Project Management

Resources to find design inspiration

Are your creative juices all dried up? Check out these tips and tricks to spark inspiration.

This article originally appeared as a Design and Usability Tactics e-newsletter.

By Jim Kukral

Creativity is what motivates designers' decisions and molds our final sculptures. It's not only our key to survival, but it also separates us from the pack. Oftentimes, the more creative a designer is, the more successful they become.

There's only one problem.

For most of us, creativity doesn't come so easily. There are times when we must rely on inspiration to jump-start our creative juices. So it's important for designers to find ways to stay inspired, and to call on certain reliable tactics for inspiration. You can use the following tips and tricks to spark inspiration when creativity is at a low point.

Good artists copy, great artists steal (Picasso)

It isn't always feasible to expect that you'll design something that has never been done before. In short, you don't need to reinvent the wheel every time you start a project. On the contrary, a designer should seek inspiration from other designers' successes and failures. Survey the landscape and gather the necessary pieces of information, and then make them work for your purposes.

For example, say your task is to create a new navigational element for a client's Web site. You've examined what elements need to be displayed and determined how deep and dynamic the site needs to be. Now, you need to decide whether to:

  • Spend countless hours developing a brand new navigation style, or
  • Find and research how other designers worked through the same problem you're facing, and then improve upon their implementations

By choosing the second option, your client will likely appreciate the less costly bill, and you'll end up with a final product that's easy to use and that's consistent with most Web users' experiences. (Remember: There's a reason why many sites mimic the Amazon tabs; they work, and lots of people already know how to use them.)

Where to look for inspiration

Directory sites like CoolHomepages, which indexes the most creative types of Web sites, are excellent places for designers to bookmark. You can even narrow your search to find specific examples of what you're looking for, such as Flash designs, e-commerce sites, and banner ads.

Magazines, both online and offline, are also recommended resources. One good resource in particular is Adobe Magazine, which offers examples, tips, tricks, expert advice, and reviews of design tools.

Two other helpful sources are e-mail newsletters and Web forums. Specific benefits include the important timeliness of new content and fresh ideas and the interaction you can achieve with other designers.

In a perfect world, you would never be at a loss for inspiration. However, this is very rarely the case, so try applying the strategies and using the resources mentioned in this article to help fuel your inspiration.

Jim Kukral has spent the last seven years working in the trenches of Web design, development, and usability for Fortune 500 clients as well as mom-and-pop companies.

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