Mar 16

Photo by Paula May on Unsplash

Whether we’re working on a passion project or just doing our job, the day-to-day life of an ad agency creative comes with a unique set of ups and downs. There are times when the ideas flow forth like a river, pouring out of us and into the world effortlessly and with joyful abandon, as free and easy as the mighty Mississippi. Then, there are times when we sit and stare at a blank page for what feels like eons, and yet nothing comes to mind.

In a perfect world, we’d be able to turn the inspiration on at will, the way we turn on a faucet. Sadly, the world is far from perfect, and the reality is that creative blocks happen to the best of us. Here, we share five ways to overcome them and get back in the flow.

1. Take a Break

Ever wonder why your best ideas always come to you in the shower, or right as you’re falling asleep? As it turns out, science has the answer. Our brains are better at coming up with new ideas while we’re doing activities that don’t require a lot of attention, like showering. Forcing yourself to focus may actually impede your brain’s ability to make new connections, which ends up being totally counterproductive in trying to overcome a creative block.

So, rather than attempting to power through by sheer force of will, step away from your workstation and do something else for a while. Take a walk, grab a snack, or hop in the shower—a change of scene might be just the thing to get those creative gears turning again.

2. Exercise

When it comes to clearing the cobwebs from your mind, few things can beat a good workout! Hitting the gym for a few quick reps could be the key to busting out of your creative block. There’s no need to get sweaty, however; even mild physical activities like walking or yoga have been shown to enhance cognitive performance on creative tasks.

3. Use a Different Approach

While routines and rituals are necessary and helpful in many ways, getting caught up in the same old patterns can impede creative thinking. When the usual methods aren’t working and you’re feeling stuck, trying out a new approach can make a big difference. Sitting down with a page from an adult coloring book, for example, is a fun and effective way to restart a stalled design process.

4. Write in a Journal

Journaling is seriously awesome in a whole host of ways, from providing an emotional outlet to fostering an organized life. Even if you’re not into touchy-feely stuff or keeping a detailed record of your daily habits, writing your thoughts down is a worthy activity that can help you push through a creative block.

Try writing a pure stream of consciousness in a notebook or word processor. While you may not end up with anything resembling a finished product, you might find some true pearls of wisdom alongside ruminations on the subject of what you’d like to have for lunch later.

5. Find Inspiration Elsewhere

Sometimes when we’re feeling blank, the best inspiration comes from external sources. Activities such as reading a favorite book, visiting an art museum, trying a new restaurant or coffee shop, listening to music, or watching a really good TED Talk can provide the spark needed to jumpstart the creative process. Keep a notebook handy so you can jot down any ideas that may surface while you enjoy the work of other artists.

Occasionally, no matter what you do, the block stays stubbornly put, in which case you may want to dig a little deeper to discover what kind of block it is and how to beat it. At Oblique, we usually find that a combination of all five strategies (plus a little rinse and repeat) does the trick, leaving us refreshed and ready to tackle our next project. Do you have your own tried-and-true technique for beating a creative block? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Mar 6


In our increasingly digital society, Americans are more connected than ever before, and yet miscommunications in our professional and personal lives run rampant. We’ve all been there: you send someone an email, and 20 minutes later they reply with something stunningly irrelevant to what you actually said, leaving you feeling confused, frustrated, and unheard. As it turns out, a lot of us really love to talk, but we’re not that great at listening to each other.

When talking to people is your job, however, you learn a thing or two about effective communication strategies. In her 2015 talk at TEDxCreativeCoast, radio journalist Celeste Headlee shares some of the expertise she’s gained from two decades on the air, giving us 10 ways to have a better conversation. Inspired by Headlee’s insights, we got to thinking about how better communication leads to better design.

Of all the lessons outlined within Headlee’s speech, the most salient is to just LISTEN. In fact, the act of listening underpins the majority of her points, which include tips for staying present during a conversation and resisting the urge to come up with what you’re going to say next. Everyone’s experiences are different, so assume that you have something to learn from each person you interact with. “Go out, talk to people, listen to people,” says Headlee. “And, most importantly, be prepared to be amazed.”

We considered how these principles apply to our Boulder interactive agency. When you think about it, graphic design is actually a fantastic exercise in listening. We sit down with people to discover their visions for their brand or business, and then we set to bringing those ideas to life.

The process of creating a logo, for example, hinges entirely upon listening attentively to what the client wants and needs. By asking the right questions, listening to a client’s responses, and clarifying any murky details, we’re able to translate their ideas into a visual element that both looks appealing and represents their values.

Making an effort to really connect with people and listen to what they have to say is what sets great agencies apart from the rest. Advertising and marketing are all about reflecting people’s needs back to them in ways that feel authentic and meaningful enough to get first, their attention, and second, their loyalty. It’s why we put so much effort into understanding our clients and their customers—at the end of the day, we want to create something great, but we also want to create something that resonates with people.

Good design is all about making people feel heard by taking abstract concepts and shaping them into something concrete. To that end, we believe that listening is one of the most important skills you can develop, both personally and professionally. Celeste Headlee has it right when she says, “If you can’t [listen], then you’re not in a conversation. You’re just two people shouting out barely related sentences in the same place.” Don’t make that mistake! It’s never too late to learn to listen.

Feb 13

As a creative design and advertising agency, we’re always on the lookout for quality inspiration. Luckily, we are blessed to live in the same world as Tina Roth Eisenberg, a Swiss-born NYC designer better known as swissmiss, after her Twitter handle and the name of her immensely popular design blog. In addition to running her blog since 2005, she’s founded numerous successful ventures, including Creative Mornings, a monthly lecture series which now has chapters all over the world; FRIENDS (formerly Studiomates), a creative co-working space; TeuxDeux, a to-do app; and Tattly, a line of designer temporary tattoos. Oh, and did we mention she’s a mother of two? Tina is basically Wonder Woman.

It’s not surprising, then, that when Tina delivers a talk, it’s packed with enough positive energy and enthusiasm to keep us feeling fired up for days. We recently revisited her Interactive Keynote at SXSW 2013, in which she shares how she found her way to success and fulfillment by following these 11 rules to live by.

1. Invest your life in what you love.
Life’s too short to spend it doing something you’re not passionate about. Finding joy in what you do, whether it’s working with animals, raising children, or designing beautiful packaging, makes getting out of bed every day so much more worth it. When you’re chasing your dreams, even the challenges are less like obstacles and more like puzzles waiting to be solved.

2. Embrace enthusiasm.
When you get ridiculously excited about something, that’s a major clue pointing toward what you find most important. Plus, gratitude is good for you, and celebrating life’s little victories is a surefire way to stay positive.

3. Don’t complain. Make things better.
Have a problem? Tina says you can either do something about it, or let it go. If you’re unhappy with some aspect of your life, your job, or society itself, you have a choice: work to change it or accept it. LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy said it best: “The best way to complain is to make things.”

4. Trust and empower.
This rule is all about sharing responsibility with others. As creative types, it’s easy to want to control every single aspect of a project, to the point of overwhelming ourselves and becoming miserable. Tina advises us control freaks (raise your hands… yeah, us too) to delegate some tasks to others, and trust in their abilities to get them done right.

5. Experiences > money.
Everybody wants to make it big, but a high-paying job isn’t everything. Sometimes doing what you love, even if it isn’t particularly lucrative, opens the door to financial success farther down the road. This means accepting the occasional pro-bono contract for that company you really admire, or maybe taking a job at a startup instead of a big corporation. “When things fall into place, it’s the universe telling you to keep going,” Tina says.

6. Surround yourself with likeminded people.
Remember being in high school, when your parents were worried about you falling in with “the wrong crowd”? Turns out, they were right: when you hang around unmotivated people, you’re more likely to stay unmotivated yourself. Conversely, when you spend your time with people who share your goals—for us, creative individuals involved in design and advertising agencies—your talents will blossom.

7. Collaborate.
Check your ego at the door and make room for other people’s ideas. In Tina’s case, it led to the creation of the highly successful iPhone app, TeuxDeux. You never know what might happen if you collaborate! It could be magic.

8. Ignore haters.
In the immortal words of 3LW, “Haters gonna hate.” Most likely, there’s going to be someone out there who thinks your time could be better spent than by following your bliss. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life! Throw on some shades and wave buh-bye to that nonsense.

9. Make time to think and breathe.
When you’re a driven, ambitious person, especially in a competitive industry like design, it can be hard to take some time for yourself. Even when you finally decide to take a mini-vacation over a long weekend, ignoring those mounting notifications on your smartphone can prove exceptionally difficult. Tina’s here to tell you, chill out. Take a break. You can’t be your best unless you give yourself time to relax.

10. If an opportunity scares you, take it.
Sometimes the things that scare us the most are the things we absolutely must do. Quit that job you hate. Write a pitch to that brand you admire. Accept that invitation to give a keynote speech at SXSW. If you stay in your comfort zone forever, you’ll never give yourself the chance to grow.

11. Be someone’s eccentric aunt.
In her hometown in Switzerland, Tina found some of her earliest inspiration by spending time with her aunt, a fashion designer and all-around creative. The experiences she shared with her aunt gave her the encouragement she needed to pursue her dream of becoming a designer. Be the eccentric aunt, and help someone realize their dreams can become reality.

The best thing about these rules is that they can be applied to any part of your life, whether personal or professional. So, are you ready to conquer the world? We know we are!

Dec 1

There are few things more memorable than a person’s voice. You could hear a voice you haven’t heard in 10 years and instantly recognize the face it belongs to. Every voice is different and your unique voice conveys who you are, or at least who you want people to see you as, to the world. We achieve this through our inflection, our tone and the things we say and how we say them. Just as we as people shape perceptions of who we are through our voice, brands connect with their fans and customers by creating a brand voice that appeals to their unique audience.

Think of your favorite brands and ask yourself why you love them. What is it about the brand that you connect with? Is it their dedication to a specific cause? Or the benefit you get from using their product? Or, is it simply that you love their personality and the way they just seem to “get you”? Good brands achieve all three. What you may not realize is that two of these three things are a part of the brand’s voice and have likely been carefully crafted in order to win your love. With that in mind, ask yourself just how important brand voice is. Would you love that brand so much if they didn’t support your favorite cause? Would you feel any affinity toward them if they didn’t seem like a brand you could trust? Yeah they’d have a great product, and maybe you’d buy it, but you might just as likely buy their competitor’s product, because you would have no sense of brand loyalty.

At Oblique, our sweet spot is creating brands. We design killer logos and come up with clever names and also help identify the brand’s voice. What would your brand be without a distinctive voice? Brand loyalty is more important than ever with so many competitors crowding the market in all industries. Without a voice to communicate to your customers, you risk being overlooked or forgotten when it comes time to make a purchase. Not quite sure what your brand voice would sound like? We’ll help you find it. We can’t wait to meet your brand and hear what it has to say.

Nov 11


There has been a lot of talk inside the creative design team at Oblique about the idea of inspiration. Who and what inspires us? Why is inspiration important? Where do you find inspiration?

We realized that although everyone is different in their tastes and origin of inspiration, we all agree that it is very important as a creative to feel inspired by what others are doing around us. At Oblique, we want to be both inspiring and inspired by those around us.

Who inspires us?

Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo has once stated that when she needs to make the right decision, she likes to “surround myself with the smartest people who challenge you to think about things in new ways, and do something you are not ready to do so you can learn the most.”

Marissa’s idea speaks directly to us here at Oblique. The main source of our inspiration and mentors that we look up to are those who are challenging the status quo and not afraid to do so (or even if they are afraid, they are still brave enough to do it anyway). Those who have the passion and motivation to create the world they want to be a part of are the people and projects we at Oblique most gravitate towards.

The experience levels may be different here at Oblique, but it has been interesting to see over the last few years how much all of us inspire each other. One of the perks of being in a small agency is that we have the flexibility with our design thinking, and we have the ability to be creatively agile with our clients. We can experiment with inspiration more than a larger agency might because they tend to have more boundaries and guidelines to follow.

We asked Oblique’s Kelsey (Designer) and Natalie (Senior Designer) to name a few other people they are inspired by:

Natalie: “I was more drawn to past artists that I consider to be designers – I was obsessed with Russian constructivism and their poster art as well as Bauhaus when I was first getting into design. But recently I’ve been really inspired by designers like Mike Perry, Jacob Eisinger or the designers of LAND, who are all absolutely brilliant.”

Kelsey: “There are so many people that have inspired me over the years. But to name a few, Tina Roth Eisenburg (aka swiss-miss) has always been someone I look up to and was someone who inspired me to push outside of my comfort zone when I was first getting started. I’m also a HUGE Aaron Draplin, Jessica Hische, and Gemma Obrien fan. All brilliant designers and people that have always motivated me to work as hard as I possibly can and to always push the status quo of design.”

What inspires our creative design agency as a whole?

 While inspiration is extremely subjective,. we found that very commonly we are inspired by certain projects, websites, packaging, etc. not only because they are beautifully designed, but more importantly because they are creating a new solution that has never been done before. We are drawn to People in the design world who are creating a movement with their innovative thinking. Even though we might not have the freedom to be as experimental as we would like with certain clients, revolutionary creative solutions pushes us to think outside of the trends and norms and to always try something different.

Where and when do we find inspiration?

 If you ask any creative where they find inspiration, you won’t find a clear answer. Inspiration is absolutely everywhere and cannot be defined. We decided here at Oblique that it doesn’t matter where or when you find inspiration, but it’s important to always be looking for it and to be open to it. The more places we can pull inspiration from, whether that be different cultures, different industries, or even different mediums, the more rounded and unique designers we can become and the better solutions we can create.

How to be inspired and how to inspire others:  

Oblique tends to be inspired by being as open minded as possible. It seems so obvious, but with so much access to so much information, we sometimes find ourselves digging through the same design themes or same inspiration boards.

In order to combat this, we suggest being very conscious about accepting opportunities to be inspired by others. We found that the easiest way to do this is to get involved, wherever you are. Get to know the world that surrounds you. Go to lectures in your community, visit art galleries, talk to companies and people who are making a difference. Surround yourself with those smarter than you and become what we call a “learn-it-all.” Learn everything you can about what motivates and pushes you (and others) to be better designers, and then communicate and share those ideas and experiences. The things you share with those around you is what in turn, inspires others.

Jan 25


Creating smart and impactful design to empower those around us is what we here at Oblique design do best. We are so lucky as a small Boulder design agency to have been a part of many incredible organizations all over the world. Working with Lisa Smith-Batchen and Run the Nation has been no different and has again reminded us why we are so passionate about the design we do and the impact it has.

Lisa is attempting to run 3,100 miles across America starting on March 22, 2016. Her goal is to beat the men’s current record of 46 days and 8 hours. To break the current record, Lisa will have to cover more than 50-68 miles per day, an amount that seems nearly impossible to most. But most people aren’t Lisa.

Over the course of her running career, Lisa has completed 35 ultra marathons (greater than 50 miles), over 90 marathons and has received 5 ironman championships. But most notable, Lisa has raised over $2,000,000 for charity through racing. Continuing her passion to help those in need, Run the Nation is partnering with St. Jude Children’s hospital and will be raising money for the cause throughout the race.

Lisa approached Oblique about creating a custom website design for her race so that the public could follow, support and share her progress. We of course agreed to help and created an interactive website design that allowed for weekly updates, progress videos, and access to sponsorship. We are truly amazed every day by Lisa and her commitment to helping others and are so excited to be a part of this amazing event. Check out the site coming soon!

Nov 3

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Here at Oblique, we have been thinking about the relationship we have with our clients and why they work or don’t work. We know that looking for a new design agency can be a tough process, so we wanted to dive a little deeper into what is important in making that decision. We also sat down with our fearless leader, Janice Ferrante, and talked about the specifics of Oblique and what makes the Boulder creative agency so special in a firm-filled world.

Every agency is different, and is made up of a variety of different people with diverse skills. Depending on what you need, it’s important to keep an eye on those differences; they can have a large impact on your results. It is important that the agency is willing to understand your company and use your voice to create creative solutions that work.

What makes Oblique unique?
JF: “I’ve been challenged with this question from the day I started Oblique. It’s one of the hardest questions to answer. Clients hire Oblique because of two main things: the people and the creative. I know other agencies can say the same, but there isn’t another Janice in the competitor’s office (or Garrett, or Corrie, etc.). People see our commitment, drive, passion and creativity the moment they call or meet Oblique. It’s who we are, always pushing the boundaries as much as we can while still being on brand. Clients also know we just make their lives easier.”

Are there clients/projects that Oblique is specifically drawn to?
JF: “[Oblique is] drawn to organizations that are making a difference in the world. Even when we partner with clients that could be considered to work in a ‘boring’ industry, we put our hearts and souls into the work because we have developed a strong connection and relationship with their team. They make it interesting because they are sincere. They want to grow their company and they believe in Oblique to get them there.”

It is important to make sure you know what sort of relationship you need before making this decision. The right agency could very much depend on the size of the job because it’s important that the company has the right resources and time to accomplish the job with quality.

Why would someone choose Oblique (a smaller design agency) over a larger agency?
JF: “Smaller teams mean fewer layers and nimble solutions; more flexibility with limited budgets, and scalability when necessary. We are able to have close relationships with our clients (they have our cell numbers). We study their brand and make them feel like they are our only client. Fewer layers means quick turnaround.”

When it comes to relationships between both client and agency, there should always be a careful balance of adaptability, collaboration, and communication between parties. A great ad agency will believe in your brand, see its potential, and therefore want nothing more than to create a successful solution for you.

In your opinion, what does an ideal relationship between Oblique and a client look like?
JF: “Why do certain people choose their friends? Common value systems, good chemistry and the fact they are fun to be around. That is how we decide if a client is a good fit for Oblique. Can we be open and honest with them? Are we passionate about their product or service? Are they fun to work with and intelligent in their industry space? Simply put: does the chemistry work? If we don’t feel a connection to the brand, service or client, that would show in our work and spirit.”

What helps you decide if a client will work out or not?
JF: “A client will work out of we have a foundation of solid communication and trust. We work well with clients who value the design process and have a deep understanding in the creative journey. The more we know about a clients history, problems and future goals, the better the outcome will be for an effective and relevant solution.”

When it comes to choosing an agency, trust your gut. Move forward with an agency that you feel most comfortable with. Also, try not to be guided by price. Remember that you are paying for the level of service you are going to receive. The more time you spend working to find the right partner, the more likely you’ll be happy with the level of service and value they provide. Ultimately you’re more likely to be successful in the long run.

Jul 24


We live in an image focused world = Truth.

We define ourselves against these images = Truth.

Girls and women of all ages face body shaming because of these images = Truth.

It doesn’t have to be this way. = TRUTH.


Images of “super”model women are everywhere we look. We are inundated on a daily basis through TV, magazines, Social Media and beyond. Let’s face it, images are powerful. They prove to have a negative impact on a girl’s self-esteem and self-respect. In fact, 69% of girls in one study said that magazine models influence their idea of the perfect body shape[1]. It’s time for change.

Women across the world are taking a stand and fighting back for their body image independence. As a women-owned advertising agency, we at Oblique Design are proud to witness this movement through multiple advertising efforts.

Who among us didn’t tear up when we watched women describing themselves to a sketch artist in the Dove Real Beauty campaign? Not because we felt bad for these women, but because we could relate. Since the kick-off of this multi-level campaign, Dove has almost doubled their revenue.

Lane Bryant’s #ImNoAngel campaign is a bigger hit on Social Media than Victoria’s Secret “The Perfect Body” campaign. It also led to a noticeable increase in new customers; proving that women are ready for change.

American Eagle has joined the fight with their new lingerie line, Aerie. They’ve stopped re-touching their advertising photographs to proudly show relatable models with healthy bodies. Since making this bold move, they’ve seen a 9% rise in sales.

The real truth is that we may never see society change enough to fully remove unrealistic body images and photo re-touching from advertising. But it’s refreshing to see more and more companies taking the right steps in that direction. So we raise our glass to them, to those that come next and to you – Beautiful. Perfect. You.

[1] Eating disorders: body image and advertising. (2008, December 11). Retrieved from

Jul 9


As the founder of Oblique Design, my personal definition of success and the goals of my company are intertwined. The success we experience today wasn’t given to me by a little fairy that fell from the sky. Oblique was founded small and built up over the years through vision, hard work, and a determined team of design and marketing professionals who believe in Oblique. Together, we built an award-winning boulder web and design agency. In my time as the owner and Creative Director of Oblique Design, I often ask myself what I really want in life. It’s a hard question to answer, so let’s start with an exercise that starts with a few simple assumptions:

// MONEY makes you RICH.
// INDEPENDENCE makes you your own BOSS.
// STATUS gives you a position of POWER.
// SECURITY gives you a SAFE JOB.
// TIME gives you FREEDOM.

What do you really want and what defines success? Does success mean having freedom, money, status, security or simplicity? It is completely subjective to each individual and their personal life objectives. For me, success is winning a pitch that you’ve been working on for weeks and other times it’s gaining the courage to tell a client “no”.

Below is my constitution and it is the cornerstone philosophy of Oblique’s success. It can be used not only in the advertising and design world but in all industries (and life).

// Surround yourself with people that give you energy, rather than taking it
away from you.
// Don’t ever underestimate your creative potential.
// Have confidence and always show it.
// If you don’t have passion for what you do, get out. It will show and in the end,
everyone loses.
// Sometimes you have to be lucky.
// Mostly, it’s about hard work.

It is from my personal experience that these statements need to be evaluated yearly, monthly and even weekly. What worked for me when I founded Oblique 13 years ago is irrelevant to what my needs are today. Once you decide where you want to be, with whom you want to spend your time and what you want to do, everything will fall into place. Trust me.

What has made my Colorado design firm stand out all of these years is leadership based on authenticity, honesty, boldness and confidence — within the Oblique design team and with our clients. Internally we share a sweet balance of respect and humor, which goes a long way day in and day out.

As my mom once told me in my growing teenage years, “the only constant in life is change.” These are words I live by daily, and allowing your goals to change with who you are is a perfect way to stay in balance.

Jun 30


The days get long and the weeks get longer. Do you guys get worn out like we do? We all need to take time to reset our minds and rejuvenate for the next day or week. We love what we do here at Oblique, and we thrive on upping the ante. That being said, that comes at a cost and lots of hard work. We are constantly delivering at our highest potential because we take time to recharge ourselves from the everyday agency hustle.

Coming from Texas where I’ve been all my life, I’ve been able to push myself to new limits up here; literally. My past year here in Colorado has been one hell of a ride. From climbing a sketchy glacier during a heavy blizzard, to surfing the sand dunes in the dead of heat, I’ve gotten the most of the outdoors to say the least. I feel like I’m always on the go and traveling to different spots, but it all makes it worth it when you arrive at the destination. From little to no sleep, I’ve got to shout out to all my weekend warriors out there, it’s a crazy life! One trip in particular really inspired me that the sky is the limit in anything that I wanted to do. I took my first trip to Moab, Utah this past spring with a few buddies of mine, and man was it epic. One night we all got to witness the insanity of stars underneath the Delicate Arch with no one else in the park. At this moment I never imaged that I would be traveling as much as I had and knew that it had been the best thing that had happened to me. Getting away from all the distractions and noises of the world is nothing short of refreshing. I felt renewed and was able to reset my mind from all the past weeks building up. This experience inspired me to keep getting out there and expose myself to all the creative elements that surround me. That’s what its all about.

Getting out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself only makes you better at what you do next, you guys feel me? I can’t stress that enough. Reward yourself. When it comes time for the new day or week, I feel like I’m set to succeed because I took the time to decompress and get my mind right. That goes for everyone in the office too. This time of recharging greatly affects our business and how we work so well with others. If we feel overwhelmed or stressed out, we take that time to reset. New perspectives and outlooks are what drive our creativity and open us up to new opportunities. This process goes far beyond web design and advertising in general; its what makes us, us. Powering through the week and working hard, pushes us to play hard on the weekends. We welcome the challenge.