I’d like to share with you some of the tools, ideas and resources that I use as a designer whenever I need some design inspiration. Some of the resources and ideas in this article may be things that you already know, and some may be new to you that you can try. Whatever the case, I hope you enjoy it!
Design-Related Websites and Blogs
There are many design-related websites that I visit to keep me up-to-date with the latest in design news and trends. Some of the websites I like to visit regularly are:
Fuel Brand Network of Sites – This is one of my favorite networks of blogs that recently launched, and that is still launching new sites. The Fuel Network consists of very useful blogs about design, illustration, apps, coding, photography, and many more on other topics that will be launched soon. I always look forward to the articles that the Fuel Brand Network publishes.
Smashing Magazine – I am sure that most designers have heard of and already visit Smashing Magazine, but if not, you need to start. It is the ultimate resource for designers. This website has tutorials, showcases, fonts, freebies, and much more. It is updated frequently so you rarely run out of something new to read here.
Six Revisions – The very site you are looking at is one of my favorite resources for inspiration. Jacob fills the site with unique articles, showcases, and freebies. The blog is updated frequently. Every designer should have this site bookmarked.
Web Design Ledger – Henry Jones publishes quality articles, resources, and tutorials. The blog is usually updated less frequently than some of the others I visit, but when a new article is posted, it is certainly worth reading.
Psdtuts+ – Just when you think you have seen every Photoshop tutorial known to man and know everything you need to know about Photoshop, this site comes along and makes you realize just how much you have yet to learn. Psdtuts+ is an amazing resource for teaching you how to make all kinds of effects in Photoshop. The tutorials here are endless.
Webdesigner Depot – This web design blog has many unique and inspiring blog posts and is also updated regularly.
Footer Fetish – This is a new inspirational website that I started visiting recently that features creative website footers. Definitely one to bookmark for footer inspiration.
Blog Design Heroes – Another new gallery that showcases some of the best blog designs.
Folio Focus – A new gallery that showcases creative portfolio sites.
Minimal Exhibit – An inspirational gallery that targets minimal sites.
TheBestDesigns.com – This is the web design gallery that I started in 2001. I’m always trying to make it the best that it can be. In 2006, design categories were added, and in 2009, even more design categories were added so that visitors could filter the results by many different styles and trends. Needless to say, updating TheBestDesigns.com gives me daily design inspiration.
Books and Magazines
Art and design books and magazines are great tools for inspiration. Sometimes just going into a library and looking at some of their old design books can give a designer so many new ideas. Many new design trends come from designs of the past. They are just recycled to the current time to give them a fresh new look. So next time you are at the bookstore or library, sit down and flip through some of their old art and design books.
Here is a list of some of the creative magazines I like to read:
Color is a very important part of inspiration. Sometimes I will notice the colors in a room or on a menu at a restaurant and take note of how well those colors work together. Sometimes I will see colors in nature that inspire me. Moreover, if I still need more color inspiration, there are a few color resources I visit such as:
I use Delicious to organize my bookmarks, and I use a binder to archive my favorite articles and design samples from magazines that I have read throughout the years. Then I recycle the rest of the magazine that I don’t need. It takes up less space, and I have my binders organized with tabs for topics such as web design, fonts, logos, etc. An exception to this is the design annuals that some of the design magazines publish once per year. I usually keep those for reference since they are filled with so many designs and seem more like books than magazines.
If I need to be creatively motivated, or if I am really stuck on something, going outside and spending time alone with nature always seems to help. The colors and scenery in nature are always inspirational for me, especially when the sun is setting or in the fall when the leaves are changing. Not only is it good for visual inspiration, but it is also good for clearing your mind. Sometimes sitting indoors in front of a computer and being infiltrated with so much design information can overwhelm and clutter your mind. Stepping away from this for some fresh air and time to think can really work wonders.
Listening to music while you are being creative can influence your work more than you know. Depending on what I am working on, I like to listen to music that will help set the mood for my work. For instance, when I started painting portraits at 16, I would go to my room, close the door, and turn on some classical or symphony music to listen to while I worked. I would work for hours without even realizing the time that passed. I also noticed that listening to that style of music made my portraits have much more detail than when I didn’t listen to any music at all. It seemed as if the classical music made it easier to concentrate and it welcomed more patience in the work. And, as most of us know, it’s the attention to the details that can make a design really stand out from the rest.
Packaging in the Aisles
I was at a grocery store with a friend once, and I saw the most beautiful, minimal packaging design that I had ever seen. The colors were perfect, and the layout was flawless. My non-designer friend thought I was a bit ridiculous for going on about the design of this bottle, but I still remember the minimal styles used years later. If I had owned an iPhone then, I am sure I would have taken a picture of it.
I always try to notice packaging when I am walking through store aisles. I try to discover what makes them work – what makes that font work with that. I notice the colors used and the negative space – everything. I take notice of these simple things in everyday life, and in doing so I feel it helps to exercise my mind for design.
Your workspace is probably the space that you are in the most. If it isn’t welcoming or creative, it could negatively affect your work or stunt your creativity. If your workspace is messy and cluttered, it may be harder to find things, which can lead to working longer to get things done. This also includes the folders in your computer. If your computer files are also unorganized or cluttered, it just adds to the frustration.
A few years ago, I worked as a web designer for a corporate retail chain that updated its website weekly. The pay was good, but the work involved would make most designers run the other way. Each week, the retail chain would come out with a new sales ad, and one of my main jobs was to create a hero image for their home page that matched their ad for the week. The same fonts had to be used; a specific photo, the same colors, and the layout could only be one of three choices. What made it even worse was the environment. I worked in a tiny gray cubicle in a dreary space with washed-out overhead lighting. It felt like I was in a designer jail cell. Even if I would have been allowed to be more creative, that environment certainly wouldn’t have helped.
It also helps to surround yourself with creative things. A clean, organized workspace that has art on the walls and design books in the bookshelf with warm, inviting lighting is much nicer and more productive than a messy, gray cubicle. Sometimes it’s hard to change the surroundings at work, but I have always made sure that my workspace at home inspires my design in the best way possible.
What are your own tips and tools for inspiration?
How do you get creatively-inspired? Share your techniques and opinions with us in the comments.