5 places I find inspiration from as a designer and what routines I have to get things done

Inspiration is a funny thing. That jolt or spark that that gets so much momentum going, you feel like designs and ideas are flowing effortlessly out of you. There is no secret well that I dip into, or some quick fix strategy that I use. It’s just persistence and noticing the world around me on a daily basis. My sources of inspiration have changed a lot over the years as I’ve grown as a designer. I use to frequent sites like fwa, awwwards, siteinspire, designspiration, behance a lot. And I still check in from time to time, the work is still great on there, but my efforts and what I want to do as a designer has moved away from that space. I am still interested in the craft side and creating beautiful work. Or ‘designers’ design if you will. But my focus is much more focused on people, outcomes and design systems. Design that can have an impact – shape the world we live in. To move somebody emotionally or impact somebody positively. I’m not there yet but I do my best to try. Or less noble endeavours to just sell some shit, or help a company reach their objectives as best I can. I like creativity and commerce too. It’s all interesting to me. Here are 5 somewhat unconventional places I find inspiration from as a designer.

1. OBSERVING AND CONNECTING WITH PEOPLE

I get inspiration from observing and connecting with people. Learning about the people you are designing for as much as you can, inspires me to understand how best to serve somebody. What do people say, do and feel. Looking at user behaviour but beyond that just learning about people's lives and trying to give a shit. Talk to people understand, observe what makes somebody who they are? We all have back stories and a set of values that help us navigate the world. Hear people's stories, try to understand them and empathise. What would it be like to be in their shoes for day? The more you can tap into that the better of a designer you will become. And hopefully a better person also.

I used to think Design Thinking and user insight tools and UX in general was a crock of shit. Scratch that I think SOME of it still is. Everyone was just saying they practiced it to get the next big contract. But how many really took time to be empathetic and really care. Huge documents to justify shit doesn’t make the work better. I use to create shit like that for the sake of it, with no true investment in it – only to tick it off a list of another thing to do and then move on. If done properly though “truly” learning, observing, prototyping and iterating quickly can create magic in the designs that we do. I will caveat that by saying that it’s not always viable to go deep with every project – there’s time constraints, budgets and not a never ending supply of resources.

But every conversation, interaction or observation you strike with somebody even in your everyday life is an opportunity to learn more, be more empathetic and build on these skills. I was in bed with my wife once and was just observing her using her phone – and how she browsed instagram and how she bought stuff online. Scroll up, scroll down...pause ponder and scroll up, scroll down repeat haha. These skills will translate into your work as you become more in tune with how people behave, how they might think and what it means to the work that you are creating. What makes people want to punch you in the face? What makes someone trust you and want to hug you? What makes somebody happy? It’s different for everybody – and this to me is where I can find ideas and inspiration. 

I think companies like AirBnb really nail this philosophy, a vision and a deep understanding of designing with people at centre of it all. I talked about designing for a emotion here and this is what I mean. When I talk about observing and connecting with people as a source of inspiration, this is the kind of output it creates.

Something I’ve also learnt recently is called a “customer desire map”. You design by trying to understand people’s:

1. Hopes & Dreams

2. Pains & Fears

3. Barriers & Uncertainties

If I can understand this at a deep level – it’s inspires me to come up with solutions.

 

2. Magazines/Books

There’s something about going outside of your medium to find some visual inspiration. And books and magazines are always my go to things. It gives your work a different angle on how to solve visual problems. When I flip a page and see something beautiful it stops me in my tracks. It makes me take notice and think “fuck I wish I designed that”. I see what can I learn from it – what makes it work and how can I apply the essence of it in my own work. Have a lot that I flip through but here are some recent mags/books I’m flipping through and are on my desk.

Avaunt, Intelligent Lifestyle Magazine, How to use graphic design to..., Mindfood and Monocle.  

It inspires me to make my work better. To use these old paradigms and bring it into digital work.

 

3. Film, Stories and Music

If you want to talk about stuff that truly moves you I think these mediums, are what can really transport you, shake you and leave an impact. I rewatched Forest Gump again recently, and the movie always takes me on journey. I feel emotionally invested, I watch Forrest achieve amaze things in the face of adversity and I think “FUCK YES FORREST go for it!” with a mental fist pump. Or when you see Lieutenant Dan go through his struggles it’s gripping. These stories seem so real, like they strike a nerve in our hearts. It makes me inspired to create work that evokes that same sense of impact. I think that some designers have lost the ability to tell these kind of narratives and stories in their work. Because stories can communicate a message so well it is a great skill to have as a designer. 

Next is music. If I need to smash some work the right tune always makes me want to create and design. Feeling nostalgic and I’ll crank on Joe Hisashis “One Summers day” which I’m listening to as I write this very sentence. Or something more sombre and introspective and I’ll put on Family of the Years - “Hero” ala boyhood. You get the idea. Im sure 99%(fake statistic FTW) of designers smash music at one point or another to get work done.

4. Curiosity and observation in everyday life

Along with being observant of people, being observant of your surroundings. Taking a look at the designed systems around you can allow you to find opportunities or interesting observations. What do you think about when you brush your teeth, walking to walk, stuck in traffic, dreaming about your next holiday, what are you going to do today? Nearly everything you do exists in a designed system. A design system of rules, a system of government a system of how a toothbrush is “meant” to be used. These are all learned behaviours. So when you take a step back and think about these things – you start to spark a curiosity and almost an ability to objectively look at how weird the world around you is. It’s like seeing the matrix of everyday life. The more you notice things the more objectively think how you can use the same patterns and behaviours when you are designing.  

5. Learning and motivational videos

When I learn new things, it make me inspired to go out and apply what I’ve learnt. I almost can’t wait to get started. I think improving one’s knowledge and ability is “essential” in any field. But particularly design and product you gotta keep moving or get left behind. That thought keeps me up and night and inspires me to be on my toes and keep learning everyday. And when I need some epic drives to go crush some design work, or tasks I just hit up my go to motivational videos. Like this, this and this.

 

what routines do I have to get work done? 

It’s a question I get asked quite a bit. And it seemed fitting to continue it on from inspiration. Something I want to touch on is you can’t only work when you are inspired. Because you may never get anything done, inspiration can only strike so often. You’re a professional so you gotta fucking show up and do it!

Just keep making stuff/designing

The act of making and doing will allow to iterate and find inspiration within the work. Practice makes perfect and in my opinion it also applies to creativity. It’s giving yourself position to create junk – and that that’s ok. Amongst all the trash that you create there will be some gems. Done is better than perfect! This is a model I use for personal projects. Create > Launch > Learn > Iterate.

Artificial timers

Set self imposed fixed deadlines so that you have to force yourself through sheer will to get things done. Artificial timers have a way of getting you to do things and take action. That’s why sometimes I’ll set a timer and focus on getting a certain task done within that block of time. I am not naturally organised despite what you might think. I was one of those last minute cram for a test kind of people. So I learnt that if I set an artificial deadline which I make myself accountable for I can get things done that way. 

Do different things that you find interesting.

I have a lot of projects on, so I stay productive by alternating between these activities. That way the wheels keep turning. 

Prioritise

1 big task, 2 little tasks and any additional tasks for the day. That’s how I divide up the day. All that matters for that day is that 1 main task – if I get that done is the most important to that days productivity. If I manage to do any of the rest it’s a bonus. The key is good weekly planning and what that 1 big task is each day. Do 20% of the work that delivers 80% of the results. Don’t get caught up in things that don’t really contribute to what you need to do but seem to keep you busy. 

Those are my strategies, I hope some of this can help.