A couple of weeks ago, Chris Coyier from CSS Tricks made a satirical post on his website that he called “Website sameness.” It’s a topic that many listeners are familiar with — that every website looks the same.
There’s a big image at the top with a noxious welcome message. That’s followed by three blocks below that describe the services (because everyone only has three services they offer), and so on and so forth.
It made me chuckle that we’re still having this conversation years later. Even after the first time I read about this, I wanted to talk about where I find my inspiration for design. Spoiler: it’s not always one of those inspirational design websites.
Antique stores or yard sales are usually the most accessible to people. I like antique stores because it’s such a wonderful step into the past. There’s a lot of junk to dig through!
But I appreciate the glimpse into how designers before our time solved problems and how they did it using methods and technology that we don’t use anymore.
It’s so easy to get caught up on our computers using Photoshop or WordPress to solve a problem. We don’t step back and think about the problem in a different light.
Maybe we’re up against a time constraint, or maybe we’re feeling lazy. But taking a different approach or a step back to a pen and paper can break us out of the mold and be a little more creative than a 3‑column row of boxes.
Old design books
When I said old, I’m talking from like the 1960s, 1950s, or even earlier than that if possible. I’ve taken a liking to these books, and it might even show in my DN logo. Aaron Draplin has really popularized this style. But it’s got a serious timelessness to it.
These logos were designed by someone who had to sit and be creative on their own. There wasn’t a stock photo resource or inspiration website to guide them. They only had the parameters or limitations of the tools and reproduction methods being used.
Interior and fashion design
Who says you need to strictly look at sketchbooks or website layouts? Interior designers use fabric to solve problems. Interior designers have all sorts of materials they need to make coexist. These might inspire you to take a totally different approach to what you’re working on.
Mundane, boring tasks
There’s nothing like taking a shower or doing the dishes to be inspired. I’ve noticed that getting away from everything and focusing on something basic or monotonous can be inspiring.
Being able to free your mind from from whatever it was that you’re trying to design and doing something repetitive or boring can really help.
At some point in our lives have watched our parents, our spouses, brothers, sisters, classmates, or coworkers, use a computer. We watch them go through their process to to show us a photo or make a post to Facebook and get annoyed by their methods.
Observing how people interact with design can be inspiration. Is there a better way? A different approach?
No matter what, the best kind of inspiration is to get out of your comfort zone. We miss a lot of cool or innovative things when we’re stuck inside our box. By forcing ourselves out every once in a while, we can gain new perspective and kick our creativity up a notch.