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.

Give weight to paper

George Adams, senior designer, NB Studio

We recently worked with the University of Oxford to update their fundraising campaign report (right). It was to be sent to over 170,000 alumni worldwide, so it needed to be printed on a lightweight stock to keep postage costs down. We settled on a bible-type paper stock.

The importance of blind testing

Michael Smith, Cog Design

The quality and weight of the paper you print on can make or break your piece of communication. As an experiment, take three very different, blank sheets of A5 paper and put them in an envelope. Blindfold a client or colleague and ask them to open the envelope and explain what each ‘leaflet’ might be advertising. You’ll be amazed at how much people will read into feedback from their sense of touch.

Get to know the printing process

Michael C Place, creative director, Build

A little knowledge of printing can go a long way to making a good project a great one and can help you stretch a small budget. Learn the process, meet the printers, go on site. Think about using overprinting; two colours can make three colours, three make seven. Be clever and the results can amaze.

Build Studio at the printers

Use materials to trigger emotional reactions

Jamie Ellul, director, Magpie Studio

Choosing the right materials is as integral to the execution of an idea as the choice of typeface, words [and] imagery. Paper and print can be used in a way that adds to the recipient’s emotional reaction. If you want it to look and feel not-for-profit, use a recycled board and print in one colour. If you want a brochure to signify that a company is the best in the business and their price tag is justified, then throw the kitchen sink at it.

Sometimes it’s good to be frugal

Adam Giles, creative director, Interabang

Lavish brochures are increasingly a thing of the past, and you can turn today’s constraints into a virtue. When faced with a limited production budget for a recent annual review, we kept the document loose-bound. This reduced costs, and by borrowing the feel of a newspaper it put across the idea that the review addressed current issues of importance.