Once upon a time, I worked in the world of advertising. If you’re old enough, you’ll recall that the state of the Internet a decade ago could be described as “immature” and “pretty damn ugly” in terms of aesthetic and function. As a young designer in the new millenium, I saw more compelling experiences being created in traditional advertising than on the worldwide web, to say the least. From graffiti-inspired underground hip-hop albums, to imaginative editorial layouts and experimental billboards, to innovative ad campaigns—my mind was blown almost daily by the deluge of wildly creative design.

The billboards of the '80s were rife with unique inspiration that also drew on the past for creative fodder—notice the WWII-era I Want You message and imagery being repurposed.

When I say, “creative,” I’m talking about innovative, original thinking. As designers, we get to work with elements like typography, color, layout, unity, harmony, and balance every day. But sometimes you get it “just right” and it keeps people talking for years.

Today the web looks much different. The overall utility and aesthetic of the web has improved dramatically, making it harder and harder to come up with something compelling. 

To keep your creative tank full, try referencing designs of a bygone era.

Creating enterprise-level marketing sites that are beyond ordinary is, well, tough. There is a level of professionalism and corporate-feel that mature clients demand and the execution of these marketing sites tend to look and say the same thing. Enterprise-level clients aren’t the only ones at fault for this, though. Digital agencies have been called out for their own websites all looking the same. DT is even among the many that have fallen into this trend.

Where do we go from here? Where has the creativity gone? 

I think a big part of the problem is “inspiration overload” via the Internet.

Let me explain… Prior to the Internet, design annuals and award shows were released semi-annually, or quarterly at best. This was when the design industry got inspired by the best work out there, but in between, they got inspired elsewhere and were forced to think a little… before copying the first thing they saw. Now, we have daily “inspiration” from Dribbble, Awwwards, Behance, siteinspire, Designer News, etcetera, etcetera. It’s hard to open your browser without seeing all of the best work that you, as a designer are supposed to be creating. Don’t get me wrong, the Internet is amazing for keeping up with modern design trends, possibilities and UX best practices. But it’s too easy to just Frankenstein a design out of all the best work you like from screenshots of all the best sites you see every day.

To keep your creative tank full, try referencing designs of a bygone era.

Looking to the Past…

I recently attended “A List Apart” here in San Diego where I saw Jen Simmons give a talk about modern layouts and getting out of our design ruts. She saw the same problem. Because of inspiration overload and responsive design, we are surrounded by boxy, predictable websites. She then reminds us that, “there is a world of graphic design that’s older than the web.” She turns to magazine layouts, where beautiful and experimental design brings the pages to life. Crazy text wraps, tilted text, text in the form of shapes, startling photography, huge headlines, text columns.

If we are aware of what can be done, we can start experimenting more.

So much of that inspired editorial design has been lost on the web, but with CSS, it’s now possible. The takeaway is that if we—as designers and developers and marketers—are aware of what can be done, we can start to move past grid-restricted layouts.

5 Beautifully Inspirational Magazine Layouts


Escapades magazine

Based in United Arab Emirates, Escapades magazine offers amazing layout inspiration through the lense of gorgeous travel photography and exposés. Whether this magazine inspires you to experience the uncharted, the unique and the unassuming or whether it inspires you to craft user experiences that are unique by charting uncharted “design waters,” take a peek…


Snap magazine

Snap is a digital magazine with more than 700K downloads to date. According to the site’s page, the magazine “showcases the driving forces behind global creative culture and explores provocative new ways to interpret the beauty around us.” Whoa. If that alone doesn’t inspire you, well, then take a gander at their amazing layouts.


Nylon magazine

To be honest, I don’t actually read this magazine, since it’s primarily focused towards the female of the species, but man, the layouts in Nylon are edgy, razor-sharp and surprisingly on-point. This isn’t your typical girly-girl magazine. It may focus on fashion and makeup, but it’s geared for the coolest chick at Coachella or Burning Man.


Futureclaw magazine

Futureclaw is the epitome of avant garde. Yes, it’s frequency of publication is erratic at best, but it does have a deep following in the high-end fashion realm where fashion photographers, designers and models revel in its simplistic layouts that use text and imagery in sparse ways to make an outstanding impact!


The V magazine

This magazine self-proclaims that it’s “about fashion with a capital F and all the things that go with it: art, music, film, architecture…you name it.” And the explosion of all that is right there on their homepage, and more importantly, their magazine layouts, which are imaginative, futuristic and use photography to create interesting graphics.

Reinventing Web Design Using Advertising Ethos

I’d like to point to another industry that we can learn from. In advertising, it’s not about “we,” it’s about “you.” Some of the greatest ads of all time are still remembered today. That’s because they did more than look cool or trendy: They told a story, built a brand and resonated with people.

Think of your audience and what’s in it for them.

What is it that your users or visitors want and how can you make yourself memorable to them?

Web designers often neglect to craft that creative vision. We forget to seize the opportunity to tell a story. If you take the ingredients of a typical marketing site’s “above the fold” or cover page, you’ll find the same ingredients that exist in a print ad: Headline, body copy, logo, image, call to action.

But how many times have you seen this on an enterprise marketing site: Blue-tone image of people working or cityscape or office environment with a white headline that reads, “We… blah blah blah blah.” 

Let’s take a peek at some classic ads from theMad Menera and beyond. There’s nothing cookie-cutter about these big brand ads.

6 Classically Awesome Print Adverts


Nike Air Max

Nike has undoubtedly been a driving force in the advertising world for decades. Their ads have exuded a highly stylized look-and-feel-and-tone that they’ve successfully evolved with each passing year. I loved this era of Nike adverts… They don’t use this format exactly as much, but can you imagine doing this on a homepage with moving gifs of each version of this athlete?


Apple Macintosh

Dude, I had one of these puppies when I was a youngster. I think all it did successfully was allow me to play “Oregon Trail” and thereby “die” of diphtheria and diarrhea on a regular basis, but boy, did I think I was such a cool kid every time I booted it up. This ad hails from 1984 and really drives home why I felt so cool back then with my Macintosh…


American Express

Remember way back when, when Amex did those fun celebrity endorsement campaigns? The Ellen Degeneres ones were quite funny, like this one shown here. I mean, come on, playing poker with your pooch: priceless. Oh, that’s a different credit card’s slogan—pssht, whatever, it’s My Life… (See what I did there?)



Corona’s well known for showing many of their print and even television advertisements with Coronas sweating profusely as they lounge on a tropical beach, and those limes—they’re never far from their beer counterpart. This is one of Corona’s classic ads that’s simple and unobtrusive, yet really compelling. You gain a lot of brand awareness with this type of presentation.


Durex Condoms

Durex was great at pushing the envelope in a time when envelopes that were being pushed weren’t being talked about all that much. This advert is so compelling because of its simplicity of its imagery. You don’t need to say much to encourage someone to use a superior condom, clearly.


Volkswagen, Think Small campaign

VW’s “Think Small” campaign from the 1960s is a perfect example of using a unique rhetorical approach to sell—flipping the argument against the autos and making it positive. It’s an interesting method of combining the “bandwagon” mentality with an appeal to readers’ funny bone.

Quick ‘n’ Dirty Tips To Help Boost Your Creative Output:

Instead of crafting a design that’s copy-pasted using old copy from a client’s old site content which (looks and) feels more putting lipstick on a pig…

With the right content, a design comes to life in so many unexpected ways… ways that you may never approach if you simply look to Dribbble for direction.

Remember: You have only a few seconds before your site visitors either scroll for more or go to the next site. You have to be different. Make your design stand out like a beautiful editorial layout. Start with an idea to make your message and imagery memorable—like a great, classic ad. Push yourself to be better than the rest. Apply some thinking to your work. There is a huge opportunity to make marketing sites innovative, creative and different, and these opportunities may be more easily found by looking to the past to inform your creative output today.