Whether you’re fresh out of university or the creative director of a huge studio, some days there will be a sneaky problem that you just can’t solve. Improving your skill in transforming a brief (and a blank piece of paper) into an engaging, beautiful and effective design is a never-ending task – often aided by a little outside inspiration.

We spoke to some of the most successful graphic designers and upcoming talents to mine their collective knowledge for tips, ideas and new approaches that will help you hone your craft and beat creative block.

Step away from the screen

James Hurst, director, Cure Studio

Work with pen and paper. The more you do off the computer, the less constrained you will be by pixel perfection. When the shape of a design is ready and there is an idea, the computer becomes a bit useful. Idea first, grid last. curestudio.com

Divide and rule

Brian Webb, designer, Webb & Webb Design

There’s no accounting for how people read – from beginning to end without a break; flicking through from the back; scanning words and pictures. Build some signposts into your layouts, such as subheads in long text, descriptive captions to help the reader or images to break up the text. webbandwebb.co.uk

Use a 12-column grid

Rebecca Johnson, designer, Studio Output

A great starting point is to work with a 12-column grid. This allows a great deal of flexibility, as it can be divided easily into a good number of proportional combinations. Once you’re confident with laying out content in this grid, look at how this can be broken and thrown off-kilter to disguise it – area division can appear loose yet formalised, page furniture can flow over images, and content can run off edges. studio-output.com

Sort out your priorities

Simon Elliott, partner, Rose Design

It’s essential to have a hierarchy of visual elements. Without one, it’s a bit like all the instruments in an orchestra playing at the same time and volume: a mess. Not only that, but many clients start out with lots of messages and images, and they are convinced all are equally important. Help them see things from their audience’s perspective, to identify what’s most important, what can take a more secondary role, and – where possible – what could be removed and kept for another, more appropriate piece of communication. rosedesign.co.uk

Communication over decoration

Michael Smith, director, Cog Design

Commercial posters are not art prints. Your clients are investing in you because they want their audience to do something – buy beans, book tickets, think differently about a political party. As well creating as a stunning, engaging design, remember the basics of communication. Don’t forget to include the details – what a product or event is, when an event is happening, how to book tickets etc. cogdesign.com