Whether you’re a designer, a MAS consultant or both, maintaining creativity, and oftentimes, going beyond the status quo remains crucial for maintaining relevancy, competitiveness and success. So is looking for inspiration beyond your normal sources.

Vigor Branding Joseph SzalaJoseph SzalaRestaurant and foodservice branding expert and designer Joseph Szala, founder of Atlanta-based Vigor Branding, shares his tips on keeping his creative engine churning. These tips are just the tipping point when it comes to finding ways to recharge our bodies and brains as the new year begins.

Stay ahead of the curve

Szala, like many of us, likes to take this time of year to scope out upcoming trends. What he’s seeing in particular when it comes to design trends is a return to the post-modern world of design, with more casual and frilly designs from the 50s and 60s coming back into play and challenging the status quo after a decade of more minimalist, refined design.

“I think people are really looking for throwbacks and something familiar, even if it challenges the old standards in terms of what makes good design,” Szala says. “In the last several years, some of the heart and soul was stripped out of food and beverage experiences in exchange for consistency, dependability and quality, and we ended up with looks that were very refined, but it seems that designers these days want restaurants to feel more approachable and warmer and happy.” Whether that’s in the form of statement furniture and a few extra frills, or in the form of a mom-and-pop approach featuring eclectic pieces and a fear-not of a little shab, “trending designs are ones that communicate a vide and personality.” Szala points out Chef Ford Fry’s restaurants in Atlanta, all of which feature very different and curated designs with eclectic, fun and funky touches.

Another ongoing trend, Szala notes, is digital. This year, designers will be especially tasked on how to incorporate digital technologies, like kiosk ordering, seamlessly into the design of the space. “We are still finding ways to integrate digital with the physical experience, so we have to think more creatively and figure out a more beautiful way to integrate an ordering kiosk, for example, into the millwork rather than just plop a machine on a table. I think everyone is still trying to crack that code.”

Scroll the Web

Social media sites Instagram and Pinterest offer plentiful photos and examples when it comes to finding inspiration for new designs and ideas. “Once you follow one or two people or companies on Instagram, the app will start to give you more suggestions and it will just flow from there,” says Szala. He also likes to look around on DesignInspiration, which is essentially a “Pinterest-like” roster of photographs of interiors from design projects around the world.

Szala also follows and contributes to, Behance, a collective of portfolios from designers, photographers and other artists from around the globe. By uploading his own portfolio to the site, he’s been able to connect with other designers, which has even led to work-related collaborations.

“I find a lot of my creativity and inspiration comes from other disciplines, so I enjoy looking at videos and art outside of my core focus,” says Szala. “When we look outside of our box, it’s easier to see amazing ideas that maybe we have never before thought of.” All of this new idea searching even led Szala to start his own website about seven years ago. Grits and Grids highlights, analyzes and critiques unique and interesting design projects from all over the world.

Collaborate with New People and Partners

Perhaps it’s a bit easier said than done, but finding and working with new people and players in the industry (or outside of it) can help boost creativity and lead to new and exciting ideas and projects, says Szala. He’s found new collaborators through Behance.net, and most recently, partnered with a local architecture and business design firm to give a Vietnamese restaurant client an interior design uplift that could also tastefully incorporate some of the branding work his team conducted.

“Bringing new creatives into the fold, even if it’s just for one project, can be really beneficial to the completed work,” Szala says. “Collaboration can be challenging because there is often a sense of ownership, but when we are able to put egos aside and share ideas with open and honest — not defensive or condescending — feedback, that warm and welcoming partnership begets great results.

Eat out and travel more

Szala admits this advice sounds cliche, but it remains a huge source of inspiration for creativity for him. “There is just no way to replicate the feeling of being in a new place,” he says. When traveling to a new city, Szala likes to research restaurants ahead of time, but also simply walk around and stumble upon places he finds intriguing.

Traveling to new cities and places also helps Szala learn about other cultures, which he can then incorporate into his designs and ideas, or leverage to connect with different restaurant owner clients. “I would argue that almost every memorable moment in our lives involved food and beverage so I don’t underestimate the importance of getting out there as often as I can,” he says.

Reenergize yourself

This also sounds cliche, Szala says, but he finds his most creative surges come when he follows a regular exercise and healthy eating regimen. “Exercising has an incredible impact on our creativity because it forces us to shift our brains to the right side,” he says. Eating enriching foods also helps clear out the cobwebs.

While Szala uses exercise as a way to relax and recharge his brain, any other outside activity could also do the trick, whether that’s taking up another physical hobby like painting, drawing and coloring, and in his case, cooking.

“I love cooking because I can flex my creative muscles by figuring out how to combine flavors or learn a recipe and improve upon it. Even just the beauty of precision that comes with knife skills can offer an outlet for creative thinking, not to mention ability to build respect for whom we work with,” he says.