So you’re looking for inspiration
Design can be a tricky field to navigate sometimes. It can feel almost like your job hinges on you getting that spark of creativity or inspiration that perfectly and eloquently solves the problem at hand. What happens if you don’t stumble across a good enough answer? What happens if you get stuck on that one problem forever? Maybe you’ll go digging through old Pinterest boards titled “design inspo” or scramble for some new way to phrase your search on dribbble to finally find something that sparks a fire in the part of your brain that handles aesthetic. You might even jump to such drastic measures as to google the phrase “finding inspiration in web design,” and maybe, just maybe, you’ll stumble across a couple of blog posts to help you out. Ultimately, however, what you’ll come to find is that design isn’t really about sparking creativity and digging for inspiration. Design is about solving a problem. And usually, if you’re too stuck, you’ve tried to jump in without defining enough of the problem.
Defining your problem
How about an example? Say you have to design a website for a manufacturing company. Maybe you’re stuck on the homepage and don’t know where to begin. You grasp at straws and shout, “a photo slider!” Ok, now that you’ve gotten that out of your system, let’s maybe toss a little more effort into the mix, shall we?
Your current problem:
To design a homepage for a manufacturing company.
Now let’s make it a little more specific:
A manufacturing company wants a homepage that meets the needs of both the company itself and the target audience.
Even More Specific Problem:
A manufacturing company in Northeast Ohio needs a homepage that gives a short and sweet overview of what they do, points out their key capabilities, features their most popular service, and presents some testimonials to demonstrate they are a trustworthy business.
If you want to go even further, generate a long list of objectives for the site. This list should contain every possible thing the site needs to do for the company in question. Here is a brief example of an objectives list, although it definitely can be expanded:
- To design a website for company
- To represent a company persona.
- Where possible, promote a professional individual who is happy to discuss requirements face to face and to listen to and respect clients’ input and ideas as part of a collaborative service.
- To promote a business with transparent and honest service.
- Where possible, promote the unique personal history of company.
- To target individuals who are looking for company services.
- The design must be simple, elegant, clean and minimal.
- The design must not be loud, bright, busy, or cluttered.
So you’ve defined your problem and created a list of objectives. Now pull out the trusty old Google machine and start researching! In all reality, you should have been researching this entire time to some degree. Research isn’t just one phase of design, but a constant process you should be doing as you work and define your problem, even after you have a design revelation and move on to creating. You might begin by learning about the industry of the company in question. It is also helpful to explore all of the company’s competitors in the surrounding areas. However, don’t just limit yourself to one location! You can learn a lot from websites of similar companies in other countries.
Of the websites that you find, pick out your favorites, and note down why you like to use them. You might find you are attracted to websites with a simple menu structure, cleaner and simpler designs, and the occasional bright pop of color. Or perhaps you prefer things a little more experimental. Regardless, consider also what the customers would prefer in a website. For example, if the majority of users will be in an older age range, keeping things simple and using a bigger and more readable font will help a lot with usability.
Now you should have a good outline of where you want the website to go, what sort of content to include on each page, and even the order in which you’ll lay things out. However, unembellished content is boring. So now is the time to explore. Maybe at this point, you feel like “inspiration” and “creativity” are words that you shouldn’t use, but they do have a time and a place. The problem with these words isn’t in their meaning or in the act of searching for them, but how we view these words as being somewhat mystical. Being “creative” should mean you are a good problem solver, not a magician with some innate skill.
If you’re anything at all like me, you might have a folder in your bookmarks bar specifically labeled “design inspo” filled with websites where people showcase their designs for you to explore and find ideas. If you don’t do that, then maybe you need to be more like me. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
To get you started on your own bookmarks folder, here is a wide array of sites to visit and explore how other designers have approached and solved problems like yours:
Originality and Other Media
As web designers, we predominantly look to other website designs for ideas and solutions to specific problems. However, there is something to be said about using different media as sources of inspiration. Many times brochure designs and newspaper layouts lend themselves well to being translated to a grid-based web system. Innovative web designs drawn from something like a common print material can add extra visual interest to your work in a unique way. Billboards, handheld print materials, packaging, fine art, and even architecture can help you explore ways of displaying information uniquely and creatively.
When using other media as sources of inspiration, it is still important to be cognizant of the specific use cases of web designs and how they behave differently than print materials. There are always limitations to physical media that the web doesn’t have to deal with and vice versa.
After you’ve defined your problem, done extensive research, and explored other designers’ solutions to similar scenarios, it’s time for you to create your design. If you still find yourself stuck, it can be helpful to step away for a while and try to focus on other things. Taking a moment to do something else may give your subconscious the time it needs to propose a new solution.
Or you could just, you know, let us handle it for you.