by Ben Hall
Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes
Many have discovered that working in a creative industry involves a great deal of self-motivated personal development. We’ve all done our time in drafty classrooms and stared blinky eyed at online tutorials late into the night learning and honing the tangible skills we need to carry out our jobs. Being proficient using specific languages, software tools, and processes all form part of our respective and highly personalised toolkits. But i’ve also found that it’s really important to feel continually inspired by the creative field you work in too. Not only does it inform and improve your own work it’s also a reminder to yourself that you’re “all in” and committed.
Rather handily there are plenty of tools out there to inspire you. And, even more handily, i’ve put together a little guide on the inspiration tools I use everyday. So, here we go….
Setting aside the behemoths of Facebook & Twitter, Pinterest is often regarded as one of the “best of the rest” in terms of social media platforms. And unlike most social networks it has practical uses for many different kinds of creatives. The masonry-style it utilises on it’s website and its various mobile applications allows the easy creation and maintenance of mood boards made up of a collection of images and other content. If you can turn it into a ‘Pin’ it’s good to go!
I’ve found Pinterest to be extremely useful when in the early stages of a job. I’ve always referred to this as the ‘Discovery Phase’. It may sound a little pretentious but it seems the most appropriate term. When I begin afresh on a web or graphic design job I don’t want to be spending too much time staring at a blank canvas wondering where to even start. I’ve found that simply setting up a new Pinterest board to be a very good first proactive step. I’ll add a few pins of things that take my fancy be it colours, typography, general tone, or specific elements. And before i’ve even had time to realise it certain patterns and ideas have started to repeatedly emerge again & again. I’ll then informally review the board, adding and removing pins with every iteration of the process.
A good little tip if you use Pinterest boards yourself (and you’re a Chrome user) is to check out the ‘Pin it Button’ browser extension. It puts a handy ‘Pin it!’ Button in the top left corner of every image you see when on your web travels. One simple click and you’ve stuck the aforementioned image to any board you like. It really is supremely handy.
Now part of the Adobe family, Behance has become “the” place for designers (or even teams of designers) to display a portfolio of their work online. Also, you can take in stunning examples of creative work in fields such as architecture and industrial design as well as the usual graphic and web design staples.
There are some simply stunning examples of designers work on Behance. Often they’re equal parts inspiring and disillusioning as the sheer quality can make you doubt your own ability to produce anything as good. And presenting work on Behance is fast becoming an art in itself. But the bottom line is that, in my opinion, Behance is a great big showoff. It’s a repository of striking but static designs shown in isolation. It’s still a fantastic point of reference though.
Although it’s in a similar vein to Behance, Dribbble is slightly more cuddly and not nearly as shouty. It describes itself as a “show and tell for designers” which epitomises it’s more delicate tone. It doesn’t cover the same number of design disciplines as Behance but this doesn’t hamper the experience of visiting it in any way.
The content people are presenting on Dribbble tends to be elements or parts of bigger things as opposed to more complete pieces. But because it is more approachable than Behance there is greater engagement between designers with lots of comments, encouragement, and social media shares going down.
Muzli Design Breakfast
This is without a doubt the best inspirational tool I have come across. I use it every day. I’ve set myself up so I have no choice but to use it everyday. Muzli Design Breakfast is a website and Chrome extension that gathers together all sorts of design-related articles from numerous online resources including some of my other favourite tools Behance, Dribbble, and Awwwards. The Chrome extension is particularly great as it sets your homepage to a masonry-style feed of design related content.
Tutorials, news, portfolios, tools, blog articles….it’s all there for you. It has served me up a veritable treasure trove of tidbits everyday i’ve used it. You can select from which resources you wish to have content displayed in your personalised homepage too. It’s so simple but so useful. Not only from a practical point of view but it’s also really helped me by reinforcing my emotional engagement with what I do, the profession i’ve chosen for myself. I heartily recommend it.
I don’t think it’s unfair to describe Awwwards as being to web design what the X-Factor is to music. Although not without its considerable merits It’s a slightly silly contest where ostentation is held in slightly higher regard than genuine quality. Web designs can be submitted to the site for peer review, not only from users but also a panel of web experts. Designs are judged for their design, usability, creativity, and content.
My initial cynical tone aside, Awwwards is a great resource for gauging just where the web is at, and what’s “in”. Designs are understatedly displayed and are presented in their correct context. And the judging and reviews, for the most part, promote site usability over unnecessary visual muscle-flexing. Unfortunately however, there have been a few cases where myself and other members of the Accent team have dug a little deeper into some so called “award winning” sites and have found them to fall short on some of the fundamentals such as responsiveness and accessibility.
Which leads us nicely to….
They spent so long asking themselves if they COULD they never stopped and asked themselves whether they SHOULD.
Dr Ian Malcolm (aka Jeff Goldblum), Jurassic Park
Ok, so it might not be the kind of piffy inspirational quote that could adorn a fluffy cat-based Athena poster but i’ve always thought it’s a good mantra for any creative to have running through their head at those crucial moments. In every creative field there are always high concept examples of the artform. The limit of what is possible in the medium given the current state of the technology that powers it. This is where the little Goldblum ditty may help clear your mind and aid your judgement. It certainly may have aided the questionable design decisions that were made on some of the bafflingly limited Awwwards sites mentioned earlier.
As developers and designers it is extremely tempting to show off what we can do by adding the latest fashionable trick to our work. But you should always remind yourself….don’t implement a single appealing but niche element if it’s to the detriment of forming a more coherent whole. And don’t allow yourself to lose focus on the end result and what it’s aiming to achieve. Try and tread carefully even when making giant leaps. To borrow a drumming idiom, get comfortable “playing in the pocket”.
It isn’t so much a tool but more of a practice that you should try hard to make a ritual. It’s great to regularly sit down in front of another blank canvas with all that you know and all that you can do, unrestricted by any brief, and just allow yourself to play. I like to call it ‘Fishing Time’, often you catch nothing but sometimes you catch a whopper out of nowhere.
There’s nothing more inspiring than being satisfied with your own work. “Satisfied?!”, you’re saying, “Shouldn’t you want to be delighted with your work?!”, well, yes and no. It’s quite common for people working in creative fields to be their own harshest critics and/or perfectionists. They will always see room for improvement in work they’ve done. For example, i’m satisfied with this article. Not thrilled, satisfied i’d say. So probably best if I leave it there.