One of my favourite parts of the brand identity design process is the gathering phase. Otherwise known as hanging out on Pinterest, Designspiration and in the magazines section of the newsagent; spending evenings getting pleasurably lost in beautiful websites; and digging through my boxes of printed things I've picked up and saved for future projects.
Over the years I've been creating brands, I've gone everywhere with half an eye open for good design. I don't think you can help it when you're a designer - the typography on a shop sign, a gorgeous postcard, a striking book cover all just jump out at you as you're going about your ordinary business. If I see something I love that I can pick up and pop into my inspiration box, I'll do that, or I might take a photo or just squirrel it away in a corner of my brain.
Then, during a design project, once I've spent time with the client and learned about what they and their business are all about, it's time to dig into the inspiration archives and pull out some things that might fit. I start with a big selection of images from loads of different sources, and gradually pare it down, discarding anything that doesn't give me a happy thrill. This becomes the mood board that guides the creative direction for the project.
If you're thinking about your brand, or a print or web project, it's always a good idea to start with some inspiration. Just start tearing out magazine pictures, or saving a gorgeous instagram post, anything that strikes you as the seed of an idea. You might not be able to define exactly why it works but that's the beauty of this method - you can skip the analysis and go straight to what feels right. Before long you'll have a little collection of images that could spark off some brilliant ideas.