Creative Anarchy: How to Break the Rules of Graphic Design for Creative Success

When I was a designer of marketing communications in a former life, I was always on the lookout for great ideas that would wow my clients. As a student, I was educated in the rules of graphic design and typography, but not how to generate ideas, so I was left to my own devises. Over the years, I created numerous award-winning designs for clients, but it was always a struggle to generate great ideas. 

When I was asked to review Creative Anarchy by Denise Bosler, I was intrigued by the premise; the title is certainly provocative since creative anarchy is exactly what organizations try to avoid —and the blurb on the back cover is quite the come-on:

Creatives are taught the rules of design by mentors and professors. We are told what to do and how to do it. “Follow the rules and color within the lines,” they say. “Only use two fonts on a page and don’t make your logo too complicated,” they say. It’s time for us to tell them to shove it.

Good luck telling your clients to shove it. Is the author crazy?

With a raised eyebrow I delved into the book, which I must say, is very well designed. It’s loaded with pictures of great design in advertising, posters, branding, publications, and more, so it’s fun to browse through. Denise Bosler is clearly a master at her craft and lays out a solid crash course in design and typography, including:

  • A breakdown of 10 essential design rules
  • How to break rules for the sake of good design
  • Exercises to help clarify rule breaking methods
  • Idea-generation techniques

Trust me, you cannot be a rule-breaker in any discipline, including design, until you have mastered the basics. Only then can you push boundaries and transcend your craft. It’s hard work, but crucial to landing better clients and creatively challenging projects.

Bosler states,

The ability to push boundaries is a respected quality. It shows you are willing to go beyond the expected by demonstrating that you will invest time and creative strategy in a design concept. Boundary pushing proves that you are a thinker and a doer, not a follow-the-leader-er.

Bosler also advises designers to give clients a choice, ranging from the more conventional to the boundary-pushing, and I agree. If you want to push boundaries you need to walk clients through your process, and give them your reasoning for each option.

Bosler provides a valuable cheat sheet called the “Anarchist’s agreement to help you not only think through your anarchic impulses, but do your best work for your client. There are 11 agreements you cannot break, starting with #1, “I will listen to my clients goals,” #2, “I will diligently research the project,” and continuing on to #7, “I will never break a rule just for the sake of looking cool.” Sound advice.

Creative Anarchy also has excellent section on idea-generation techniques. Some of these are well known in the world of creative problem solving for business, and others are new to me, so I am curious to try them out.

I recommend Creative Anarchy to:

  • Graphic designers looking for design inspiration
  • Marketing & communications teams looking for creative exercises to help stimulate ideas
  • Anyone who wants to develop their visual thinking and typography skills

I wish I had Creative Anarchy as a resource when I was a designer.