Even though computers have taken over just about everything in our daily lives, when it comes to graphic design, our most valuable players are still the pencil and paper. Sure, every project begins with words. But, when the rubber begins to meet the road, it’s the handy No.2 that gets us started on design.

You see, we can easily get trapped searching the web for ideas. We can lose valuable time following link after link in search of inspiration. And, to some degree, these online resources are very helpful. But, our best ideas come when we step away from the World Wide Web, stop following others, find a comfortable corner in the office and put graphite to paper. No distractions. No technical barriers. Total freedom for our minds to go anywhere we please. That’s where the originality comes from. And, that’s the way we like it.

I’m not suggesting that we don’t rely on software and the Internet. That would be crazy, since a lot of the info we need is out there. We do competitive analyses, industry research and more. We learn how others are presenting their businesses, so we can help our clients look like they belong. And we use that same research to uncover ways to distinguish them and help them make their mark. So, yes, our electronic world plays a very important role.

But, when it comes down to designing a logo, brochure or ad, it’s the flexibility that the pencil and its co-MVP, the eraser, brings that enables us to quickly explore and refine our ideas. We still go through dozens of thumbnail sketches just like the old days. (Some things never change.) There’s no way around it. No shortcuts. You must work through it. That’s where it all begins before the first design app is launched. We’re dealing with concepts at this stage. It’s too early to get bogged down with details like fonts and colors.

Sounds like we’re stuck in our old ways, huh? Sometimes a traditional approach is still the better one.

Focus on the Fundamentals

When you think about it, most things can be boiled down to simple concepts. Marketing communications is the same way. No matter what new apps, online tools and gimmicks come around, it still comes down to getting the right message to the right audience. The mechanisms and communications channels will continue to evolve, but the fundamentals will remain constant. People still buy for the same reasons.

To succeed in marketing, we need to avoid the distractions and focus on the fundamentals. We need to pull ourselves out of the bubble in which we live to see ourselves the way others see us. It’s this uncluttered view that helps bring the clarity and objectivity that lead us to a sound strategy.

Break Away from it All

If you find yourself getting trapped in your daily routine and losing perspective, leave the office for an afternoon. Meet a colleague for lunch. Visit clients to see how they’re doing. Take a walk in the park. Clear your mind of all the clutter and ask yourself why you’re doing this and why it still matters to your audience. And try to leave the electronic devices back at the office. When you return, you’ll have a fresher outlook and might even find yourself invigorated.

Oh, and be sure to take a pencil and paper with you. You might need them.

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