How to Create Profitable Ideas with a Visual Journal

by Doug Farrick

Creating a visual journal is a fun and valuable discipline in generating rich, new and unexpected visual ideas by constantly keeping your "visual antenna" alert. These ideas often show up (sooner or later) in some facet of your work. Here's how to take advantage of them.

Journals have been an important part of idea generation for all types of creatives. From artists such as DaVinci to Picasso to architect Frank Llyod Wright to contemporary designers like Paul Rand and Milton Glaser.

They can be thought of as the equivalent to the copywriter's "swipe file" -- a file that include all types of "swiped" headlines, styles, intros, offers, guarantees, etc. Journals can also be a great way to "kick-start" a project when inspiration is low.

A visual journal is a system for collecting "bits and pieces" of visual stimuli that we find in the world around us. These items can include items (either found or deliberately placed) such as scraps of paper, postcards, photographs, tickets, sketches, doodles, color fragments -- really anything that captures your attention is a possibility. You can then

Any system can be used to collect your ideas, such as a folder, notebook, scrapbook, etc. I prefer the hard bound journal as they seem to hold up much better over time. Depending on your budget you get the hard pressboard type or the more luxurious leather bound ones.

Today they often have very stylish covers/patterns and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Hardbound journals also have a nice weight and feel to them and are easy travel companions. Some places where you can find journals include Levengers, Urecht, Red Envelope and Pearl Paint.

I personally prefer to have a number of journals going at once all in different sizes to accommodate different visual ideas. How you organize your journal(s) is up to you. You can have one journal split into several categories or you can have each journal focus on a different category or theme. For example you could have several journals; one focused on color, another on type, maybe a third on just sketches. I tend to gravitate towards the free form type of organization. Different pieces are inserted randomly and then are taped, glued, stapled, etc in various locations. Often these pages will suggest another type of image on the facing page (show photo example)


  • Force randomness
  • Organize your ideas
  • Expand your visual thinking
  • Allow a safe place to experiment
  • Use as a future "file cabinet" of ideas
  • Keeps your "visual antennae" attuned
  • Portable
  • Review your journal regularly

The most important part of beginning a visual journal is getting started. Once you do you'll be amazed how good (and profitable) some of these ideas will be.