Every creative endeavour needs some amount of inspiration to catalyse it, and UX design is indeed no exception. Even routine projects that seem relatively cut-and-dry can benefit from the designer spending just an hour or two looking for inspiration. Very often it leads to new ideas that could make that project not so cut-and-dry anymore.
Most designers know this already, and many return to the same wellsprings of inspiration to get the creative juices flowing: design communities like Dribbble and Behance, lookbooks, or usability bibles like Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think or Don Norman’s Design of Everyday Things.
However, when you keep going back to the same wells, eventually they start to dry up. Finding fresh sources of inspiration can be difficult, but you might be surprised where design stimulus can come from. So I asked the UXers at the digital agency I work for, Codal, how they find design inspiration in the most unexpected of places.
As UX designers, we work almost exclusively in a visual medium, so it might seem counterintuitive to turn to a source that is entirely audio. However, there are several design podcasts out there that offer excellent UX insight, and they are a lot easier to consume than, say, making the trek to an art museum. Here are a few of our favourites:
- 99% Invisible: Hosted by Roman Mars, this award-winning podcast explores “all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about – the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.”
- Design Matters: While its primary focus is on designers and visual artists, host and creator Debbie Millman also has conversations with musicians, writers, curators, and more. Its diverse guest lineup makes Design Matters a great podcast to get inspiration from.
- Note to Self: One of NPR’s most popular podcasts, Note to Self aims to help their listener’s wrestle with the digital dilemmas we face every day. It is an excellent resource for those interested in what is really making users tick when they use tech.
2. Outdated Print Design Manuals
Where do new design trends emerge from? To find out what is going to happen in the future, you only have to revisit the past. What goes out of style will inevitably rear its head again, whether its bell-bottom jeans in fashion or gradients in web design.
As designers, we need to keep abreast of what design styles and techniques are in vogue or passe. Alternatively, if you are feeling particularly ambitious, you can set those design trends yourself. That is why some of Codal’s designers like to reference old print design manuals and magazines from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. They are not hard to find online and offer an extensive variety of typographies, colour schemes, layouts, and grid structures.
3. Food & Beverage Packaging
When I asked our UX team where they went for design inspiration, I was surprised when not one, but two of our designers emphatically responded with some form of food & beverage packaging.
One of Codal’s UXers said that he would actually take a walk to the grocery store, and make a beeline for the organic products aisle. The packaging for many of these items is often meticulously designed and can be a source for some great visual inspiration.
On the other end of the spectrum, one designer preferred liquor and beer packaging as a creative jumping off point, citing its diverse range of typography, illustration and layout. Seems like a solid excuse to drink on the job, but we will take his word for it.
4. Title Sequences & Movie Posters
While many of today’s directors choose to forgo them, instead preferring to drop the viewer immediately into the narrative, the title sequence of movies remains a fantastic exercise in design. How do you simultaneously summarise and foreshadow the look and feel of the following movie, with just colour, text, and music?
Also, because it is such an exciting design challenge, those who have mastered it succeeded in producing some of the most significant design work in history. Look no further than legendary graphic designer Saul Bass, who would go on to design the logos for AT&T and United Airlines after he crafted some of the most iconic movie posters and title sequences in cinematic history.
5. Take A Walk
Want some real design inspiration? Walk away from your computer and take a step outside. If you are in a major metropolitan area like we are, you will see so many unusual and exciting juxtapositions of typography, texture and grid work.
Alternatively, if you are in a more rural or suburban locale, you will find a different design teacher: nature. Whether it is the gradient of the sunset, the colour schema of a flower bed, the specific hue of a pond or lake, the natural world is a never-ending source of design inspiration.
(Lead image: Depositphotos)