Inspirational Tips and Tools from a Designer

Sep 28 2009 by Angela Rohner | 33 Comments

I’d like to share with you some of the tools, ideas and resources that I use as a designer whenever I need some design inspiration. Some of the resources and ideas in this article may be things that you already know, and some may be new to you that you can try. Whatever the case, I hope you enjoy it!

Design-Related Websites and Blogs

Design-Related Websites and Blogs

There are many design-related websites that I visit to keep me up-to-date with the latest in design news and trends. Some of the websites I like to visit regularly are:

Fuel Brand Network of Sites – This is one of my favorite networks of blogs that recently launched, and that is still launching new sites. The Fuel Network consists of very useful blogs about design, illustration, apps, coding, photography, and many more on other topics that will be launched soon. I always look forward to the articles that the Fuel Brand Network publishes.

Smashing Magazine – I am sure that most designers have heard of and already visit Smashing Magazine, but if not, you need to start. It is the ultimate resource for designers. This website has tutorials, showcases, fonts, freebies, and much more. It is updated frequently so you rarely run out of something new to read here.

Six Revisions – The very site you are looking at is one of my favorite resources for inspiration. Jacob fills the site with unique articles, showcases, and freebies. The blog is updated frequently. Every designer should have this site bookmarked.

Web Design Ledger – Henry Jones publishes quality articles, resources, and tutorials. The blog is usually updated less frequently than some of the others I visit, but when a new article is posted, it is certainly worth reading.

Psdtuts+ – Just when you think you have seen every Photoshop tutorial known to man and know everything you need to know about Photoshop, this site comes along and makes you realize just how much you have yet to learn. Psdtuts+ is an amazing resource for teaching you how to make all kinds of effects in Photoshop. The tutorials here are endless.

Webdesigner Depot – This web design blog has many unique and inspiring blog posts and is also updated regularly.

Footer Fetish – This is a new inspirational website that I started visiting recently that features creative website footers. Definitely one to bookmark for footer inspiration.

Blog Design Heroes – Another new gallery that showcases some of the best blog designs.

Folio Focus – A new gallery that showcases creative portfolio sites.

Minimal Exhibit – An inspirational gallery that targets minimal sites.

TheBestDesigns.com – This is the web design gallery that I started in 2001. I’m always trying to make it the best that it can be. In 2006, design categories were added, and in 2009, even more design categories were added so that visitors could filter the results by many different styles and trends. Needless to say, updating TheBestDesigns.com gives me daily design inspiration.

Books and Magazines

Books and Magazines

Art and design books and magazines are great tools for inspiration. Sometimes just going into a library and looking at some of their old design books can give a designer so many new ideas. Many new design trends come from designs of the past. They are just recycled to the current time to give them a fresh new look. So next time you are at the bookstore or library, sit down and flip through some of their old art and design books.

Here is a list of some of the creative magazines I like to read:

Color Tools

Color Tools

Color is a very important part of inspiration. Sometimes I will notice the colors in a room or on a menu at a restaurant and take note of how well those colors work together. Sometimes I will see colors in nature that inspire me. Moreover, if I still need more color inspiration, there are a few color resources I visit such as:

Organization

Organization

I use Delicious to organize my bookmarks, and I use a binder to archive my favorite articles and design samples from magazines that I have read throughout the years. Then I recycle the rest of the magazine that I don’t need. It takes up less space, and I have my binders organized with tabs for topics such as web design, fonts, logos, etc. An exception to this is the design annuals that some of the design magazines publish once per year. I usually keep those for reference since they are filled with so many designs and seem more like books than magazines.

The Outdoors

The Outdoors

If I need to be creatively motivated, or if I am really stuck on something, going outside and spending time alone with nature always seems to help. The colors and scenery in nature are always inspirational for me, especially when the sun is setting or in the fall when the leaves are changing. Not only is it good for visual inspiration, but it is also good for clearing your mind. Sometimes sitting indoors in front of a computer and being infiltrated with so much design information can overwhelm and clutter your mind. Stepping away from this for some fresh air and time to think can really work wonders.

Music

Listening to music while you are being creative can influence your work more than you know. Depending on what I am working on, I like to listen to music that will help set the mood for my work. For instance, when I started painting portraits at 16, I would go to my room, close the door, and turn on some classical or symphony music to listen to while I worked. I would work for hours without even realizing the time that passed. I also noticed that listening to that style of music made my portraits have much more detail than when I didn’t listen to any music at all. It seemed as if the classical music made it easier to concentrate and it welcomed more patience in the work. And, as most of us know, it’s the attention to the details that can make a design really stand out from the rest.

Packaging in the Aisles

Packaging in the Isles

I was at a grocery store with a friend once, and I saw the most beautiful, minimal packaging design that I had ever seen. The colors were perfect, and the layout was flawless. My non-designer friend thought I was a bit ridiculous for going on about the design of this bottle, but I still remember the minimal styles used years later. If I had owned an iPhone then, I am sure I would have taken a picture of it.

I always try to notice packaging when I am walking through store aisles. I try to discover what makes them work – what makes that font work with that. I notice the colors used and the negative space – everything. I take notice of these simple things in everyday life, and in doing so I feel it helps to exercise my mind for design.

Workspace

Your workspace is probably the space that you are in the most. If it isn’t welcoming or creative, it could negatively affect your work or stunt your creativity. If your workspace is messy and cluttered, it may be harder to find things, which can lead to working longer to get things done. This also includes the folders in your computer. If your computer files are also unorganized or cluttered, it just adds to the frustration.

A few years ago, I worked as a web designer for a corporate retail chain that updated its website weekly. The pay was good, but the work involved would make most designers run the other way. Each week, the retail chain would come out with a new sales ad, and one of my main jobs was to create a hero image for their home page that matched their ad for the week. The same fonts had to be used; a specific photo, the same colors, and the layout could only be one of three choices. What made it even worse was the environment. I worked in a tiny gray cubicle in a dreary space with washed-out overhead lighting. It felt like I was in a designer jail cell. Even if I would have been allowed to be more creative, that environment certainly wouldn’t have helped.

It also helps to surround yourself with creative things. A clean, organized workspace that has art on the walls and design books in the bookshelf with warm, inviting lighting is much nicer and more productive than a messy, gray cubicle. Sometimes it’s hard to change the surroundings at work, but I have always made sure that my workspace at home inspires my design in the best way possible.

What are your own tips and tools for inspiration?

How do you get creatively-inspired? Share your techniques and opinions with us in the comments.

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About the Author

Angela Rohner is founder of the CSS and Flash design gallery, TheBestDesigns.com and currently works as an Art Director and Front End Developer in Dallas, TX. To get in touch with Angela, you can find her on Twitter or you can visit her Personal Website.

33 Comments

Waheed Akhtar

September 28th, 2009

Very useful and inspirational. Love it.
thanks for sharing

Johnson Koh

September 28th, 2009

Great post Angela! Those blogs you have mentioned are my favorites as well :)

Steven Snell

September 28th, 2009

Angela,
Thanks for linking to Blog Design Heroes, Folio Focus, and Minimal Exhibit.

Aaron Irizarry

September 28th, 2009

This is a nice round up of inspiration resources, Thanks! Some of the things that really inspire me are architecture, movies, and actually music, even though it isn’t visual, it often times help get the creativity flowing.

thanks

~ Aaron I

Stephen

September 28th, 2009

Hey, great article. It’s always fun to see where other people get inspiration. I think the list of web/design websites will be especially useful.

BTW, “Isles” should probably be “Aisles.”

karol

September 28th, 2009

one more link from me…

http://en.tspot.pl (english version)

http://tspot.pl (full non-english version)

Dan

September 28th, 2009

Great article!

One thing, I believe “isles” should be “aisles”.

Brandon

September 28th, 2009

Oh boy, more sites to spend way too much of my day reading!

Kidding of course (sorta), great article though. I will certainly check these out, Six Revisions and Smashing Magazine are two of my favorites.

Jonathan

September 28th, 2009

deviantArt.com is full of so many creative things, from photography to web design, that it’s hard not to be inspired!

Shay

September 28th, 2009

Using a binder to archive your favorite articles and samples is a great idea! I have a few magazine subscriptions, of which are just piling up around my apartment. Dropping them into an organized binder will make life much easier. Thank you!

Rishi Luchun

September 28th, 2009

Great post, thanks for the tips and links

Adelle Charles

September 28th, 2009

Angela, great resources here and appreciate the shout out to Fuel Brand Network!

QuickenWebsites

September 28th, 2009

We need a new website, let’s call it Inspiration on demand.

Brandon Cox

September 28th, 2009

Very cool – I like the variety! I only wish some of the periodicals were more affordable in the U. S.

Designer

September 29th, 2009

Nice Website. Thank you. :)

Web 2.0

September 29th, 2009

Great list, thanks for sharing:)

Paul Olyslager

September 29th, 2009

Nice overview. I’ve post a similar article with inspirational blogs and most of them are the same than your list, means these are really important :).
Maybe you can share with us which magazine subscriptions you have as well?

Ziggy

September 29th, 2009

It is this special female glance at things I like most. Great article, great tips. Thanks.

Dan London

September 29th, 2009

Great list.

I really like the binder idea for articles you wish to keep and save!

Henry Jones

September 30th, 2009

Thanks for including Web Design Ledger in this great resource.

Cristian @ Maquina Studio

September 30th, 2009

Great post! I especially agree with the point about music and workspace. Without a conducive environment creating the right creative state of mind can be an uphill battle. Very subtle but powerful principle.

Angela

October 1st, 2009

Thanks for the kind words! Glad you liked the article. :o)

Mark Carter

October 1st, 2009

Great post across such a range of resources … especially to ‘Minimal Exhibit’ which I wasn’t aware of previously. Many thanks indeed.

James J Martin IV

October 2nd, 2009

Great stuff! Music should not be underestimated as a design influence. I particularly like to work to electronic stuff and some contemporary classical…

Keith Davis

October 3rd, 2009

My tip for inspiration… keep visiting Six Revisions.
Another article that both inspires and depresses me.
Inspiration from the fantastic content and depression from the quality that I can only dream about.
Thanks and I’ll keep dreaming.

DN

October 5th, 2009

Great list, thanks for sharing:)

HO

October 5th, 2009

Thanks for the kind words! Glad you liked the article. :o)

John Do

October 5th, 2009

Wow, great mix. Thx!
btw.: Got here from designfeed on twitter :-)

Anaska

October 5th, 2009

‘FooterFetish.com’ is really an interesting find. Thank you, Angela.
I would like to add http://www.notcot.org

Jeevan

October 6th, 2009

As a designer, I would like to raise a voice and express my opinion. Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. In this day and age of consumerism, we emphasize on taking in huge amounts of content endlessly. Visual chaotic and numbing, this information overload can itself be detrimental to creativity. We end up in subconcious plagiarism.

We need step up to be producers. Sure, inspiration gives a whack on the side of our heads. Coming up with innovative ideas and an original style is so important. Furthermore, perspiration could itself be inspirational as we bump into accidental results. So play around, have fun and creative something NEW!

abhijeet

October 6th, 2009

really good post
every designer learn from this post
keep adding!!!!!11

tsk

October 23rd, 2009

well, I guess you forgot to mention the timeless inspirational friend which is a glass of Jack. add a good cigar and your inspiration will start sparkle.

have a nice week-end

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