Finding Your Design InspirationWeb Design & Development
Design inspiration is a very general phrase, and I bet hundreds of blog posts about the subject are published every day. When I decided to write about this topic, I knew I wanted it to be more than a list of websites I use for inspiration. I wanted to focus on the process behind inspiration—where it starts in a project, how it varies, and finally, where I go to get design ideas to support my inspiration.
Knowing the Project
Design inspiration varies from project to project. Some projects we get at Papercut are from clients that have a well-established brand and specific goals they want to achieve with their website, while others have a simpler brand and fewer goals, and some projects have no brand at all and need a lot of support and direction. At Papercut, we handle all of these types of projects, and depending upon what they come to us with, we guide and help them achieve success on the web.
Where inspiration comes from varies greatly depending upon the client and their content. Projects that come in with a strong brand and clear goals usually get started a lot faster. Knowing the color palette, fonts, content, and tone of a company is helpful in creating its look online. Projects that come with a simpler brand and goals sometimes take a little bit of further definition to create a strong design. The projects that have no real branding or content take a bit longer to develop, but they are a lot of fun to do. Defining the colors, typography, and tone of a brand online is something I love to do.
Developing a Concept
Before you can really start getting inspired for design, you need to make sure you have a solid concept.
For many years, the web has focused on fitting content into pre-fabricated content management systems rather than analyzing the content needed for a project to flourish online and then building around that content. When you start a project with content first, you are able to develop a great concept that then makes the design process a heck of a lot better—and truly engages your users.
Finding a great concept for a project is really, really tough. The best way is to bring more people in to brainstorm and then go old school. I like to use a thesaurus to start to word map and get ideas, flip through any kind of print material to find interesting ads, layouts, or phrases, and talk it out with people—inspiration for the web doesn't necessarily need to come from the web. Humans use the web, so talking about how someone might want to use your project online is an important step in gaining inspiration for how it will be built.
True inspiration really comes from doing the work of developing a concept. More often than not, design can start to flourish and develop on its own from a solid concept.
Checking Your Resources
Once you know what type of project you are creating and have done your legwork to develop a great brand and concept, you can consult some industry resources for inspiration on layouts and style details. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Browsing Trends:
⁃ Awwwards.com offers an in-depth and diverse pool of design inspiration. Anyone can submit a design to this site, and the designs are then critiqued and voted on by a panel of industry experts.
⁃ Thebestdesigns.com curates and displays projects from agencies and designers around the world. This is a great resource to get a feel for what kinds of trends are out there.
- Browsing Styles and Details:
⁃ Dribbble.com allows designers to post snapshots of projects they are working on. Designers can post snippets of works in progress and larger images of final projects as well. I like to browse through Dribbble for inspiration on details such as textures, shadows, depth, and corners. These are the small but important elements that make a project stand out.
⁃ Patterntap.com provides structural inspiration for designing the different pieces that make a site. It gives you the ability to sort the designs by type, including navigation, forms, activity, and footer. You can also sort by styles, such as light, dark, flat, and elegant. I find it to be a handy resource when I get stumped on how we can create specific pieces of a design.
Trusting Your Intuition and Listening to Feedback
Often, the best design inspiration comes from trusting your gut instincts and from listening to the advice of others. As a designer, you can (and should) rely on your own intuition and knowledge to create a design, but getting feedback from clients or co-workers can help you spot areas for improvement and bring new ideas to the table that you hadn’t considered. Combining your own ideas with those of others can prove to be the most valuable inspiration of all.