Inspiration away from the computer

Hello, I am Leonie the designer here at Distilled, I wanted to share how I gather inspiration at the beginning of a project, and also to ask how you get yours.

There is only so much inspiration I can gather from staring at my computer screen. Sometimes I hit a wall and it becomes clear that a change needs to happen. This post will explain my solution to these mental blocks.

Working on a computer is great when you already have an idea; it helps as a tool to bring my ideas to life. The problem is getting the idea in the first place.

To elaborate, I see the computer as a constraint at the beginning of a project. This is because I often end up thinking of how I can design something as opposed to focusing on what the idea is. Thinking in this way hinders my trail of thought and crushes fragile ideas before they have properly evolved. Creativity should happen before the media decision is made.

For me the solution is to step as far away from the computer as possible. This involves:

  • looking in books
  • visiting fabric shops
  • visiting second hand shops
  • cycling through parks
  • drawing massive mind maps on paper, using thick pens
  • going to museums and galleries.

To simplify, my solution is to:

  • Look at things in 3D not 2D
  • Create something by hand
  • Move about – not sit still
  • Talk to people - not sit silently
  • Make happy mistakes that can not be fixed by pressing apple z!

How it works

Stepping away from the computer helps me in various ways. For example, I can draw lines that are not curved perfectly using vector software. I can position, move, align and rotate without the precision of all 360 degrees and I can select colours without a colour pallet.

Textures are often recreated for the web, but can end up looking fake. Capturing textures in their natural state can make for a much more realistic effect.

Still not convinced? Here are 2 examples of my plan in action:

Case Study 1

I recently designed a website for a Supermodel. To gather inspiration initially I went fabric shopping. Sifting through fabric samples ribbons and lace helped me to ask different questions.

The feel I was looking to emulate had soft muted feminine tones, peach and cream, these colours alone were not enough it needed more depth, a texture to refine the idea... then standing tall and proud a massive roll of the most fantastic fabric, this was finally it! The fabric was a pale pinky peach and was soft and silky, its floral pattern was subtle and the light really highlighted the curves of the leaves and petals.

Now that my ideas had reached a happy place it was time to consider how this pattern would work on screen.

Case Study 2

I also stepped away from the computer recently when designing a blog layout.

I began by using paper as blocks of colour, (as apposed to on screen colour) this helped me to question the blog template and also provided a different sort of dimension between the paper layers.

After this initial idea, I always kept the functionality of the blog in mind throughout the design process. For example, not making the header section too wide to maximise the amount of information that could be viewed above the fold. I also considered the width of the main and side column to ensure there would be enough space for the content. Now that the layout was finished I went back to the computer to complete the design.

To summarise

It is important to ensure that in the initial design phases the computer doesn’t stifle the design process. Fancy effects and ease of manipulation tempt designers to head straight for the computer without initially contemplating the concept.

Another benefit of creating elements by hand before they are brought on to the computer is that humans naturally prefer realism, natural fibres real shadows, these elements are more believable, shadows created by a real light source as apposed to a applying a drop shadow affect.

Handmade design inspires creative thinking. For me, combining this with the digital field opens up the design process so much more.

I think that the two simple case studies here prove that different methods of gathering inspiration can really help generate that initial spark.

What do you find helps inspire you?

Leonie Wharton

Leonie Wharton

Leonie is one of the longest standing members at Distilled and was here when the company was just 5 members. Her time is split evenly over client and internal work. Client work focuses on linkbait projects for our clients, working closely with the...   read more

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  1. Nice post Leonie - I think the bit that I liked the best was:

    "Make happy mistakes that can not be fixed by pressing apple z!"

    I'm no designer but whenever I try and be creative just doing something that can't be undone seems to get the juices flowing. I also find it helpful sometimes to hang out in parts of the web I don't usually go to - my web browsing is often quite closed and branching out into other areas will show you stuff you don't normally see

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  2. Nice post - as a person without much creativity for design (I have taste but no imagination :P) I find this an interesting idea - one great resource I got for xmas was Taschen's Guidelines for Online Success - great to look up a lot of different designs of sites!
    Then again I like buying books and Taschen books are quite lovely!!

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  3. Agreed tom - one good web resource i found was to use stumbleupon to browse sites in your category!

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  4. For really creative work on the web that gets me thinking differently, I love to browse on Nothing beats a break from the on-screen world now and again though!

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  5. Another form of inspiration is looking at "best of the web" sites like CSS web galleries. I always feel refreshed when I take a holiday and come back to work.

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  6. I am not a designer too but a programmer. I usually do just like you because facing the computer all day can clog up you mind and not produce good ideas. I have a whiteboard and a pen. I used it when creating programs. :)

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  7. I absolutely love the paper layers concept (as previously seen in Distilled's e-card for Christmas!) and think it looks so great on the screen. Nice one Leonie!

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