Design As Activity #1: Short exercises to break up formula

Published:  March 19, 2014

In fast-paced studios, the design process can take a battering. In order to complete a job on time and to satisfaction, a compromise is often struck between the creative excellence that may push the client but eat up time, and good work that is guaranteed to be immediately client approved. If time is not the issue, creative lethargy can still be a symptom of repetitive projects and soulless campaigns.

But it is the designer’s prerogative to challenge themselves where the workplace may not. While it is common among designers to have side projects and moonlight interests, sometimes the added strain can only add to the fatigue. We asked 5 designers to construct very quick, basic, stimulating exercises, accessible to the skill sets of students and professionals alike, that aim to reinvigorate the way you think, create an image and communicate an idea, in 5 modes: composition, texture, type, pattern and shape.

Each activity has been trialled by its inventor. You are invited to have a go and email the work to us at, where we will be collating and publishing select results online, open to sharing and commenting.

‘Metal’ flag by Wade Jeffree

COMPOSITION by Wade Jeffree

Create three flags abstractly representing three different music genres.

The genres selected are to include two that you actively listen to and one you dislike and would rather never listen to again.

The constraints outweigh the considerations, but as Stefan Sagmeister has said many times, “Constraints are good in general. Limited freedom is a very difficult place to work in”.


  1. You have a limit of 15 minutes per flag
  2. You can only use basic, flat shapes. (Circle, square, triangle and rectangle)
  3. Maximum of 4 flat colours
  4. No distinct symbology can be used.


  1. Format can change and be altered to what you feel is relevant.
  2. You can employ other techniques, such as patterning.

‘Christmas Carol’ flag by Wade Jeffree

‘Techno’ flag by Wade Jeffree

Wade Jeffree is an Australian graphic designer currently working at Sagmeister & Walsh in New York. 

Flag rendering: Moritz Resl –

PATTERN by Pat Bradbury

Cut a basic shape (circle, square, rectangle, triangle) out of an A4 piece of paper a number of times and arrange a repeat pattern.

When creating a pattern, you are very aware of the spaces that are absent of shapes as much as you are aware of the shape itself. Cutting these shapes out of paper is a great way to have physical offcuts that you have to consider.


  1. You can only cut out one selected shape, but as many times as you wish.
  2. You can use one colour and the white of the A4 sheet only.
  3. All of the shapes and offcuts must be used, you cannot discard any paper.
  4. You have 20 minutes from start to finish.


  1. The size of the shapes can alter, as long as they are the same shape.
  2. The finished piece is not restricted in size or dimension.

Pat Bradbury’s pattern

Pat Bradbury is a UK based Illustrator and image maker. He has just returned from living in Vietnam and is currently trying to feed his experiences into his work. 

The following three exercises, written by Veronica Grow, Sean Hogan and Flyn Tracy, will be published on Friday 21st March.


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