a skill you can master in an afternoon.

You could, for instance, go to Amazon, search for “UX” and then read the top 10 books there. And while I encourage you to do just that, you probably don’t have the time right now. I understand.

So, just to give you somewhat of an overview, here’s a list of dos and don’ts around the topic of UX design. Check it out if you’re just getting started with UX and want to know what’s up:

1. Do Understand the End User Deeply

This being the first item on the list is not accidental. “The user comes first” is perhaps the most fundamental UX design advice out there. It comes up in pretty much every UX book (not that I read them all), and there’s a very good reason for that.

The user is why you’re building something in the first place. You want to take them from A to B. You want them to be able to achieve something specific via the thing you’re creating. That’s why having a deep understanding of what those users need is key.

Here’s Mark Uraine, designer at Automattic, with his input on the no.1 “do” of UX design:
We’re building things for people. We want their experience to be improved in using whatever we’re building. So the no.1 “do” is getting involved with who you believe might be using whatever you’re building. Understanding what their needs are, what jobs they need to get done, and how is your product serving that. So, first and foremost is understanding the people involved with your product or service.

With that said, the tough part is that you cannot really know what the goals of your users truly are until you actually meet those people. And I don’t just mean imagining them or defining a vague user persona. I mean really finding them, interacting with them, getting input and feedback from them, and then making it the foundation of your work.

2. Do Make it Clear What the No.1 Most Important Thing Is

That thing can be a feature (commonly when dealing with an app), or a piece of content (when dealing with a website), for example. No matter what it is, though, there’s always just one, single most important thing.

If you think you have two, narrow down to one.

While I can surely relate why it’s tempting to try providing a couple, a handful, or even tens of features and remain under the impression that they’re all equally important, this is not a good path to take. For at least a couple of reasons:

  1. Survivorship bias. Defined as, “the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not.” For instance, Facebook offers a ton of features, yes, that’s a fact. However, they didn’t start like that. It’s through years of experimentation and thousands upon thousands of improvements and tests that they arrived at what they have today. During that time, users have learned how to use the platform and what it can do. But Facebook is a survivor. There are hundreds of other networks that failed. Don’t try to emulate what Facebook is today. If anything, emulate what they were when the platform started.
  2. Curse of knowledge. Defined as, “a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.” You know everything about the thing you’re building. You’ve already spent more than X hours interacting with it. You know where things are and what they do. Your users, however, don’t. They need a starting point. They need one feature that’s going to convince them that the thing you’re building is indeed worth their time. If they don’t find that one, single feature, they won’t bother checking out what else is available.

3. Do Make Everything Work the Same on All Devices

Building your project for multiple devices can be a challenging thing, and especially if the user goals are slightly different from device to device. However, at the same time, you absolutely need to do whatever you can to keep the experience consistent no matter how your app, tool, or website is accessed.

These days, for instance, it’s very common for users to start their web browsing session on mobile, and then transition over to desktop to finalize “whatever they’re doing.” This is often referred to as “sequential device usage” and it’s a way for the user to take advantage of each device’s strong points.

For example, mobile allows them to check things quickly while on the go. Whereas desktop is better for more in-depth research and possibly completing their purchases more reliably.

What all this means is that people will indeed interact with different tools or websites from multiple devices, no matter if we want them to do it or not. These days, mobile web usage is already higher than desktop, for instance. This is something that cannot be neglected.

4. Do Keep It Simple

This comes back to making it clear what the no.1 most important thing is in your app or website.

Generally speaking, all design is more about how much you can remove from a project and still make it functional, rather than how much you can add to it.

Filling the screen with irrelevant content is never a good decision because it takes people out of the experience and makes the purpose of the thing you’re building obscure and unclear.

I can certainly relate to how tempting it can be to keep adding on top of what you already have just because you can, and especially when you want to impress your client. But that really isn’t the right UX-driven decision to make.

Go the other way around, emphasize the main goal. Make sure that it’s clear. If not, start removing elements to make it so.

5. Don’t Assume You’re the End User

Designing for yourself is a very common UX mistake. After all, it’s your project, you know what it should probably be, you know what you want it to look like, and it was your idea to begin with, right? (Please notice all the “yous” in that sentence.)

But at the end of the day, “you” don’t matter. Who matters is “them” – the end users.

Try putting yourself in the user’s shoes. Don’t think, “do I enjoy this feature/element/whatever?” Think, “will my users enjoy this?” Don’t think, “this feature is pretty straightforward for me to use.” Think, “will this be straightforward enough for my users?”

Remember what I said about understanding your users and their goals deeply? This is where it applies more than anywhere else. If you build things alone, in solitude, and only then reveal them to the world expecting everyone to be highly impressed, don’t be surprised if they’re not. As Mark Uraine continues:

The no.1 “don’t” is locking yourself in the closet and building it out yourself. Don’t go alone! Don’t do it alone! Because when you do, when you do it by yourself, it’s not inclusive, you’re not understanding the overlying principle of what you’re doing, and humanity suffers.

6. Don’t Confuse UX with UI

Okay, they both start with the letter U, but that’s where most of the similarities end. Or, rather, it’s more like that:

We talked about this in one of the recent posts here on the blog, so let me just summarize the key differences in a few sentences:

  • UX is about the entire journey a user embarks on when they decide to give something a chance. It covers the complete overall experience that a user has with that something.
  • UI deals with the specific things that the user will actually interact with while on that journey – the interface itself.

7. Don’t Make the Navigation Confusing

Whatever awesome feature you’ve built for your app, or whatever awesome content you’ve created for your website, doesn’t matter if people can’t navigate to it. Sounds obvious, right? However, it’s incredible how many popular software applications ignore this principle entirely.

Multiple menus. Blank canvases. No user onboarding. No “welcome” guides. You’re on your own…

Expecting the user to know where to go is kind of okay-ish for products that have already been in the market for years, and thus people can be generally expected to possess some knowledge about how to use them. Cars, washing machines, fridges, those are okay. But building a new website or app … bad navigation design is not acceptable.

Frankly, if your user needs to ask the question, “okay, now what?” then you’ve failed at navigation design.

Here’s how to overcome this:

  • Understand clearly what the main feature (or main content) that you want to offer is. Showcase it prominently right away.
  • Minimize the number of clicks/taps/steps it takes to get from A to B.
  • Plan for efficiency. If the user is at step A and they ultimately need to go to step C, then you should probably guide them to step B first, rather than presenting the end goal right away. Predict where the user is most likely to go next.

Here’s an example illustrating that last thing. A website you should be familiar with:

Look at the “What’s happening” field. It is only once you start typing that you see the “submit” button (in this case labeled “Tweet”).

The traditional way of designing UIs would be to simply have the message/tweet field and the submit button displayed from the get-go. But Twitter knows better. They know that the button is not relevant until the user types something in.

And speaking of buttons. If something is meant to be a button, please don’t try to be clever with your design decisions, just make it look like a button. Users don’t really need to be guessing what’s clickable and what isn’t. The same goes for links.

8. Don’t make certain decisions for your users

Those are:

  • Autoplay videos or audio. Really, no one likes autoplay that’s not expected, nor necessary.
  • Zero-seconds popups. First of all, popups are not going anywhere. I think we can all agree at this point. However, if and when you want to use them, don’t make them appear right away – before the user gets to interact with the main feature or the main content of the thing you’re building.
  • Hijacked scrolling. The way scrolling works is one of the core standards on the web. Whenever you try to change it, you’re walking on thin ice.

9. Don’t Put Beauty Over Function

UX is not always directly correlated with how nicely something seems to look. That’s also one of the reasons why minimal designs have risen in popularity so much over the last couple of years.

Overall, if the thing you’re building doesn’t function up to the user’s expectations, no amount of beautification will save it.

On the other hand, even seemingly ugly things can still be incredibly useful… Have you heard about a small site called Craigslist?

10. Don’t Force Your Users to Repeat the Same Actions

For example, if someone makes a mistake filling out a sign-up form, why forcing them to re-enter every single thing from scratch? They might be willing to repeat everything once, okay, but if they make a mistake again, you’ve just lost your user for good.

The same thing goes for missing shopping carts, or even user errors that force people to start over instead of just allowing them to fix whatever didn’t go well. Having to redo anything – anything! – is just too annoying and really bad for UX.

In the end, UX design is tough. It’s probably one of the most challenging branches of the vast design universe as a whole. Particularly since it’s entirely centered on users and the quality of their interactions with whatever you’re building. With that said, I hope these dos and don’ts will steer you in the right direction and help you get started in your UX design journey.

10 Inspiring UX Portfolios

Creative Cloud

The UX job market is hot right now. Despite that, the competition for top positions at the most interesting companies is pretty fierce. Hiring managers have high standards, and in order to respond quickly and effectively to the dream job, it’s critical to have a solid portfolio that demonstrates your capabilities. A solid UX portfolio is more than just a set of screenshots or illustrations, it’s a proof that you can deliver results — it demonstrates your ability to create usable, useful, user-centric products. It should also give potential employers insight into what it would be like to work with you.

Putting together a portfolio can be challenging, especially if you’re relatively new on the UX scene. In order to simplify this task, I’ve pulled together examples that I think are inspiring for one reason or another. In this article you’ll find 10 real-world portfolio examples from UXers worldwide, each incorporating unique selling points. Let’s take a look at what makes them inspiring.

1. Simon Pan

Selling Point: Simon Demonstrates Problem-Solving Skills

UX design is all about problem-solving and anyone hiring a UX designer is hiring someone for their ability to systematically figure out the best way to solve their users’ problems. That’s why it’s so important to explain the goal and problems you are addressing with each of your projects.  As you describe different case-studies in your portfolio, make sure you tell a clear story about what the problem was, and how you went about solving it.

Product designer Simon Pan created a portfolio that foregrounds his UX experience. By identifying the challenge he faced in each UX design project, and by describing his team’s actions for solving them, Simon creates a narrative arc that effectively sells his experience.

Simon states the problem(s) and provides a solution in each case study.

2. Joshua Taylor

Selling Point: Joshua Creates a Strong Narrative with Each Case Study

Not only the quality of your past work matters, but also the way you present it. The most engaging UX design portfolios make use of storytelling. With each case study you want to tell a great story about your work — a story of how the finished product arrived — from user research and ideation to prototyping and building a solution. This, however, is not always easy thing to do to, which explains why a lot of portfolios stop after putting up general information about projects. Stand apart from the pack by showing the journey, not just the destination.

Former Evernote design director Joshua Taylor tells compelling visual stories in his UX portfolio. He communicates his design process in a comprehensive and easy to follow way — he progresses in a linear fashion from the initial challenge, through his process, culminating finally in a solution.

Each case study in Joshua Taylor’s portfolio is the story of how his team created a product or experience.

3. Suzan Choy

Selling Point: Suzan Creates Promising Previews for Each Project

Usually, people who are reviewing portfolios don’t spend much time on each piece. According to UX experts Troy Park and Patrick Neeman, prospective employers spend an average of 10-15 seconds looking at a UX portfolio. So it’s vital to make sure you present information clearly and strikingly. Someone wants you to solve their problems and needs to know (quickly) are you the right person for that.

Suzan Choy’s portfolio is a great example of how to get user attention and engage them in reading more information. Suzan provides a high-level preview of her projects using card-based layout which is a perfect for scanning.

Card-based layout makes much easier for readers to select a project they are interested.

Each of her project is well-structured —she breaks down each case-study into a key concept communication brief.

Each project in Suzan’s portfolio has a few key sections such as Research, Design, Problem, Implementation.

4. Erik Bue

Selling Point: Erik Adds a Touch of Personality

Your personality is every bit as important as the skills you have. That’s all because people hire people, not portfolios. A touch of personality makes it possible to stand out and give your employers a glimpse of who you are on a personal level.Personality also makes your portfolio memorable. Employer going through the process of looking at a pile of portfolios needs something that sticks in the mind.

By injecting a humorous tone and a few facts about himself, Erik Bue makes his portfolio really unique and memorable .

5. Slava Kim

Selling Point: Slava Demonstrates Visual Ability

Your portfolio is a good place to demonstrate your aesthetic skills in addition to your process. Attractive visual design matters. A picture makes a stronger impression than your written word at first glance. At the same time, don’t obsess over visual showcases, it’s much more important to emphasize how you solve business problems through design rather than focus solely on demonstrating your amazing visual design skills.

What really stands our about Slava Kim’s portfolio is his prolific use of imagery. Each case study has a lot of pictures that tell the story.

Slava Kim makes use of strong visuals to provide an idea of his abilities at a glance.

6. Jenna Coles

Selling point: Jenna Showcases Tool Mastery

Since a UX designer’s role varies in different organizations, it’s good to use your portfolio to help the employers understand what activities you usually perform and what tools you use on a regular basis. You want to convey your ability to apply the right tools and process to solve a problem.

On her site, Jenna Coles is upfront about her particular skills right from the home page.

For each project in her portfolio, she provides a description which includes basic information about the client, project goal and tools she used. For projects she complete with using Adobe XD, she provides a link to the interactive prototype which makes it possible to try and out a product.

Playing with an interactive Adobe XD prototype.

7. Christine Walthall

Selling Point: Christine Explains Her Role In Projects

Design is a team sport and, as a UX designer, it’s crucial to differentiate your role from the role of your teammates in your portfolio.

In her case-studies, product designer Christine Walthall explains her personal role in bringing the product to life.

By outlining her role, Christine’s portfolio gives a fuller idea of her previous experience.

8. Edmund Yu

Selling Point: Edmund Provides Testimonials

Building trust is crucial for portfolios. Although testimonials don’t sell a designer on their own (i.e. you need other elements such as case studies in your portfolio as well), they can be an effective argument in supporting your candidature on a UX position.

What really stands out in Edmund Yu’s portfolio is the ‘Mentions’ section, in which Edmund collects testimonials and press snippets about his work.

Testimonials are an excellent way to give prospective employers objective proof of your skills.

9. Adrienne Hunter

Selling Point: Adrienne Provides Tangible Results Of Her Work

You should show the tangible results of the work that you have done. Do you have sketches done by you? Personas you’ve created? Annotated wireframes? Show them to employers! Show how product works (good) or provide an interactive prototype (better), so your visitors can try it and have they own thought about it.

On her website, Adrienne Hunter not only describes what she does as UX designer, but also provides tangible results of her work.

Adrienne describes what she does as UX designer on a regular basis.

10. Amy Wu

Selling point: Amy Showcases the Value She Brings

Most portfolios don’t showcase the value UX designer brings to the company who is hiring them. They don’t have any ROI, numbers, analytics, not even the fact was the project successful from the business point of view. When employers are looking to hire a UX designer, they’re not just looking for the final product, nor solely the process by which you arrived there. They’re looking at the direct and measurable impact your work had with the client. Describe the impact of your work.

Amy Wu demonstrates the results of her work  in section Wins for each case study. She demonstrates improved metrics that clearly shows how her designs impacted.

Case study “Citi Bike” from Amy Wu portfolio.


In today’s highly competitive UX design market, you need a concise, highly-focused portfolio to land your dream job. Having a well-presented compilation of your work not only sings to your skills and experiences as a designer, it shows potential employers that you take each design task seriously, and would, therefore, work the same way on their tasks.

New for Adobe Stock Contributors: Adobe Sign Integration and Non-Zip Vectors

Creative Cloud

Adobe Stock is committed to building the best platform for creativity, for both our customers and for our contributors. The latest updates to the Contributor Portal makes it easier and faster for our contributors to upload and showcase your content for sale. Less friction in the submission process means more time for creatives to focus on what they do best – creating. Here are the latest updates for Adobe Stock contributors.

Adobe Sign Integration

Releases are integral to stock. Without a model or property release, you cannot sell any content that features a recognizable person or property. With the new Adobe Sign integration in the Contributor Portal, you can now easily generate, send, and receive releases.

To create a release, visit the Releases tab and select the Create a release option on the right. From there you can choose to generate a release with Adobe Sign. You do not need an Adobe Sign account to use this feature.

Fill out the name and contact information for your model or property, attach a reference photo of the subject, and send it via email. You can change the language of the release, or customize the message for your recipient.

In the releases tab, you can see all the models and property releases you have on file, the number of assets you have that feature the subject, and how much sales you’ve generated from that content.

For more information about when you need releases and why, visit our HelpX page.

Non-Zip Vectors

Great news for vector artists – you no longer have to package your vector submissions into zip files for Adobe Stock! Just upload your EPS or AI file, and we will automatically generate the JPEG preview.


We’re working on even more improvements to the Contributor Portal designed to improve the workflow of contributors, and we look forward to unveiling those features in the fall. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest Adobe Stock news.

Chasing Inspiration: Setting the Right Conditions for Inspiration to Strike

Creative Cloud

Inspiration has many mythical and mysterious qualities. We often use terms like ‘inspiration striking’, ‘ah-ha’ or ‘light bulb’ moments. While it’s incredibly satisfying when an idea hits us in an enlightening flash, for those of us in creative professions those moments are far too inconsistent to rely on.

Here’s the (simplified) science bit – inspiration is a result of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to continue to find new connections and neural pathways over time. When the brain makes new connections, inspiration hits – seeing things in a new light.

So, how can you increase your chances of inspiration striking more frequently? What are the conditions that invite inspiration in? Read on…

Inspiration Ain’t Nothing But a State of Mind

Creating the mental conditions for inspiration involves finding the states of mind that work best for you.

  • Cultivate a practice of noticing and paying attention. As Twyla Tharp puts it in her book the Creative Habit, “Ideas are all around you.” Being mindful of your environment in a detailed, intentional way can reveal the inspiration that is waiting in the wings. The trick is being open to the ideas that are all around you, and finding mechanisms for capturing the ones you want to hold on to – such as photographing, taking notes, or simply making a mental note.
  • Shake up your perspective! Look at something from a different angle – the power of reframing – can yield great results. Perspective shifts can take several forms, the goal is simply to free yourself from the mental assumptions and framing that you are approaching the subject at hand. Much of digital design asks us to see things from our user’s perspective – stepping into their shoes in order to find the best solution.
  • Fuel yourself with food for thought. Our brains are designed to make connections and to see patterns, however, to do this most effectively they need diverse inputs. Artists and creators are often people who are ravenously engaged with the world around them – collecting, reading, absorbing, observing, and so on. Find ways to build your own stash of ingredients for inspiration, from Pinterest boards to Instagram to Behance to scrapbooking or collage, to voraciously reading. You will reap what you sow!

Your Body is Your Inspiration Temple

Your physical state can certainly have an impact on how inspired you feel, as the body and mind are intimately connected.

  • Use sleep to your advantage. Being well rested and getting enough sleep boosts creativity and increases our chances of inspiration striking. A 2009 UC San Diego study found that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep ‘directly enhances creative processing more than any other sleep or wake state.’ This could explain famous examples of songs that came to musicians in dreams, for example ‘Yesterday,’ written by Paul McCartney.
  • Find ways to loosen up. Often a relaxed state of mind and body is most likely to yield inspiration or new ideas. For some people, it’s caffeine that gets the creative juices flowing. For others, a glass of wine helps to loosen up and relax in a way that is conducive to finding inspiration. Deep breathing and meditation can also help to create space for creativity.
  • Get your body moving! Ever wonder where that impulse to pace back and forth when thinking comes from? As Ferris Jabr writes in the New Yorker, “The way we move our bodies further changes the nature of our thoughts, and vice versa.” Physical movement and kinetic energy encourage blood flow to the brain, and some scientific research shows that exercising increases neuroplasticity. Intense focus on more vigorous exercise can occupy the mind in a way that allows for the subconscious to get to work producing ideas.

Wherever You Go for Inspiration – There You Are

What’s around you will influence your ideas and creativity. Findings environments that spark inspiration goes a long way.

  • Be visually immersed in your work. Your environment can have big consequences on the level of inspiration you experience. Where possible, distributed visual thinking (i.e. sticking up your prototypes, notes, and inspiration sources) is a wonderful way to submerge yourself in the raw materials that allow your subconscious to get going on making new connections. This is part of why the trope of a design studio with post-its all over the walls exists!
  • Change the scenery. A change is as good as a rest as the saying goes, and this is certainly true where inspiration is concerned. Stepping away from your regular workspace and working in a different environment can yield serious dividends. A simple way to do this is to work from a coffee shop or local library one morning a week. The key is to keep changing it up – sit in a different spot, go to a different neighbourhood, go at a different time of day or evening.
  • Get out in nature. Several studies show the benefits of being outside and immersed in nature – from improving our mood and wellbeing, to reducing anxiety and brooding, and even making us more creative! Nature creates conditions for our mind to slow down and wander, and is a perfect backdrop for creative daydreaming, for example seeing shapes in clouds.

When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it.


The concept of inspiration has its roots in Greek ideas of divine Muses who orchestrated human creations. It was thought to come directly from the gods. Hopefully with some of these tips, you won’t have to wait for divine inspiration to come to you – you’ll be able to go get it!

Explore Fun Summer Templates

Creative Cloud

With Summer in full swing, it is a good time to check out our summer templates. Whether it’s a family BBQ or a day at the beach with friends, you can find a way to share your sun-filled adventures. Try these customizable templates from Adobe Stock to bring the easy, breezy feel of summer to life.

Hosting a summer cookout? Spread the word with these flyer templates that have bold and remarkable flair from Mukhlasur Rahman. Next step: Show off your grilling skills to you friends and family.



Maybe it’s also time to soak in the sun with a trip to the beach. With these templates from Twin Design, you can drop your favorite image into the devices in these sandy scene mockups.



Do you have a business and need to shine a light on your summer sales? Why not try these vibrant social media templates from Wavebreak Media to advertise your deals before you have to restock your shelves with winter gear.


See more summer templates on Adobe Stock.

What to expect when converting Flash to HTML5

Creative Cloud

We had the pleasure recently of connecting with interactive software engineer Joseph Labrecque to learn more about his thoughts on Animate CC, converting Flash to HTML5 and what type of content should be converted.

What do you do?

I’m involved in a lot of different things. My primary role is that of an interactive software engineer for the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. I also run a small business called Fractured Vision Media, LLC and have a number of other activities I’m involved with from teaching Animate CC and other Adobe applications for University College to speaking for major events like Adobe MAX. In addition, I’m continually involved in the production of video courses for, Pluralsight, and others – and occasionally author books on Animate CC and related subjects.

Why would someone want to use Animate CC?

Animate CC is in a unique position among creative applications as it is an environment through which an individual can, within a single application, perform both design and development tasks with ease… simultaneously. This means that those individuals who only do design work, or those who are only interested in code, can augment their existing skill-set by exploring the “other side” in a way which is easily accessible to them. I’m a perfect example of this in that I originally approached Animate CC (via Macromedia Flash) as a pure designer with no interest in code whatsoever. Through exploration of the tools available and an interest to expand into areas of interactive media, I was able to learn to program in small steps by relating the aspects I was unfamiliar with (ActionScript) with those I was rather deeply familiar with (design and animation). Today I’m a software engineer in title and position but remain a hybrid creative/interactive in truth.

Most people understand that both HTML5 Canvas and Flash Player content can be created with Animate CC – but some seem to still be confused… thinking that we can only produce content for HTML5 Canvas or only for Flash Player. Animate CC is a true multi-platform content creation tool and what many do not realize is that we are not even limited to the two platforms mentioned previously – but can also produce content such as animated GIF, HD Video, SVG, WebGL content, and more. One set of platforms that is criminally absent from the minds of most casual users are those which can be targeted through Adobe AIR: Windows and macOS for desktop, Android and iOS on mobile, and even Google and Apple TV hardware. Very powerful!

When users are considering converting Flash content to HTML5 what should they consider?

The first thing to consider is the project itself – what sort of content are we dealing with? How old is it? Can the features and qualities of the project be replicated through native web technologies? If it is an animation then we can easily convert internal animated content and assets from one document type to another using Animate CC. We could even copy specific assets or layers from one document to another. Animation is really quite straightforward. What gets tricky is when there is some sort of interactivity involved – especially if there is a lot of ActionScript code. I’m a believer in recognizing the original purpose of a thing and making intentional decisions based upon considerate thought and future projection in light of past experience. Does the project in question, assuming it has some age behind it, fulfill its original purpose – even today? If the answer is “yes” – then we don’t need to really do much of anything. If the answer is “no” – then a decision must be made on whether to convert the project, rewrite it entirely, or kill it outright. If the answer is “yes, but…” then we have to perform some projections based upon all the data – and that is a much more difficult decision because it involves unknowns and a certain amount of intelligent guesswork. When considering older Flash-based content – we find that all of these scenarios are valid.

What type of projects are easy to convert?

Just about all animation (timelines, tweens) and assets within a document that was previously targeting Flash Player should convert almost perfectly with the exception of certain unsupported filters and effects, differences in how text may be handled, and so forth. Additionally, content such as web-based ads or basic infographics will convert wonderfully – though if there is interaction involved, the ActionScript code must be converted to JavaScript in order to target the native web. Thankfully, the code for basic interaction is very similar between the two languages and Animate CC even comes with a variety of code snippets you can use to wire up common tasks with ease.

Does it make sense to convert legacy Flash content to HTML5?

It truly depends upon the project size and the features of Flash Player it takes advantage of. Think also of the time in which we now live and measure where we are against both future and past: is the application a product of its time? Much that was written 5 years ago will likely look outdated and a complete rewrite with today’s technologies in mind will often make more sense than a simple conversion of assets and functionality from one platform to another. I do believe that a lot of content can be converted quite easily though, considering how much animated and interactive media exists in the world after so many years. I mean, Flash truly was KING for an awful long time and much of that content is animated – or includes the simplest of interactivity. These projects can exist across various platforms without a whole lot of hassle. I’ve actually opened up some small interactive games and experiments in Animate CC written well over a decade ago targeting Flash Player and most of the code is easily translatable to JavaScript – especially the stuff written in ActionScript versions 1 and 2. In terms of those projects which are animation-only… it’s so simple to convert these animations to either HTML5 Canvas or export them to straight video playback.

I do believe in preserving all of the great historical content that exists on the web today as older Flash .swf file content though – it’s hugely important to preserve this material. The preservation can be done in many cases by converting Flash Player content to HTML5 Canvas or even straight to video using Animate CC’s precise video export capabilities. More interactive content will require conversion of the code – while massive games and other complicated projects likely will simply exist as they are to be accessed through Flash Player or some future runtime capable of dealing with such content. Regardless – Flash Player is still supported across desktop browsers and Adobe does update the runtimes regularly with quarterly feature bearing releases… so legacy content will continue to run just fine for the foreseeable future.

When converting Flash to HTML5 should the user expect everything to convert or should they expect to do some clean up of the code?

Any ActionScript code that is present will by necessity have to be converted to JavaScript to run in the native web. Fortunately, for most projects, this is something that can be done fairly easily if you have an understanding or either language as both JavaScript and ActionScript are both dialects of the ECMAScript language specification. Most interactive content can be handled in this way.

There do, of course, exist other projects which are not ideal for conversion. For instance, I’ve written a number of incredibly video-centric applications targeting Flash Player which make use of RTMP video streaming protocols and additional APIs that exist on Adobe Media Server or something that relies upon BlazeDS data transfer protocols and methods. Functionality such as this is so reliant upon these other servers and services – and differs so wildly from what is pobble or manageable on alternate platforms that a simple conversion in Animate CC simply won’t cut it. The assets and user interface would convert just fine but we’d have to then explore additional technologies to augment what we are left with after the conversion process. While I’m sure there are many 3rd party libraries and additional servers that exist for performing similar functionality… this scenario would basically include a full-scale rewrite of the project. Luckily – most projects out there are no where near this level of complexity!

Additionally, much Flash content exists which is built upon the Apache Flex (formerly Adobe Flex) framework. Flex takes a different approach to design in that it is a platform which can combine MXML and visual content produced in Animate CC with ActionScript 3.0 within an external development environment like Flash Builder, JetBrains IntelliJ IDEA, or even Visual Studio Code from Microsoft. Since Flex projects are not based within Animate CC documents, the normal document conversion mechanisms present within Animate CC spoken of previously do not apply. However, contributors at Apache Flex have been building an alternate version of Flex branded as “FlexJS” which exists to solve this same problem. With FlexJS, you can write your content using MXML and ActionScript 3.0 and when ready, compile it to target both Flash Player and the native web browser through a process which converts the code into standard web technologies as HTML and JavaScript (very similar to how TypeScript is converted to JavaScript in Angular projects).

No matter what your approach is to existing Flash content – there is always a choice to be made and with the evolution of tools and frameworks at hand today… conversion really is possible at all levels if that is the desired route.

How to Keep Your Design Brain Happy – Find the Inspiration You Need, Relax, and Get Things Done

Creative Cloud

Designer’s block much?

Okay, a designer’s block is perhaps not a concept that’s widely known, and certainly not as much as its older brother – the dreaded writer’s block – something I’m more than familiar with from time to time. Nevertheless, it can be really serious, and, what’s worse, it can have a real impact on your career as a designer.

It all starts with a blank screen. It’s there. It’s looking at you. And you don’t know how to get started at all. Is it your fault? Have you put yourself through this? Is it your fault for not being able to snap out of it and finally get some work done?! – you’re asking yourself.

Well, the answer is twofold, on the one hand, yes, you are responsible for what’s going on. But on the other, it’s not something that just happened to you out of the blue, hence, you can learn how to avoid situations like that in the future. Or, better yet, put things into motion that will help you get work done more effectively even today.

In other words, if you want to learn how to keep your design brain happy, how to get your work done, how to be productive while staying inspired and not feel overworked, then you’re in the right place. We’re going to talk about all of this here.

Note; this article describes individual steps that you can take (one by one) to get inspired to do meaningful work and overcome any sort of a designer’s block. There’s a lot of stuff here, so I don’t expect you to introduce all of it into your workday right away. Even if you just get started with three or four methods, you should still observe a positive impact on your productivity.

In order of importance (my interpretation):

1. Start the Day by Doing Physical Exercise

Sorry, I know this isn’t a wellness blog and that we should be “all business” here, but the fact to the matter is that there’s no better way of keeping your most important muscle – your brain – in shape than by exercising your other muscles.

Not my words, science’s. It’s been proven that exercising is actually one of the few ways to generate new neurons. Basically, exercising makes you smarter.

So here’s what I want you to do. Every morning – can be after breakfast, can be before, your choice – start the day by doing 10 minutes of basic warm-up. Here are some exercise ideas.

This level of exercise has been proven to have tremendous benefits on our cognition and our brain’s ability to get ramped up in general. Some sources here and here – if you don’t believe me.

2. Introduce a Fixed Schedule

We’ve been lied to. Sorry.

The fairy tale about working as a designer, and particularly in a freelance setting, is that you can do your work whenever you wish, that it doesn’t matter where you’re doing the work from, that you get freedom, that you’re your own boss … and other nonsense like that.

The problem with this line of thinking, though, is that, as it turns out, having too many options actually leads us to feeling unhappy and to less productivity overall. This is something that’s discussed in The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz.

One of the proposed solutions to this paradox is to, (1) introduce a fixed schedule, and, to take it further, (2) always do specific types of tasks every day at the same hour. After a while, your brain adapts and gets itself ready for those specific activities. As a result, you’re at your peak performance when the time comes.

How can you utilize this principle? Some ideas:

  • always do brainstorming and planning in the morning, it’s when you’re the freshest and it’s also when your prefrontal cortex is the most active (the “creative” part of your brain),
  • do invoicing and other paper work in the evening,
  • do email just twice a day, rather than all the time,
  • see what other repeatable types of tasks you can find in your daily agenda.

3. Set a Maximum Number of Work Hours

Don’t work more than is optimal.

Some research (PDF) indicates that your output when working 70 hour weeks differs only slightly from when on 56 hour weeks. The same study argues that going above 50 hours in the first place gives you only marginal gains and isn’t generally worth it.

But even 50 hours seems like too much. Another research states that you can reach your maximum productivity when working even less than eight hours per day. The key is not the number of total work hours but how intense your work time is and how you go about taking breaks.

Which brings me to:

4. Use a Timer and Take Smart Breaks

An aforementioned research experiment argues that the total length of your workday is not as important in the grand scheme of things. What is important, though, is working smarter with frequent breaks.

What the researchers found was that people with the highest levels of productivity worked for around 50 minutes at a time and then took a 15(-ish) minute break.

During those breaks, they didn’t interact with a computer in any way. They didn’t browse YouTube, Facebook, etc. Instead, they went out for a walk or had a chat with a co-worker.

The easiest way to implement this principle is with a timer tool. My favorite one is called Timer. Really easy to use and gets the job done. Simplicity is key with a tool like that.

You can start by setting the timer to 50 minutes. When it buzzes, set it to 15 minutes and take your break. Repeat.

5. Don’t Multitask

Some studies argue that multitasking is more damaging to our productivity than smoking marijuana, no joke. Let me put this in other words, when multitasking, you’re actually less productive than someone who’s working under the influence of drugs.

Even though doing more than one task at a time is very tempting, and it seems like it should work, it’s actually a one-way path to frustration and getting none of your work done.

This is all due to the cost of switching between tasks. Another study says that when distracted, it takes you about 23 minutes to regain your previous mindset and be able to continue with the previous task. The problem with multitasking is that you’re basically switching between tasks all the time.

The solution is simple, do just one task at a time.

Eliminate distractions. If you find yourself visiting Facebook a bit too often, block it via a browser add-on. Some popular options include StayFocusd (Chrome), WasteNoTime (Safari), LeechBlock (Firefox).

6. Start with Warm-Up Tasks

No matter what your current design project is, it probably consists of some tasks that are less intensive or demanding, and other tasks that drain your brain power a bit more. The problem with the latter is that it’s very easy to procrastinate on them endlessly until your workday is basically over.

The way to get around this issue is to start the day with your less intensive tasks – tasks that don’t require that much of your brain processing power to get done. Dealing with them first will help you get your wheels rolling and get in the mood for work.

For a new design project, those might include: looking for relevant articles on the web as part of your research, getting all your materials in one place where you can access them easily, organizing your workspace, etc.

7. Do What’s Critical Next

Once you’re done with your warm-up tasks, it’s time to get working on what is actually critical for the project at hand. This is the core of the project – the stuff that absolutely needs to be done in order to move the project forward.

Doing your warm-up tasks immediately before helps you build up speed and thus be able to tackle the important stuff with complete focus. That way, you don’t need to artificially try getting yourself in the zone since you’ve already been working for a good chunk of time.

8. Consume Only the Minimum Information Needed

Being a designer requires you to have your finger on the pulse constantly, and always be on the lookout for new interesting trends, developments, methods, and tools.

However, doing too much of that can actually inhibit your ability to produce meaningful output. Here’s what I mean; the web is overloaded with information – it’s the one thing that’s truly abundant in this day and age.

What this means is that if you’re working on, say, a new logo design, and you’re looking for inspiration by googling “logo design trends,” then you’re up for an endless stream of roundup posts, tutorials, videos, and whatnots. Thus, making it difficult to finish the research phase, and finally start working on the actual design.

The way to deal with this is to allow yourself to consume just the minimum amount of information needed in order to get started on your task. Learn to say, “okay, that’s enough.”

Here’s how to do that:

  • Consume resources one by one and take action on them immediately. For example, when you stumble upon a nice roundup of logo design resources, think, “okay, how can I use this data right away,” and then do it. Only once you have taken action on the first resource, go to the next one.
  • Don’t consume information in advance – “oh, this might come in useful someday.” Usually, “someday” never comes.

9. Don’t Rely on Your Memory

Even though human brains have really impressive memory capacity – estimated to be at around 2.5 petabytes (2.5 million gigabytes or 13,000 MacBooks-worth), using this capacity to its fullest extent isn’t always effective. For instance, something called Miller’s Law states that the number of things that we can hold in our working memory is only about seven.

In practice, it turns out that we are much better at thinking about things – processing facts, drawing conclusions, coming up with ideas – than we are remembering things.

Therefore, don’t assume that you will be able to remember something that you have to do later that day or in a couple of days. Actually, don’t expect that you’re going to remember anything at all. Instead, write everything down. Put your notes in Evernote, or Apple Notes. Put your to-dos in a to-do manager. Put events in your calendar. And so on.

Being confident that everything has its place in a specific dedicated tool gives you an incredible peace of mind and allows you to focus on your work entirely, without having to worry about anything else.

10. Create an Effective Relaxation Habit

Effective relaxation habit might sound weird, but hear me out.

You shouldn’t just relax when you feel tired. It’s already too late when that happens. Instead, set fixed hours for relaxation – put it in your schedule like any other task.

This goes back to the idea of introducing a fixed schedule overall that we talked about earlier in this post. Your body simply adjusts to your relaxation schedule as well. This means that after a while, it starts anticipating and expecting the relaxation session that’s to come.

The best time to schedule your relaxation session is probably during the mid-day hump. Take a longer break then, say, 30 minutes. Take a nap if you’re one of the nap people.

Also, most importantly, change your “context” when relaxing.

Here’s what I mean by context; basically, when you’re working on a design project, you’re exercising the creative part of your brain, you’re using up your brain power by forcing it to process large amounts of similar data (all related to the project at hand). Therefore, the only way to truly relax is to change the context of what you’re doing entirely.

Let me give you an example, if you’re working on a website design, and then take a break during which you grab a book about design, then you’re not actually relaxing. Your brain is still in the same context – it’s thinking about design. To truly relax, change the context to either “physical” (take a walk, exercise) or “social” (chat with a co-worker, grab a coffee).

I would be careful with books and movies as relaxation in general, too. Even if you’re reading or watching fiction, your creative brain can still kick in and start analyzing the various elements of the book or movie experience that you’re having. “That’s a nice costume that this character has. And look at this set design!” … and your design brain is back at it again. “Social” and “physical” really can’t fail you.

Staying Productive as a Designer

Staying productive for long periods of time as a designer can be tough. There’s burnout, there’s designer’s block, and there are outside obstacles and distractions. Those hit all of us. Add to that the information overload that’s out there, and your day becomes even more stressful than it should be.

What you can do about all of this is take baby steps. Just one method and one habit at a time. Start with simple routines, introduce more as you go forward. Working on your productivity as a professional is never a one-off thing, and more of a continuous process. I hope that the 10 tips described here will help you get on the right track and keep your design brain happy!

Made You Look Twice: Playing with Perspectives and Materials

Creative Cloud

This month, we’re talking about artists who toy with balance, angles, and even unexpected materials to grab our attention—sometimes they make us smile, sometimes they leave us unsettled, but they always get us thinking.

Switching up our perspectives on iconic scenes.

Rich McCor is the clever mind behind paperboyo, where he experiments with perspectives and paper cutouts so we can see iconic places in unexpected ways. He’s turned the Arc de Triomphe into a Lego minifigure, the London Eye into a bicycle wheel, and the Eiffel Tower into a water slide, just to name a few.

Image courtesy of Rich McCor (@paperboyo)

Rich’s inspiration for paperboyo came from seeing so many of the same images on Instagram. “I remember seeing Big Ben pop up on my feed a lot and got a bit bored of the same vantage points being used over and over,” says Rich. Big Ben became his first project—he transformed it into a wristwatch.

Image courtesy of Rich McCor (@paperboyo)

Rich was also inspired by a fellow Instagrammer. “One of the first accounts I followed was @mattscutt, who is incredible at finding unique angles and perspectives on buildings. His style of photography made me think about exploring new angles and new vantage points. In the process of doing that you begin to see new shapes.”

While Rich’s images have a light, fun feel, a lot of work goes into finding unexpected angles and making them work. He pays close attention to finding the shoot locations and time of day, and he practice-doodles on printouts. But even then, things don’t always turn out—Rich estimates that for every ten ideas that go just right, two don’t pan out. “It can be a number of things—wind, scaffolding on the buildings, shadows, etc. I’ve learned to get better at judging what will and won’t work before I travel, and I’ve become more open to using Photoshop to manipulate my images—I mostly use it for focus blending.”

Through his work, Rich has discovered that a lot of people love to have their sense of perspective turned on its head. “People enjoy seeing the world in a new way. Someone described my photos as ‘smile-inducing’. That’s enough to make me want to keep on doing what I do.”

Image courtesy of Rich McCor (@paperboyo)

Making the material part of the message.

When it comes to adding an unexpected twist to a composition, designer Alex Palazzi is a master of materials: “I am always looking for material exploration in my work. I’ve used food, wax, plastics, and fabrics. It’s so interesting to play with materials that are really difficult to generate by computer like liquids, and viscous, sticky organics, and try to mix them to see what happens.”

With his approach to materials, Alex is able to create images that straddle the line between 2D and 3D. In a recent Adobe tutorial, he demonstrated how he designed a piece combining Adobe Stock images with his own photos of a homemade sticky substance. The substance — made with cheese, honey, and squid ink — lent a unique texture to the final product.

Image courtesy of Alex Palazzi

Sometimes, the results can be unsettling, like Alex’s series of letters — the font is Arial, the material is flesh. “All my life I have been a very slim guy but a few years ago I gained a lot of weight in a short period of time, so the inspiration for the project just came from the need to lose weight,” Alex explains. “I thought it would be a good idea to lose weight while making the letters to visualize font weights of the Arial typeface as human flesh. People’s reactions are different. Some people find it just gross, and some people find it grossly interesting.”

Image courtesy of Alex Palazzi

When he’s perusing stock images for an unusual material or image to try out, Alex usually starts with an idea in mind, but sometimes an idea comes from the search itself. His best tip for finding unexpected inspiration? Instead of searching by subject, try looking by color palette. And if you find an image you love but you want to transform the mood, Alex recommends some tweaking: “It’s all about Photoshop and color grading. I use a lot of mixed color lookups, LUTs, and blending mode color brushes to change the mood dramatically.”

For more on artists whose work gets us thinking, read about unusual and unsettling compositions, take a look at portraits that break the rules, and visit this month’s curated gallery of beautifully unbalanced compositions in Adobe Stock.