By and large, motivational quotes have a bad name. We associate them with cheesy poster designs (opens in new tab) or mood boards (opens in new tab) featuring sunsets, lions and rainbows, and empty slogans like ‘Never give up’ or ‘Find your dream’.
But the concept in itself is a good one; you just have to find the right quote to inspire you. So here we’ve gathered some of our favourite inspirational quotes on the theme of work, all beautifully illustrated by talented creatives.
Of course, different creatives are motivated in different ways. So while the first six quotes on our list offer positive, upbeat vibe, we’ve included a further four that take a more direct and down-to-earth approach to motivation. (Warning: this second approach involves rather a lot of swear words.)
Whatever your tastes, hopefully you'll find something in here to inspire you and help turbocharge your design career (opens in new tab).
01. Turn procrastination into motivation
So you’ve managed to carve out a living as a creative. Congratulations! But ask yourself: are you actually doing the creative work you’re truly passionate about?
All too often, we put off the tasks we dread and focus on the ones we find more fun. You might be procrastinating about the user experience (opens in new tab) of your app, for example, and instead spend all day lovingly crafting the icons (opens in new tab) instead.
But rather than beating yourself up, why not consider whether you’d be happier ditching UX, and specialising on icon design full-time? If that’s what you really enjoy, then where’s the downside?
This inspirational quote about work, beautifully illustrated by American type designer Jessica Hische, will help you stay the course. You can buy a print here (opens in new tab) .
02. Take one step at a time
Vincent Van Gogh not only painted some of the greatest and most visionary art in history, he also said some pretty smart things. And this inspirational quote for work is the perfect pick-me-up when you’re staring into the face of a huge project with deadlines bearing down and nothing but a blank piece of paper in front of you.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed, but the impressionist’s words remind us to take our time, start small and build up our creations gradually, at our own pace. You’ve done it before, and you can do it again. The quote has been thoughtfully brought to life by Toronto artist Ryan McArthur, and you can buy the print here (opens in new tab).
03. Repeat after me
This poster was originally inspired a conversation that graphic artist, print-maker and designer Anthony Burrill overheard in a local supermarket; an elderly woman sharing the secret of a happy life to a girl at the checkout. It might be a simple piece of wisdom, but it’s a profound one, and a reminder to step back from life's surface noise and focus on what’s really important.
Burrill originally created this letterpress poster as a gift for friends, and as self-promotion to attract clients. But then he started getting requests for copies from across the design community, and it became a huge hit. You can buy your own copy here (opens in new tab).
04. Collaborate better
Working as a creative can often be isolating, especially if you work from home as a freelancer. So this mini-manifesto from Scott Belsky, founder of Behance (opens in new tab), is a great reminder that when we work together in the right way, we can become far more than the sum of our parts.
Unfortunately, you can’t buy a physical print of this poster, which was created by New York-based graphic designer Raewyn Brandon as a promotion for Behance. You can, however, view the project in full here (opens in new tab).
05. Reach like Mario
In our social media age, the problem of ‘imposter syndrome’ is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Everyone has to start somewhere, but it’s easy to become intimidated and feel like you don’t have the chops to stretch yourself creatively and take on new challenges.
This simple but inspiring quote for work has been imaginatively illustrated by Laura Gomez (opens in new tab), an interactive designer at Walgreens. Harnessing the spirit of the 8-bit gaming era, it reminds us that as long as we practice, practice, practice, then anything and everything is possible. You can buy a print of Gomez’s illustration here (opens in new tab).
06. Don't conform
No one ever went into a creative profession because they want to be the same as everyone else. Yet often employers, clients and peers can push you so much to conform that it’s easy to give in, and produce 'normal' design work that's never going to set the world on fire.
This quote from Maya Angelou helps to remind you to resist following the crowd. Essentially, the American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist is saying that you can achieve incredible things if only you stop trying to be like everybody else and start being yourself. You can buy this beautiful typographic poster at Sort of Cool (opens in new tab).
Sick of all that positivity? Here are some alternatives...
We know from experience that not every creative responds well to the kind of upbeat and optimistic messaging we’ve featured thus far. So if that applies to you, maybe you’ll prefer the posters in our next section, which all take a more earthy, direct (and sweary) approach to motivating you.
07. Talk less, do more
Anyone who’s ever attended a talk by Northern English design legend Brendan Dawes (opens in new tab) knows that he does not ‘do’ Californian-style positivity. Dawes may be imaginative and visionary in his design work, but when it comes to words he’s direct and to the point, and here’s a perfect example.
This short and snappy inspirational quote for work, inspired by a Brian Jonestown song, reminds us that creative work is fundamentally about doing and making, with the implication that we should just get on with it. Dawes' illustrated version was printed by Bracket Press, and showcased at the Future of Web Design conference. Unfortunately though, it was limited to a run of 100, so you can't buy a copy now.
08. Just get on with it
Another down-to-earth designer from the North of England, Craig Ward takes a similarly direct approach to motivation here. If you feel his uncompromising words might help you stop sucking your thumb and start actually working, there’s a 2400dpi scan on Ward's website (opens in new tab) that you’re free to download.
“Do with it as you wish,” says Ward. “Desktop, screensaver, print, t-shirt, profile pic, whatever; it's all yours."
09. Believe in your sweary self
GFDA (Good Fucking Design Advice) is a company devoted to the creation of “colorful, well-designed merchandise for people who give a fuck.” And that includes the impassioned manifesto featured above. While ‘believe in yourself’ is often an empty mantra, which in itself contains no useful practical advice, GFDA’s manifesto offers a series of straightforward but sincerely felt tips about how to make it as a creative in the real world.
According to New Yorker magazine this poster, designed by Brian Buirge and Jason Bacher, was seen hanging in the office of Apple’s chief design officer, Jonathan Ive, in 2015. You can find this and other explicit motivational material in the GFDA store (opens in new tab).
10. Enjoy your sweary self
We’ll end with another curt quote about creativity courtesy of HelloTypo. No, it’s not exactly Shakespeare, but it does contain an important truth. Following a creative profession can be a joyful way to spend your working life, but only if you approach it with the right attitude.
Focusing too narrowly on getting the 'right' results can lead to obsession, exhaustion and misery. Embracing your failures, learning from your mistakes and focusing on the kind of work you find fun and fulfilling will lead to a happy life, and probably lead to more successful results in the process.
If you’d find it useful to be reminded of this lesson on a daily basis, you can buy this print from Etsy here (opens in new tab).