How designers work: Ben Secret talks egos and iPhones

We chat to the leading designer and photo retouching expert about the influence of egos, being inspired by movies and why the iPhone is his favourite creative tool.

Some of Ben Secret's Photoshop imagery

Ben Secret is a designer, writer and photo retoucher who regularly writes tutorials for Computer Arts. Here, the Photoshop artist talks about daydreaming and his love for the Apple iPhone.

Tell us, what inspires you?

I've always been inspired by cinema. I had a slightly inexplicable obsession with science fiction and Hong Kong movies from about the age I could work the VCR. To this day you can probably trace most of my ideas back to those two things.

I also get a lot of ideas from the people I work with, and from working in a few different mediums. If I'm working on design, I wind up with all these ideas about form and colour that I can use in photography.

And if I'm working in photography, I get a lot of visual ideas I can use when I'm writing. So I think even if you're only doing one thing professionally, it's probably important to have more than one outlet for your creativity.

What are your biggest challenges?

I think 'simplicity' is always the challenge. We're bombarded with so much information these days. There's pressure on any work you create to get the message across as laconically as possible.

The challenge is working around egos - especially your own. When there's a client and a team involved in a project, everyone wants to feel like they've contributed something. Everyone's looking at the work mainly from their own 'specialised' perspective.

The projects which go wrong are the ones which end up looking like five or six people fighting for attention. The original brief or concept gets lost in the chaos.

What the best creative tool you've used recently?

I'd love to give a more professional sounding answer, but I'd have to say the iPhone. It gets you back to thinking and working outside this 'professional' mode you tend to switch into as soon as you're sat at a computer.

Apps like Hipstamatic bring back a spontaneity and playfulness to photography that I think we lost touch with in the wave of DSLRs and RAW processors.

I'm also always using my iPhone to take notes and make lists at three o'clock in the morning. I also download apps to help me learn things.

It's totally changed the way I work and turned me into one of those tedious smartphone addicts who often takes two minutes to respond to a simple question.

Read Ben Secret's tutorial on using the Healing Brush to retouch skin.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

There's always something to challenge you. As soon as something becomes predictable or easy, it's very easy to switch off.

A lot of the aspects of the work I do now I find genuinely difficult. I think that keeps you growing and keeps you engaged with life. [I enjoy the difficulty] and the people I get to work with.

Any top tips for our readers?

Daydream. The imagination is the most powerful tool we have and it needs to be exercised regularly. Otherwise it shrivels up.

No matter how busy I am, or how much I've got on my mind, there are at least two fairly mindless daily activities I use as an excuse to drift off and indulge the random ideas that I've had floating around in my head that day...

One of them is showering.

You can see the rest of Ben Secret's work and contact him at www.bensecret.com. And check out his tutorial for Computer Arts on using the Healing Brush to retouch skin.