Where Does Your Design Inspiration Come From?

Inspiration is a finicky concept. Sometimes all you have to do is listen to one specific song and you’re in the work zone. Other times, the seemingly most random things tend to inspire our work. Here at Proto.io, we asked designers from around the world what inspires them to help our readers figure out the best way to get and stay inspired.

To be exact, we asked our survey respondents: “Where does your inspiration come from? Is it with music (share your Spotify playlist) a walk in the park? A crack in the wall?” We asked designers who responded to be as specific as possible so that we could present their actionable tips to the greater community. Some of their answers have been edited slightly for clarity.

Here is what we learned from our survey.

Designers Are Inspired by Music

Whether you have a specific musician that always gets your ideas flowing or like to explore new music in hopes that you’ll come up with the next best thing, music was a very popular response. One designer told us, “Inspiration comes with music. I put on my headphones and listen to my Spotify playlist with music I dig all the time.”

Spotify came up again in another response. They told us they are inspired by “Spotify playlists: Designers.mx is a place for designers to curate and share playlists. There’s a ton of gold to be found there. Personally, I’ve been listening to the Focus Flow playlist a lot lately.”

One other suggested a number of music artists that help them find their next idea: “Dilla, Madlib,” and the deep house genre in general. No matter what type of music you like, there’s bound to be a playlist or mix to get your brain thinking. Whether that’s on Apple Music, Spotify, Soundcloud, or beyond, there are a number of music platforms out there to meet your needs.

When Design Itself Sparks Inspiration

Hitting a roadblock is no fun when you’ve got a deadline to meet. Many designers get over that hurdle by turning to fellow designers, whether they’re in the same field or do a very different kind of design. If you design mobile apps, it’s possible to find an untapped gold mine of inspiration in other types of design. A designer told us that they are inspired by “car designs and concept cars.” Just because a designer works outside of your industry, it doesn’t mean that you can’t find fresh, new ideas based on their creations.

If you prefer to source inspiration from your own peers, two different strategies can work well. On one side, a designer looked at it from a collaborative perspective, telling us that “Seeing the work of other designers inspires me most. I love album artwork, comics art, concert posters, etc. Great art inspires every facet of design.” From a different perspective, a little competition never hurt anyone. If you work on a product or app that has direct competitors, why not follow what they’re working on and reading to gain an understanding of what inspires them? Getting an insider look into how competing designers think can help you improve your own designs.

Whether you’re looking for competing or complementary ideas, why not keep a folder of things that have inspired you in the past to tap into that inspiration when needed? One designer explained, “I keep a set of folders on my desktop… animations, interfaces, vectors, etc. that I collect things to regularly. Whenever I need some inspiration I have something handy to refer to.”

Creating this collection of inspirational files can help you and even if you haven’t started making additions just yet, you can always click over to existing websites that are always full of great designs. A designer gave their input, “When I’m knee-deep in a project, I mostly utilize Dribbble, Interfaces.pro, Google Images, ProductPages.xyz, and Coolors.” These sites are full of design inspiration and are updated often.

Beyond these design-focused sites, Twitter is also a great place to aggregate a feed of design inspiration. Here are some of the accounts you can’t miss, according to our survey respondents:

These are just a few inspiring designers you could possibly follow on Twitter. In addition, there’s also Instagram and countless other places you could keep up with the latest designs and musings from design superstars and up-and-comers alike.

Finding Design Inspiration Far From the Industry

The wild offers boundless options for design inspiration. That often comes from random online searches and scrolling through social media sites. But it can also come from the actual wild, in the form of walks and some take it up a notch from there. A survey respondent told us that they find inspiration “by disconnecting from design work and going for a run [because] it is scientifically proven that physical activity stimulates brain and gives more impulses to create.” Taking space from your work helps jog your brain and generate new ideas, so try getting outside when you need an infusion of inspiration.

While out and about, a number of people, places, and things inspire the designers we heard from. A designer told us, “I often get inspired by color-themes. It could be from someone’s outfit on the bus, a sign or a cushion in a shop. It is the mix of colors or textures that create an energy which sparks my ideas!” These random things we encounter in our day to day lives can help shed light on design blockers when we least expect it. In addition, a designer found that “restaurant menus, coffee shops, hand lettering” inspire them as well.

Game design is something that came up often, along with several other industries. A designer explained that they find inspiration in “Projects from other creatives disciplines different from mine (I’m a product designer). Architecture, photography, art, cultural projects. Intersection between different concepts.” These other industries can provide new insights that you may not have considered before.

Expanding your horizons in terms new industries was a tip echoed by a number of survey respondents. In fact, one designer told they get inspired by “learning about other industries (history, psychology, nature, science) to get more inspiration for designs that sometimes become so standard and follow very similar patterns.”

Getting Inspired by New Things

Beyond different industries, hearing new perspectives can be a big help when you’re working on an important design project. “I am most inspired simply when I’m just talking, or even just listening to people, sharing ideas and hearing people’s perspectives on those ideas.”

Location can also spur new ideas. One survey respondent got incredibly specific about the places that inspire them. They explained that they draw inspiration, “From furniture stores. Especially those Japanese Furniture outlets. Sometimes from traveling to a foreign country, conversation with foreigners about their day-to-day lifestyle and patterns.” These experiences of exploring the unknown can bring up ideas that would have eluded you otherwise.

Another respondent agreed, saying that they are inspired by “New music, traveling unknown places/countries, and visiting unfamiliar websites.” Whether the designer is getting to know a new person, music, industry, or art form, getting an infusion of new perspectives helps designers to approach old or new problems in a novel way.

When Routine Sparks Inspiration

For better or for worse, we all have routines that we follow most days. We may have routines for our mornings or the way we like to tackle projects at work. Our routines have the power to advance our ideas.

Depending on how you like to work, some designers suggest “Storyboarding out scenarios.” And whether you have a client project or are working on a design sprint, one constant across all design work is a time constraint. “Restrictions, resource limitations and time limits often inspire the best ideas for me.”

As podcasts increase their rise to popularity, designers have hopped on the trend as well. They can be a great start to your morning routine so that you can get your day off to the right start.

Here are the top podcasts that designers we surveyed suggest:

Get Centered to Gain Inspiration

Last, but not least, sometimes getting centered from within helps with design. “My inspiration occurs when I am in a meaningful contemplation. I either have to be going for a walk, sitting in silence, meditating, or showering.”

While design is great, sometimes stepping away mentally and physically is the best call. This includes taking the time to meditate and think. Sometimes that even includes taking your mind off of what you’re working on to generate new ideas. A designer told us, “My inspiration comes from within, its the need to detach from reality and express myself and experiment through colors, type, shapes.”

Design Inspiration is Individual

No inspiration method works perfectly for every designer. While we surveyed designers from all over the world, there are still many design inspiration tactics that we didn’t have a chance to mention here. This is just a drop in the bucket of all the design inspiration that is out there. We invite you to share your own tried and true methods to help the design community explore new ideas that can take our projects to the next level.

Proto.io lets anyone build mobile app prototypes that feel real. No coding or design skills required. Bring your ideas to life quickly! Sign up for a free 15-day trial of Proto.io today and get started on your next mobile app design.

Originally published at blog.proto.io on April 17, 2018.

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