Design As Activity #2: More short exercises to break up formula

Published:  March 21, 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, pattern, type and greyscale.

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.

Texture sample by Veronica Grow

TEXTURE by Veronica Grow

Rick Valicenti has said, regarding texture:
“If you touch something, it is likely someone will feel it. If you feel something, it is likely someone will be touched.”

Challenge your own conceptions and formulas by using a ready-made texture (grass, fur, wood, frottage, mud, wall markings) to communicate something that isn’t traditionally textural: Absolute stillness.


  1. The texture cannot be rendered digitally, you must use analogue means.
  2. You can use up to 3 colours.
  3. The time limit is 20 minutes.


  1. Size and dimension are unrestrained.
  2. The ready-made textures can be natural or man-made, but must be found and not generated by you.

Veronica Grow is a design educator and communication design professional. Her thirteen years as an educator took her to Italy, Singapore and the Middle East, as well as an academic position in the Communication Design Program at RMIT as lecturer for six years. She now runs Old School New School for Design and Typography.

Pattern sample by Veronica Grow and Cristina Muffatti

TYPE by Flyn Tracy

Using the first letter of your last name, redraw that letter to visually communicate a human emotion that begins with the same letter. For example, from the surname ‘Adams’, the letter ‘a’ could be redrawn to visually communicate ‘anxiety’.

Beyond the subtleties of typographic forms, which effect the ‘sound’ of a word over many lines of text, how far can you manipulate the shape of the letter before it is no longer recognisable?


  1. The time limit is 20 minutes.


  1. There are no restrictions regarding colour, size or rendering.
  2. This doesn’t need to be a pixel perfect digital artwork.

‘Tenderness’, type sample by Flyn Tracy

Flyn Tracy describes what he does as ‘project management in the field of design’. Based in Sydney, he runs Tractor Design School, organises CreativeMornings/Sydney and forms part of the news team for Australian Infront.

GREYSCALE by Sean Hogan

With a severely restricted palette, depict the notion of time travel.

When communicating an idea that is already so well established in the minds of others, there comes a time where you have a decide whether to utilise the clichés to aid understanding, or to smash them and create a new understanding. This challenge can often be met by restricting ‘what’ there is to communicate, and decide on ‘how’, instead.


  1. You can use only circles and a greyscale colour palette (black, white and grey tones).
  2. Time limit of 30 minutes.


  1. There are no restrictions on size, or on how many circles you use.
  2. The circle does not have to be geometrically perfect, or complete.

Greyscale ‘timetravel’ sample by Sean Hogan

Sean Hogan is the director of boutique creative studio Trampoline where he works predominantly in the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, publishing, interior, environmental and exhibition design, music and fashion.

The first two exercises, written by Pat Bradbury and Wade Jeffree, have been published in part 1.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *