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Mobile ad designers: 3 tips for inspiration

by Rachel Herb-Neterer on Aug 25, 2016

As a designer at AppLovin, every day I apply what I’ve picked up in my years of creating traditional art to the practice of making effective mobile ads. Often I use official “rules” I learned in my formal training, like the “rule of thirds” or color theory, but other times I rely on even broader practices, or even habits, that I know help me to generate great work. Here are three inspiration tips for traditional artists who create mobile ads:

Tip #1: Find the aspect of what you’re working on that you feel an affinity with and emphasize it. I do a lot of ads for mobile games, and I’ve found that I love the well-developed characters in Japanese RPGs, particularly those that are drawn in an intricate fashion. It also helps me to know that people play these largely because they love the characters. I love drawing people in general (I actually have an upcoming show covering street fashion, featuring my pen, ink and marker work), so naturally I gravitate toward drawing figures in ads. But I also like to sit down with a game and explore what exactly makes the characters so special, like their costumes or method of attack. Similarly, I often find a design detail that I can build on with a technical skill. For example, if a character has a fire attack in the game, that’s something I can build on with Trapcode’s Particular effect in After Effects to recreate the attack. Finding that special thing that resonates with you might take some time, but it pays off in terms of bringing it to life in an effective ad.

Tip #2: Practice your craft in your spare time. I make a point of drawing the old fashioned way every day, and I also use the same programs I use at work in my own projects in my studio/at home. Doing so keeps my skills sharp, and in my own projects I wind up discovering new techniques that I can apply on the job. The technology we use as ad designers changes so fast that we need be constantly learning in order to keep current. Drawing with pen and paper at home helps me with inspiration for work, too — it recharges me. If I don’t draw for more than a few days, I find that it’s harder to come up with ideas for ads, even if the ads are very different from my own creative work.

Tip #3: Keep an open mind about where inspiration can come from! Sometimes inspiration comes from fairly obvious places (like playing games and then tracking down the advertisements to see how other designers have approached them), but inspiration for ads can come from anywhere, at seemingly random moments. Sometimes even watching television takes me down a path I hadn’t expected. For example, once I was watching an episode of Mad Men on Netflix, and scene in a movie theater made me think about this animated intermission bumper, which was used in the fifties and sixties:

From there I started thinking about how I could use that retro feel in an ad I was working on for a game. Within a few days, the ad inspired by that train of thought was done, and both the client and I were happy with it. So my advice is get out there, in all manner of ways: take walks, leave the office, and go to galleries and art fairs on the weekend, and yes, even watch tv.  

I’m really lucky that my profession is creating art, because it’s both challenging and fun. I’m also grateful that every day, in one way or another, I get to think about ad design from a traditional art perspective. If you’re a formally trained artist who also designs ads, take my advice: build on the design elements that engage you, practice your craft outside of work, and let your brain run free!

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Rachel Herb-Neterer’s work is the subject of Grundens to Xtratufs: Everyday Fashion in Southeast Alaska, a one-woman show featuring her pen, ink, and marker drawings. Her personal work informs her work as a designer at AppLovin.

Rachel Herb-Neterer is a graphic designer at AppLovin.

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