You’ve written or designed the same brochure or email for the umpteenth time.

Now your boss says let’s add yet another version.

In your panic, where do you find the fresh thinking — and inner strength — to tackle umpteenth +1?

We asked a collection of higher ed creatives to share their sources of inspiration — from an e-newsletter that hits one subject with varying, interactive content types to a website that curates the best profiles around the web.

When it’s time to change up their content routines, here’s where great creatives go. (We’re also including a few go-to resources of our own.)


“Quartz Obsessions” daily email


Why we love it

“It’s a deep dive on random subjects — and so engaging. I probably read three to four a week, which is pretty good. They’ll include some link outs, but the value of the content is all in the email.”
— Frannie Schneider, editor and marketing consultant at St. Edward’s University

How you can use it

Incorporate varying content types, sidebar facts, animated illustrations and interactive quizzes into one piece. Whoever says email is not the place to tell deeper and more engaging stories hasn’t read “Quartz Obsessions”.


Billboard Top 100

Billboard Top 100

Why we love it

Billboard’s “Hot 100” — a list of the hottest songs this week — is an old standby for brainstorming headlines, especially for feature stories.

How you can use it

“I start out with a blank page open on my computer and do as much wordplay as I can, then I’ll resort to movie titles and especially song titles that I can play around with. Best-seller lists work well, too. Can you beat ‘Doggone Girl’ for a story about a woman canine veterinarian?”

— Suzanne Johnson, retired magazine editor at Auburn University and author of 21 novels


“How I Built This” podcast

How I Built This podcast

Why we love it

“I have a two-year-old, so my media habits have changed significantly in the last few years. But I do have one podcast obsession: ‘How I Built This’ on NPR. It’s all about entrepreneurs and how they built their businesses.”
— Heather Busch, creative services manager at John Tyler Community College

How you can use it

Get outside your own experience for a minute, and step into an inventor’s shoes. It might give you new insight to tell your latest story — whether it’s about an entrepreneur or not. (Maybe it will also give you the courage to try something unconventional and risky in your own institution’s marketing.)


Why we love it

“Longform is like the best of The New Yorker, the best of GQ, the best of some thought-provoking websites. It’s a curated mix of really interesting profiles and topical pieces. Because I don’t have a lot of free time, it gives me a great menu of stories to choose from.”
— Frannie Schneider

How you can use it

Approach a profile from a new angle inspired by some of the best writers of our time. Can the style that The New Yorker uses to profile a marine biologist gambling his life’s savings away to capture a live giant squid be used to spotlight your star scientist?


Delayed Gratification magazine

Delayed Gratification

Why we love it

“It’s a magazine that Lynn Gosnell at Rice University turned me on to. Instead of chasing deadlines, Delayed Gratification celebrates ‘slow journalism’ and takes the time to give stories context. That said, it’s a surprisingly brisk read with bits of quirky fun — like the infographic about an Italian restaurant that charged tourists 1,143 euros for four steaks, a grilled fish and four bottled waters. How in the hell did I miss that story?”
— Shane Shanks, senior strategist and editorial director at Zehno

How you can use it

Balance your magazine or website with extremely short stories and long-format pieces. Even some of DG’s short blurbs have a point of view. Also consider adding a Cliffs Notes-style section for your readers. DG’s end note is a “cheat sheet” elevating its nine favorite facts from the entire issue.


Print junk mail — especially for fashion brands

Banana Republic Direct Mail

Why we love it

“My husband makes fun of me, but I love mail. Catalogs, magazines and direct mail — I love it all. I have a big bin in my office full of pieces I’ve thought were interesting. I go to that when I’m stuck.”
— Heather Busch

How you can use it

As you’re planning a new viewbook or program brochure, borrow from the quirky concepts and formats found in old-fashioned snail mail, like this Banana Republic mailer formatted as a foldout calendar of outfits. If you’re really committed to multi-channel thinking, use print inspiration to reformat your digital tools.


Co. Design e-news


Why we love it

“Fast Company’s design-centric e-newsletter covers a little bit of everything: stories behind classic product designs, trends and theories, and cool samples of work — from branding to fashion to tech.”
— Shane Shanks

How you can use it

Consider how product design and big-brand trends translate to higher ed marketing. Could the philosophy Dieter Rams used to design his iconically minimalist Braun stereo shape your next branding effort?


Retail emails


Why we love it

“They can provide creative ways to tell your story and entice readers to click through. I check promotional emails on a daily basis for visual and animation inspiration. Some of my favorites are from J. Crew, Anthropologie, Kate Spade, Magnolia, Terrain, Uniqlo, Madewell, Food52 and Boden.”
— Mary Louise Killen, senior designer at Zehno

How you can use it

Don’t overlook these promotions as junk. Before you start your next email campaign, check your inbox to find new ways to format your content. As we head into high shopping season, don’t miss this chance for daily (or even hourly) inspiration.


“Song Exploder” podcast

Song Exploder

Why we love it

“Each episode is 30 minutes, and features a musician breaking down one of his or her songs, bit by bit, telling the story of how it was made. Episodes touch on the inspiration behind the song, lyrics, rhythm, each instrument, etc. Then at the end, they play the song in its entirety. It’s really cool, and gives you a new perspective on how art is made.”
— Clare Hall, account manager at Zehno

How you can use it

Use it as a new format for telling more relatable stories. Break down students’ projects step-by-step: what originally sparked the idea, what did their partners bring to the table, what was their biggest surprise?


Design*Sponge travel guides


Why we love it

This blog features design and travel topics curated for creatives. Unlike Fodor’s, which is too fancy, or Lonely Planet, which is too backpackerish, Design*Sponge seems just right for anyone with a strong design eye.

How you can use it

“Anytime I’m visiting a new city, I refer to Design*Sponge’s city guides. They give you the inside scoop on where to shop and eat if you’re a designer. For my trip to New York, Design*Sponge’s city guide recommended a book that showed me all the places to go to craft a photo shoot on-site (like places to buy still life).
— Mary Louise Killen

Learn more

Looking for more inspiration? See how these consumer emails work for higher ed.