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Design

7 surprising sources of design inspiration

4 min read
Tony Ho Tran  •  Aug 14, 2019
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Design inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an illustrator working on a glossy magazine cover or a graphic designer working on a logo mock-up for your client’s latest product. The right kind of inspiration will always help you come up with creative and unique ideas for your projects. 

But sometimes you need some help getting inspired. Luckily, there are a TON of great resources for design inspiration.

(Our personal favorite is Muzli, the ever-updating resource for design inspiration served fresh.)

There are a TON of places to get design inspiration—and that can be overwhelming. 

Well, we want to help. That’s why we talked to a few professional designers to find out exactly where they go to get inspired. 

8 places to go for design inspiration (as suggested by professional designers)

The designers we talked to:

  • Greg Wilson. An NYC-based graphic and motion designer. 
  • Chad Michael. An award-winning branding, packaging, and product designer. 
  • William Meadows. A creative director and customer-centered design lead for ACC New Zealand. 

Between the three of them, they have a few decades worth of design experience and acumen—not to mention an encyclopedic knowledge of the best places for design inspiration. 

You might be surprised at how often they go offline for inspiration. Big lesson: Don’t be afraid to venture outside away from your computer to get inspired. 

With that, let’s jump in. 

1. Travel

Source: Unsplash

From William:

“I’ve done a lot of solo traveling (upwards of 60 countries by myself). To me, this is about expanding my ‘visual library’ but also getting time to challenge some of my deeper rooted assumptions. As a design researcher, one of the key elements is reflecting and knowing yourself. There’s no better way to do that than adapting yourself to a new context.”

Travel exposes you to new cultures, people, and experiences. It’s no wonder professional designers like William use it as a source of design inspiration as well. By immersing yourself in an area that’s far from home, you break out of your comfort zone and open your eyes to new possibilities in your creative projects.

Tip: Scout for last-minute flight deals and head to a city you’ve never heard of or planned on visiting for a weekend. Ask locals for restaurant recommendations, take long walks, and keep your headphones in your pocket while you focus on these new surroundings.

Go deeper: How traveling for a year changed a remote worker’s life

2. Take walks

From Greg: 

“As a creative, it is so easy to get lost in your head. For me, I go on walks or bike rides to clear my head and soak in my environment. I find inspiration everywhere from tags and murals to weird cars to nature and architecture.” 

Sometimes the best way to get inspired creatively is to leave the office and simply go on a walk. This isn’t just conjectured either—a 2014 study by Stanford University found that walking boosted creative output by 60%.

Tip: Think about how you can start incorporating mindful walks throughout your creative process. Force yourself to take regular stretching and movement breaks, especially on stressful days.

Go deeper: What’s your creative ritual?

3. Hit up antique stores and estate sales—or Etsy

Source:

From Chad:

“I’m always looking and searching for little hidden gems at these places as you never know what you might find. It is a more personal experience than doing internet research, as the items you find while hunting have most likely not ever been on the internet, because they have been collecting dust in someone’s home for decades.” 

Antique stores contain a wealth of unique items that are sure to spark your imagination. You can find items from decades ago complete with old typography, illustrations, and designs. 

Tip: Come with a project or theme in mind. When you’re open to inspiration for a specific idea, you’ll find your mind making all kinds of connections.

From Chad:

Etsy is a great one to find packaging pieces that the world has forgotten about and that many have not yet seen. Finding inspiration that is old yet new to the eyes can really get the inspiration moving. I typically search for antique packaging, ephemera, and do prop hunting for the studio’s product photoshoots.“

Etsy is a popular eCommerce platform catered to handmade and artisan items. As such, it’s chock full of fun curios and items you can scroll through for your design inspiration. 

Go deeper: A while back, we chatted with two of Etsy’s product designers on the importance of data-driven design at the company

4. Chat up family, friends, and coworkers

Source: Unsplash

From Greg:

“I am so lucky to work in an industry with little egos. Everyone wants to help one another and just make dope stuff. The friends and coworkers I have known are probably the most immediate source of inspiration. Some people I like include Dan Covert, Joyce N. Ho, and Irene Feleo.”

From William: 

“As I’ve gotten older, I find I really curate my friends, my media, and the social experiences I ‘consume.’ This is great for my tastes, but bad for my perspectives as a design researcher. I find one of the best things to call up for a reality check is my experiences growing up with my uncles drinking beer and shooting fireworks, the weird malls my mom would take me to clothes shopping as a kid, the smell and feel of your grandparents’ house, and knocking over trash cans at night with my marauding teenage friends. Those are the things of real, non-curated people. The struggles and just realness of family [and friends] help make designing for people a reality, not just a fancy tagline.”

There’s no denying that the people you surround yourself with have an undeniable and deep impact on who you become. One study from Gallup found that people with friends in their work or industry were 700% more likely to be engaged in their work when compared to their friendless counterparts. That’s why any aspiring creative should work on building and fostering a network of supportive people if they want to find success. 

Tip: Don’t have pals in your industry? Make some. Find networking events in your neighborhood on Meetup or Dribbble, or go to (cooler, objectively more fun) creative talks like Creative Mornings or Think&Drink. Also, don’t forget that it’s 2019 and friends don’t have to hang IRL—industry Slack groups are great ways to make connections from your couch.

Go deeper: 5 steps to modern mentorship

5. Motionographers

From Greg:

Motionographer is the go-to, cream-of-the-crop for the animation industry. Everything from stellar client work to innovative personal projects are posted here. This place has been a constant inspo page when I was starting out in motion design a few years ago and it was invaluable for learning.”

Motionographer (pronounced like “oceanographer”) gives motion designers inspiration by showcasing the work of established and up-and-coming motion designers, sharing helpful articles on design, and featuring commentary on industry topics. 

Tip: Even if you’re not a motion designer, take advantage of resources like Motionographer to show you what other designers are working on. An inspiring project is an inspiring project, after all—the medium isn’t what’s most important.

Go deeper: Our 18 best posts on animation

6. Pinterest

From Chad:

“The depth that Pinterest possesses is limitless. It is a daily source for me especially during the research period of a project where you can find incredibly unique design, illustration, photography, and references. It can be quite a rabbit hole.”

Pinterest is a free social media platform that allows users to curate images and videos onto digital Pinterest boards. This makes it a great source of design inspiration you can use for your next project. It’s also a fantastic way to create a mood board

Tip: Build Pinterest into your research phase. Search for key words and ideas from your project and see what the world brings you.

Go deeper: How Pinterest designs with culture in mind.

7. Instagram

From Greg: 

“This is a given. I try to follow more people who are doing different things unrelated to my field to expand my personal taste. I also try to find IG accounts that post old work from different decades. In my opinion, it’s better to pull influence from something that’s not currently trending. Two accounts I suggest are @MikeMcQuade and @typegoodness.”

Instagram isn’t just for sharing pictures of your brunch or that cocktail you had the other night. It’s also a great source for design inspiration. You can create your own Instagram account and start saving pictures and videos you like to private collections, or you can simply follow your favorite designers for inspiration. 

Tip: Don’t just follow designers—follow authors, meme accounts, bakers, and anyone else who’s constantly updating with their work. Take inspiration not just for your projects, but for your work as a whole—for who you want to be and what you want to be working on.

Go deeper: Check out these 35 inspiring designers to follow on Instagram.

Need more inspiration? We can help.

If you want even more design inspiration, we got you covered.

In fact, we have an entire section dedicated to inspiration.

A few you might like:

Your design inspiration should be unique to you. That means what works for one designer might not work for you—and vice versa. What matters most is that you find what does work and use it to inspire your awesome creative projects.