Finding Inspiration for Design - 15 Tips for the Beginner

Finding Inspiration for Design - 15 Tips for the Beginner

Where do ideas for great web design come from? If you ask web designers, there will be myriad of answers - from their people watching in the park to their Yoga meditations. In essence, however, design inspiration comes from two sources - direct and indirect. Direct sources are such things as studying great designs of others, accessing design blogs, and taking tutorials and classes. New designers can use these direct sources as springboards to get their own creative juices flowing. And it is always important to keep current on the continuous flow of new tools and apps that can help you make your designs unique. Indirect sources of inspiration come from the world around us - from nature, from music, from everyday objects and people. While direct sources are certainly effective, if everyone uses only those, there will ultimately be duplication, and designs will begin to look "similar." Here are 15 source tips, both direct and indirect, that may feed that inner creative you.

Direct Sources

Here are sites you can access for examples of great award-winning designs, new design trends and a host of online courses and tutorials related to design.

  1. Access Sites and Blogs that Feature Great Web Designs and Provide Web Design Ideas. Blogs such as How Design have regular and consistent posts from designers and also has a "university" with a large selection of tutorials. Be aware - these are not free, but they are good.
  2. Envato - Tutplus Network of tutorials and classes. This is an amazing direct source for tutorials about anything related to design, and is especially great for beginners. Pick and choose from hundreds of tutorials, and the instruction is so carefully constructed and detailed that beginners will come away with both ideas and the tools to implement them.
  3. Design Taxi: If you are looking for daily inspiration, this is the place. Forbes Magazine has named this site one of the "Top Five Sites for Keeping up with Creativity and Design." You will find at least 30 new posts every day, related to innovative and creative designs as well as global trends.
  4. Abduzeedo: A huge site with posts, articles, examples, and tutorials for anyone who has hit a wall or is "blocked." The founder of this site is now a senior designer at Google, but the site remains amazingly active with a minimum of 80 articles every month related to design inspiration and pretty amazing design tutorials, free wallpapers, and a host of other resources for the novice designer.
  5. CSSWinner: Check out this site for its "award of the day" in website design. If you want to see unique and creative designs from all over the globe, this is the place.

Indirect Sources

Here is where the fun begins. You start by turning off your computer. Because your computer is not creative - your brain is. So, close it up, get a sketch book and a camera and go out and find your inspiration. Here's where.

  1. Go to Walmart: Walmart? Yes. Walmart, and stores like it, are full of very cool objects. Go to the kitchen tool and appliance department. Look on the shelves. Look at the designs of the blenders, the toasters, the food processors, the utensils. And how are they displayed? Just think about a blender for a minute. They come in all types of shapes, curves, and colors; there are dials on the front which may give you some great ideas about CTA buttons or links.

    Check out the paint department next. Pull palettes of paint sample sheets - pull them all - what great color combinations that you can think about as you begin designs for a variety of clients.

    Go to the grocery section: Look at how items are arranged top to bottom on the shelves; look at the colors of the products. There is design in how products are displayed. Think about how those designs can translate to yours. Sketch them or take some pictures.

  2. Nature: Of course. You have heard this before. Whether you take a walk, sit in the park, or lie on a blanket and look at cloud formations, find something that grabs your interest, focus on it, take a picture of it. Think about why it interests you - is it the color, the design, or the texture? How can you re-create that in your designs ?
  3. Art: Design is an art form. But art forms are also found in paintings, drawings, sculptures. Lots of modern art movements can serve as inspiration, not just the classics. Cubism and impressionist abstracts are just two possibilities. Spend some time in art galleries and museums. Sketch what you like, including colors, and take those sketches home or to the office, lay them out on your desk, and try sketching your own designs using the same design principles as those artists.
  4. Cultural Landmarks: In every city, there are landmarks - it may be the old town square, the courthouse, the cobble stone streets, the old street lights, and the characteristic store fronts and architecture. Take a walk through this environment. What lines, designs and colors do you see? Take lots of pictures of the elements that catch you eye. Look for examples of grid designs as you view the skyline from a distance.
  5. Walk in the Rain: This may not seem particularly appealing, but consider it a learning experience. How do raindrops collect on car windshields, leaves, and other physical objects? If you don't think this can inspire you, check out the home page of Rolex and look for the water drop designs that have been created by a great designer.
  6. Steal from other Design Venues: When is the last time you opened a fashion magazine? Fashion has an impact on everything from home decor to website design. You are looking for colors, hues, lines, and texture here. Take screen shots of those fashion designs that strike you, print them out and put them in a scrapbook that you should be maintaining anyway, so that you have inspirational "triggers" when you need them.
  7. Change Your Design Niche: You may have assignments from your boss that are all related to one niche. This can become repetitive and, ultimately, a bit boring. Branch out a bit by freelancing for clients from very different niches. Perhaps you are designing sites for very conservative organizations - banks, financial investment firms, and so forth. Seek an opportunity to design for something more contemporary and risk-taking - a new startup perhaps in the tech app niche. This will stretch you as a creative artist.

Creative Exercises

The last three tips relate to creative exercises you should engage in - guaranteed to get that creativity flowing again.

  1. Quick Photo Session: Take a look at your desk. What do you see? A dis-organized mess or interesting combinations of objects that are unique? Get out your iPhone or camera and take about 20 shots of that desk, from every imaginable angle. You are looking for lines and space, and you may find some very interesting compositions. Pick a few that you find most interesting and put them on a wall to think about as you consider use of space and lines in design.
  2. Use a Single Object: Find some object that you find interesting. It might be a vase, a toothbrush holder, a piece of wall art, a dish in your cabinet with an interesting color or design, a chair or an unusual lamp. You can also do this in stores, such as Target. Take a picture or sketch it (if it is not in your home). Your challenge is to create a design around this single object. Sometimes, limiting your options forces you to be more creative.
  3. Pick a Word: Open up the dictionary and pick a random word. Get out your sketch and start drawing whatever comes to mind to depict that word. Again, you are placing limitations on yourself - boundaries within which you must stay and yet still be creative. This is a great brain exercise. You can do the same thing with a client's niche. Come up with one keyword for that niche and start sketching everything you can think of that relates to that keyword.

The Challenge

Direct resources for design will give you invaluable help with the "rules" and the "science" of your craft. And you do need those if you are to become successful. At some point, however, you have to get out of that box and get into your own unchartered territory, so that you can find that place where your individuality and creative thought can be put into action. Use the experiences and the knowledge of others, but ultimately find your own inspiration in those places that "work" for you.