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.

Plan your shoots

Rebecca Johnson, designer, Studio Output

Studio Output shot of former X-Factor singer Cher Lloyd

If you are doing your own photo shoot, think about the content and the message. Do scamps before the shoot so you know what you want to achieve, and think about where the images are going to be used. Don’t shoot everything in portrait orientation if you’re producing an A4 landscape brochure. studio-output.com

Shoot in-house

Chris Harrison, founder, Harrison & Co

Try shooting your own project photography: it will improve your thinking and the originality of your solution. I often set up simple shoots for small-budget projects, sometimes using available light or portable studio lights. If you need to commission a full-on shoot, involve the photographer early on – then they’ll take your ideas and really make them sing. harrisonandco.com

Trust in the photographer

Brian Webb, designer, Webb & Webb Design

The idea you have for a picture never quite looks the same when you look through the lens. Work with the photographer to create the best possible shot, not a substandard version of what you imagined. webbandwebb.co.uk

Make smart use of stock

Simon Elliott, partner, Rose Design

Stock photography has a bad rep, some of it justified, especially with hideously clichéd corporate imagery and other photographic equivalents of clip art. However, a lot of the image problem is down to laziness among designers, who can resort to stock photos as an easy option. You need a clear brief as to what sort of stock image to look for, and what you want it to say. Be selective and discerning, and have a good eye for what makes a well-taken photo. Stock photos will often need cropping, too, in order to focus on the aspect most relevant to your brief. rosedesign.co.uk

Build relationships with illustrators

James Hurst, Cure Studio

Programme for the Igniting Ambition 2010 festival, by Studio Output

Working with an illustrator should be a rewarding experience for them, you and the client. It’s an opportunity to articulate a message with a defined look, and create something memorable and unique. Commissioning an illustrator successfully is about building a relationship and working with them in an open and honest way. It’s worth rereading a brief before you send it to an illustrator and trying to imagine how you would respond – does it match up with what you actually want? curestudio.com

Photos must work together

Brian Webb, designer, Webb & Webb Design

When choosing photographs for a layout, get them to ‘talk’ to each other. Go for pictures of a similar scale or play large and small subjects off against each other. Make the reader turn over the page to see what’s next. webbandwebb.co.uk