Project Management

Quick tip: Finding web design inspiration

Ryan Boudreaux suggests some ways for web designers to cultivate inspiration, drawing on the simple activity of observation. He includes some tools that will help you save and organize your ideas.

Keeping yourself and your team motivated and excited about web development and design can be a challenging task for any web master. Inspiration comes from many sources and often some unlikely places. I always delight in discovering inspired moments when I least expect them, such as when hiking on a wooded trail, or reading a book about events from the past, or at home in the kitchen sipping my morning coffee. These random, purposeful moments might actually be more common than you think. When practicing the art of inspiration on a regular basis, it then becomes habit forming. Before you know it, finding inspiration becomes a part of your normal routine.

The world around us

Taking a hike in the woods may be a simple pleasure, but it is one example of how inspiration can be found for the web designer. We can take inspiration from looking at various elements of nature such as trees, hills, mountains, streams, birds, flowers, and animals. Once you realize that nature has solved many of her own design problems for millions of years, it's sensible for us to study and learn from it as well.

Humans have studied nature for millions of years as an aid to helping them solve complex problems, and the web designer can use similar techniques to extract web design inspiration. This technique is commonly known as biomimicry -- the examination of nature, its models, systems, processes, and elements - so as to emulate or take inspiration from them in order to solve human problems. Leonardo da Vinci used this technique when he designed his "flying machine" codex in 1505, using anatomical observations from birds of flight.

So, Da Vinci was doing this over 500 years ago, but what are some techniques I can use as a web designer today to draw inspiration from nature? I'm glad you asked! Two techniques for extracting inspiration from the world around us are perspective and microscopic observation.

Perspective means being able to view things in a different way, or to express things from another viewpoint. Two people can look at the same

subject from a similar angle, yet when you ask them to describe it in their own words or put it into a drawing, they will offer two completely different illustrations. When you put yourself into someone else's shoes, so to speak, then you can change your perspective to create some quite interesting and original designs. Changing your perspective can also mean just taking yourself and your laptop out of the office and down to the shopping mall, coffee shop, book store, or the local library; equally, these places are also full of inspirational opportunities.

Microscopic observation does not mean you have to go out and purchase an expensive electron microscope to view the world; this has already been done for us.

What we can learn and grab inspiration from is close-up observations of the infinitesimal and minute details of natural structures, for example, the cell configurations of plants, or the diverse shapes of microfossils such as foraminifera, or the double helix structure of a DNA strand. Viewing the myriad colors, shapes, textures, sizes, and variations of objects in minute detail can help to inspire your own creative web design point of view.

Voyage in time

You don't have to wait for the invention of the time machine to jump back a few centuries, or to think about what the future might bring. All you have to do is take a glimpse back in history, because there are several periods that generated a lot of creative innovation. For instance, the Sixteenth Century and the Renaissance period in Europe generated plenty of creative thought, and believe it or not, the Great Depression era between the 1930s and1940s, and post World War II era, is regarded as one of the most creative periods of our time, as depicted in the art, buildings, literature, and modern innovations of that period.

Tools to capture inspiration

Tools for diagramming inspiration, ideas, and creative flow traditionally have been the long-standing draft pencil, t-square, ruler, and paper set, yet capturing and organizing your creativity today can be accomplished electronically with computers, smart phones, and many applications. Tools such as EverNote, allow you to capture, organize, and find your notes easily. It allows you to clip web pages, create text, snap photos and index all of your notes and ideas. EverNote is available for PC, Mac, and a variety of mobile devices, with limitations for the free download version, or for the premium version at a small monthly or annual fee.

Another similar tool is Microsoft OneNote, which is another platform for gathering research, ideas, notes, drawings, images, and organizing them into a digital notebook. A trial download is also available and can be used on PC, Mac, smartphone or the web. OneNote is included in several Microsoft Office 2010 product suites or can be purchased as a stand-alone application.

Lastly, one more source for inspiration can be found at StumbleUpon (SU), where you can discover the best of the web. The discovery search engine finds and recommends websites based on your matched personal preferences; as you share and discover websites, SU will allow you to "stumble" websites that correspond to your personal interests. The SU toolbar which can be installed on several browsers is also a great way to share your own "stumbles" with other members in the community.

What are some of the ways that you find inspiration? Have you found tools that you would like to share with other designers?

About

Ryan has performed in a broad range of technology support roles for electric-generation utilities, including nuclear power plants, and for the telecommunications industry. He has worked in web development for the restaurant industry and the Federal g...

1 comments
Shadeburst
Shadeburst

Ryan I agree that nature is a great source of inspiration... remembering that poetic greats like Wordsworth and Milton found inspiration in the science side of nature too. The article might have benefited me more if you'd touched on how inspiration can improve the nuts and bolts "under the hood" design as well as the graphical interface which the user sees.

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