Healthy ways to get and stay inspired
“Where do new ideas come from? The answer is simple: differences. Creativity comes from unlikely juxtapositions.” — Nicholas Negroponte
Inspiration is the bedrock of good design. It gives us fodder for these ‘unlikely juxtapositions’. But where does one go to find inspiration that educates, is meaningful and expands your perspective as a designer? Here’s what I’ve found that works for me.
Get inspired by the design process
Get inspired by reading about a fellow designers’ process and approach to problem-solving through design. Design case studies that clearly articulate design decisions by talking about the user and business goals are gold. You not only learn from others’ thinking but also start getting ideas and inspiration on ways to approach your project. Look for the following things in a stellar, inspiring case study: process, articulation of aesthetic choices of colour, typography, other visual elements, challenges and pitfalls and ultimately impact/ results.
Tip: Medium is a great place for case studies but look outside too. If you find a good design without an accompanying case study, reach out to the designer with questions. Don’t be shy.
Real world inspiration
Look away from your laptop and into the real world. There is plenty of inspiration available in the real world, but it requires us to look carefully. Most digital products are a solution to simplify our non-digital lives. So why not apply some elements from the real world to a digital solution. Look for patterns, colours and textures of the real world and see how it applies to a given digital screen. For example, if you are working on designing the interface of a music player, think about how humans consume music in non-digital ways. Are there any shapes, colours, textures that you can imitate to evoke emotions of familiarity, happiness and comfort.
Tip: Keep a journal and start recording things you see around you. This will help you approach problems with a fresh eye.
Explore other industries, products, domains
Design works best when it can listen and communicate across domains. So actively start doing that. Explore outside your industry for design solutions that work. Maybe there are nuggets that you can plug into your project. Learn and practice applying design patterns and heuristics. Trends are important but don’t get swept up by them. They change so fast, and sometimes you end up not getting the memo.
Another thing you can do is study your competition (direct and indirect) carefully. Obviously you don’t want to copy your competing products, but look for patterns and reverse engineer why that might have worked for them.
Tip: Engage outside your domain and industry. Look into service design, civic design, healthcare, automobile, industrial, etc. Be on top of it, but also don’t feel FOMO when you’re not. Been there done that.
Approach purely beautiful designs with caution
A very common question seasoned designers get from newbies in the industry is “where do you go for design inspiration?”. The response is mostly “Dribbble”. Every time I heard this piece of advice I spent hours on Dribbble drooling over cool designs and watching in awe as buttons and illustrations moved around tastefully on the screen.
But something did not feel quite right about this advice. All inspiration that purely focuses on the visual aspect and that make us forget the purpose of design, need to be consumed mindfully. For newbie designers who are trying to find their style, learn and get better at their process, it is normal to want to go on an inspiration diet of just beautiful designs. But there needs to be a shift in the way we think about design. A shift towards users goals and business results. Especially in today’s business world where all are hustling really hard to secure a seat at the table for designers.
Tip: Balance diets are the best. Do drool over brilliantly designed visuals but balance it with some meaningful inspiration.