Creating a GREAT Design (Part 1: External Inspiration)

Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting a college student with big dreams, lots of passion for her work, and great ambition.  (Can you imagine if all students where like her?!? A force to be reckon with!) She asked the deceivingly simple question: where I get my inspiration for designs?

Answer: Life. Yes, pretty broad answer that isn’t helpful at all. But seriously, look around you. The New York Times just wrote this piece “Why we love beautiful things” touching on the psychology of design. They talked about our adoration for the “golden rectangle” which can be found all around us – architecture, common photograph dimensions, etc. You can learn a lot about design by just looking around you. However, when you have a logo due in an hour and don’t have the time to sit and contemplate the Sistine Chapel, it helps to have some go-to resources up your sleeve.


Some places to look for inspiration:

BLOGS. – I never used to read blogs. They seemed like mini-essays of opinion pieces from a creepy, overweight man sitting in his basement eating Cheetos. Problem was, I didn’t know what professional blogs were out there that covered design. There are so many that include tutorials, free software and stuff, and amazing examples to look at. My favorites:

  • – They offer amazing tutorials, showcases, and inspiration from the biggest names in the design world. Make sure to filter down the posts by the tags on the right hand side of the website! I also follow them on Twitter but they post A LOT so be prepared for a blasted Twitter feed.
  • 99U / – 99U is one of my favorite blogs about the creative professional’s life and covers more topics about working with clients, free-lancing, and the business side of design. Behance is the “mother site” that host a surplus of designer’s portfolios to check out.
  • Library Graphic Design – Found this blog when I first started working for PALNI. He works for Public Libraries but his designs can be made to work for any type of library program.

Pinterest – Seriously, this is an AMAZING source of inspiration that isn’t just for planning imaginary weddings or renovating your make-believe million dollar home. Pinterest even has a Design category and you don’t even need to have an account to check out the pins.

Graphic Design Books – Come on, I work for libraries, did you really think I wasn’t going to give a shout out to books? Particularly helpful are Graphic Design History books as you can get a dose of inspiration throughout the history of the world.

WARNING: Being inspired by someone’s work and straight-up copying are two different things. Sounds like a “duh” concept but it’s difficult to see the line when you are in the middle of a project. To make sure you are not stealing a whole design, pull only 2-3 things you like about each design you like. Is it the colors that you like? Maybe the way they layered the visuals? Perhaps it’s the modular look you like? We are all drawn to certain aspects of design, pick out what you like and then put the original design away. Far away. In fact, don’t look at it until you are close to done with your own design.

Next post: Creating a GREAT Design (Part 2: Idea Generation)

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