If you are reading this on some type of brightly lit screen that you rarely abandon, then you could probably benefit from the following interview with Bottle Rocket Media’s own creative director, Dan Wulfing – who has been immersed in motion graphic design since before Mac computers switched over to Intel processors (if you know, then you know). He has witnessed, firsthand, a rapid evolution of an entire industry through the development of digital software, yet remains simplistic in his approach for artistic inspiration.

As far as Dan is concerned, “checking out of the virtual world and into the real world” can be one of the best ways for designers to catch up on emerging trends and start a few of their own:

How does the tangible world around you inform the creative process?

First of all, I live and work in Chicago, one of the most culturally explosive and creative cities in the world. Everyone that comes here is stunned by the architecture—which stokes an awe-inspiring feeling I experience everyday I commute to and from work. Coupled with the smells, sounds and moody weather of the Midwest, there is something in the atmosphere that can’t be fully understood through a digital portal. Up close, every brick, every brass door fitting and every windowpane tells a story through its unique character. For me, experiencing textures, details and even imperfections through all of my senses helps evoke a stronger idea to play with when I sit down to grind away. When my core concepts are more vivid and fully imagined in my own head, so is my work. It doesn’t matter if you live in Chi-town or Memphis—there is always something extra special to be gleaned from your surroundings. You just gotta look.

How can our environments help us tap into what is trending or what could be trending?

Staying on the cutting edge of design is not always about sitting in front of a monitor and taking in the world with a mouse and a search engine. I am always scanning the hoods and streets throughout the city, and sometimes that’s my whole purpose for being out in the first place. When patterns begin to emerge, whether in the form or architecture trends or eatery styles, for example, I am right there to catch it and hopefully use the inspiration to offer our clients visually captivating concepts that are also in line with public appeal. But, it’s not just about the obvious—sometimes I have to dig deeper by going into the basement of that tiny vintage record store or 80s-forward clothing retailer. Even though most trends of yesteryear have come and gone, there are always specific elements within older genres we can repurpose or reimagine into a current project. Also, mixing a bit of nostalgia with contemporary design styles can help create swift familiarity with audiences who are encountering a product or service for the first time. Clients tend to like that!

Final Question. Since music is an integral part of Bottle Rocket Media’s approach to video production, do you recommend sound-tracking IRL experiences for designers on the hunt for inspiration?

Dude—yes. Music is one of the most effective ways of communicating a feeling or vibe when producing for TV, film, or the web, and it can completely change the way we perceive things. I love all music, from the 1920s right up to dubstep, and I try to use different styles to accompany my treks throughout the city, especially when I’m winding along the river and staring up at the skyline. It never ceases to amaze me how different the same locations seem to look and feel when the soundtrack is altered. Having a vast library of tunes at your disposal through an app like Spotify or iTunes is so easy nowadays, and I can’t count how many times I have developed an idea based on one of my own personal, “cinematic” experiences. In many cases, it was simply a matter of switching my music filter from jazz to classical, or from alternative to rap. Chances are, if you are moved by a certain AV combo when out for an adventure, someone else will be too.

Thanks, Dan!

Are you hungry like Dan Wulfing? Click here to see what the real world can inspire!