“Inspiration is everywhere.” You’ve heard it quoted at least once in your lifetime, but what do they actually mean by it? The “where do you get / find inspiration” question is the email I receive the most, which typically follows with the response of “everywhere.” On the other end I can hear the recipient saying “Yeah, yeah, yeah, typical” as they read my response. Instead of going into too much detail for each email, I’d thought it would make for a good blog post and general discussion. Here’s my attempt at defining and clarifying the “inspiration is everywhere” statement.
Inspiration is everywhere
Understanding the quote “inspiration is everywhere” is quite straight forward. The world around us is full of inspiration stocked to the ceiling with stimulating colors, textures, shapes, curves, arrangements, contrasts, similarities… well you get the point. However, since we are bombarded with such beautiful inspiration each time we walk out our front doors, we often take it for granted and passes through our minds as a quick thought to later be forgotten when we need it. Many only seem to look for inspiration when only they need it.
The key to inspiration is being a good recorder. Technology makes this very simple with camera phones, pocket-sized sketchbooks, iPads and amongst other things. Instead of inspirational occurrences becoming another passing moment, take a picture; it lasts longer. Make a record of everything that inspires or catches your eye and revisit these things when you start a new project.
For example: the grid for your website layout can be inspired by the balanced, yet unorthodox, arrangement of windows on old piece of architecture creating a unique layout for the blog section of your new site.
Also, having recently redesigned this blog, I can relate to playing the role of a “recorder.” The color palette was inspired by a book cover I came across while browsing a bookstore in Princeton, New Jersey, while the cross-hatching—acting as shading running along the sides— was inspired by my neighbors old little white fence that is half hanging over into my side (the way the fencing weaved and intertwined). The subtle grey texture was inspired by a newspaper-eske feel to put focus back on my content and purpose of this site: to read. A majority of what inspired this redesign was drawn by offline inspiration.
The power of push
All it takes is that one tiny inspirational moment to propel a project forward. From here it is often easier to build around the segment of inspiration. Great design excels in the tiniest of detail. I feel that many—starting a new website design for example—jump straight to online design galleries to drum up inspiration. All this typically does is embed a predetermined look, feel and flow to your work, often resulting in a similar look, style and flow of existing websites.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be looking at what your peers are doing. Instead, look at online inspiration last. Flip through your recorded inspiration inventory or hop on a train to a near by city to work for the day. Even a small change in your environment can provide a world of difference and provoke new emotions.
Here’s a few examples:
- Jason Santa Maria on his About page states that his “design sensibilities are heavily inspired by traditional print design and a deep love for typography.” I’m sure most of you have already, but if not, have a look at his work and you will see his inspiration-based print design background.
- Yaron Schoen discusses his inspiration for his TeaJunkie Poster set as “mimicking the feeling” he got when walking around an exhibit.
- Carsonified discusses their journey to redesign their company site, which in the end was inspired by a Gap Store.
- Dan Mall states that his website is “an experiment in contrast: thick and thin, big and small, black and white. It takes obvious references from editorial design, specifically inspired by The New York Times and the L.A. Times.”
As you can see from a few examples above, their inspiration for web and print was discovered via an exploration and/or feeling from something a bit unconventional. Jason and Dan’s print to web influences, Yaron’s feeling applied to print, Carsonified’s exploration and recording of space.
Stop looking at the full picture
I’m a fan of Dribbble (there I said it!). Not only is it fun, but inspiring in the way it leaves room to be desired. Instead of drifting off into online “best of the web” galleries, I find myself looking at many beautiful 400px by 300px “shots” (Dribbble is basketball themed for those who don’t know) only to let my mind wonder off into how the rest will look. This play of curiosity lately has helped me work through a few design challenges of my own work.
In a way viewing these small screen crops is similar to drawing inspiration from everyday objects. It allows us to focus on that one small detail which we can use to power a new direction for our work. The fence and book cover colors used in this blogs stimulant was my own way of “cropping out” my neighbors yard and the remainder of the bookstore. By focusing and recording one inspiring moment and element I was able to move forward with my design and give it a more unique approach.
Inspiration is about stimulation. It encourages the development of something new. We are often inspired because we like the character or spirit of an object, not because someone else did it therefore it must be “right.” Inspiration intrigues us to work towards an approach, not copy or mimic another’s. Inspiration acts as a fuel to catapult us in our own direction. Inspiration, for me, is trying something different.
Trends start and break because inspiration draws up something unusual and the problem is approached differently and accepted by a large group of people / designers. Don’t let your fear of fully actually inspired hinder the ability to push new boundaries in your work and explore new options.