Designer Q&A: Elliot Ulm’s guide to scroll-stopping work

Discover the innovative graphic design world of Elliot Ulm, where comedy meets creativity, as he shares his unique process and inspirations.

Elliot Ulm

At the intersection of graphic design and comedy, you’ll find graphic designer Elliot Ulm. When he’s not working with brands like Adobe and running a crash course in design, he’s sharing hilarious videos and bold, scroll-stopping work on Instagram and YouTube.

Hear more from the self-taught graphic designer on what keeps him inspired, his advice for aspiring designers, and why he uses Stills as a resource for his iconic work.

Stills: What is your design process like? How has it changed as you’ve evolved in your career?

Elliot Ulm: I reckon I’ve got an incredibly simple process! Since all of my design work these days comprises making funny posters about graphic design, the first step is finding the joke. I’ve got an ever-growing list of ideas on my phone’s notes app that I’ll draw inspo from and then start playing around with the text in Photoshop/Illustrator. Depending on the size of the sentence or how the sentence looks on the canvas, getting started with the design part of the designing can be a breeze or take hours. Some words just look better than others! But I’ll just play around until I’ve got something I’m happy with then upload from there. I try not to think too much about my design choices as it takes the fun out of it all… And it’s just for my Instagram audience at the end of the day, so I have complete creative control! The process hasn’t changed since day one… I’m just more confident with taking risks and more efficient with the rest of the process.

License this image via GS & Co

Where do you look for inspiration?

The Instagram saved tab is truly the best thing about the app. I’ve compiled thousands of images I’ll draw inspiration from over the last few years as the design scene has truly popped off over there. I’ll also save a bunch of interior design and fashion design posts that I find interesting as I think seeing people take risks and make bold choices in other aspects of design can be extremely motivating for me to try and do the same! I also find looking at my old work can help me feel inspired… Especially any designs that truly felt like all gears were clicking while I was making them. Good way of getting back into that creative headspace!

How do you get your head back in the game when you’re feeling burnt out?

I’ve tried a million different things to get back on track and the only one that truly works for me is getting outside. This whole year I’ve felt absolutely stuck at my desk and have disliked sitting in front of a screen from dusk til dawn… So getting outside for a bit has always felt super refreshing. I’m a big music head too, so I’ve got a few albums I’ll go back to whenever I need to get on a roll again.

License this image via Janssen Powers

If you can share, what do you think is your ‘secret weapon’ when creating? Please explain how you developed this skill.

Being myself! It’s an overused expression, but I think people save it for more personality-driven experiences rather than design, which is often such a client-driven medium. If I can’t look at a design and say, “This feels like an Elliot design”, I’ll keep playing with it until it starts to look more and more like me. At the end of the day, if you think your design looks good, then it is! It’s an awfully subjective industry filled with people who think it’s objective, so don’t be afraid to inject your personality and be super self-expressive with your work. People will start hiring you because you are you and not just another graphic designer!

Looking back, what are some hurdles you had to overcome personally that impacted you? They can be big or small.

At the start of this year, I made a huge push to make YouTube by uploading weekly videos and experimenting a bunch to try and get one to blow up. For a few months there nothing was really working and there were no real signs of momentum. I was super consistent but never stopped to reflect on the channel and see what was actually working and what wasn’t. I decided to make a video where I would make 100 posters in 100 minutes—a truly absurd challenge that I could not recommend less. I filmed the whole thing and intended to get it out by the end of the week but instead decided to write a script and go really hard on the editing to make it feel a bit more high-production and feel more like videos that some of the big-dog YouTubers were putting out at the time. I spent a month working on the video and it immediately blew up. Did the same thing for the video after and it also blew up. All it took was for me to slow down for a second and focus on quality over quantity and everything started to click. It took me about 50 videos to finally feel like I knew how to make a good one, but the journey was absolutely worth it!

License this image via GS & Co

What do you like about Stills? How is it a good resource for designers?

I love how collaborative Stills feels! I never liked using stock imagery from other sites as there was never any context to the images I was using and it felt like I was just filling space on my posters for the sake of it. Being able to see individual photographers’ body of work on Stills makes using their images so much more enjoyable, as you get a sense of their style and can work to complement it with your own. It feels like you’re supporting a fellow artist and is so much more interesting than using stock-standard stuff.

Explore Elliot’s favorite Stills photos in his recently curated Board.

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