What inspires you? Where do you get your inspiration from?
They’re questions that artists and designers tend to get asked a lot and for me, the answer is quite simple – I get my inspiration from everywhere. ‘What a cop-out’ I hear you cry. But honestly, as lame as it might sound I really do get inspired by everything. For me there isn’t one single source of inspiration; a library of inspiration develops through a lifetime of experiences. But it isn’t so much about the amount you have experienced or the types of experiences you have had, so much as it is about how you interpret what’s in your library. The best advice I could give anyone looking for inspiration is to simply walk through life with your senses open for business. An experience becomes inspiration when your mind links it to a specific challenge – so the more open you are in your thinking, the more inspired you will become; I find that when you allow yourself to think in an abstract way, the pairings you make are much more creative.
Being a social facing service designer is a blessing and a curse. It enables you to address challenges which improve people’s lives, but it also draws you into constantly viewing the world through a filter – a user experience filter. I sometimes find it difficult to switch off, but this has on more than one occasion led me to some pretty cool inspiration. When I’m checking into a hotel or visiting a friend or relative in hospital, I suddenly find myself critiquing the experience. What would have made it better, what would have added value, what could be done differently? Before long I start mentally flicking through my library desperately trying to generate an inspired pairing. The more open your mind, the less barriers you give yourself, so you’ll be open to referencing more of your experience library to generate a wider range of pairings – OK, so you read a blog post a year ago about how a team is planning to make an ascent of Everest using an innovative way to carry their equipment, but why should that be off limits to a designer looking to improve a hotel check-in system or someone’s pathway through hospital?
For me, inspiration is an organic process. You can’t force it, it just happens. But you can do something to create the right source material – the right library. I’ve tried to summarise my thoughts by providing my top five tips for getting great design inspiration:
1 – Live Life
Inspiration is just an experience you’ve had which now means something to a current situation. Everything you experience can be drawn upon at a later date and used as inspiration. So keep your eyes open and your mind free. Whether you’re commuting, working, undertaking leisure activity or even day-dreaming, soak it all up; don’t compartmentalise your experiences and embrace the abstract.
2 – Twitter
Social media is a great source of inspiration. Digital social networking is a great way of helping you to connect to the type of people and organisations that interest you. Twitter can be a great source of links to all kinds of media which can inspire – from TED talks to Instagram images it’s possible to find inspiration in them all. You can even sign-up to regular mail-outs like the Voyager Update from Shropshire Council Innovation Lab, Yammer Time from @FutureGov or Design Week – Weekly News to get their picks on the most interesting links around.
3 – Blogging
Reading blogs and writing blogs can provide you with bags of inspiration. Following bloggers who write about the things you are interested in is an obvious place to start, but don’t be afraid to read blogs which are not your usual cup of tea. Set yourself a target of reading at least one blog each month that has a subject area well outside what you would normally consider reading. I find that writing blogs also provides me with inspiration, not only in the research I undertake, but also constructing the blog post itself tends to act as a catalyst to creatively.
4 – Follow Peers
Find people and organisations who design things that you like and learn more about them. Read case studies highlighting the work they have done, not to plagiarise, but to learn more about how they view the world and how they tackle challenges. Even if they don’t relate to the field in which you are working, if you like the cut-of-their-jib, you’ll likely find that before long you’ll be thinking analogously about how they approached a particular challenge in order to help you solve one of your own.
5 – Discussion
This is probably the most important. If you notice one thing about any creative organisation it’s that they share their ideas and talk openly and passionately about things that interest them. In my experience quiet offices aren’t usually inspirational or creative. Working environments that promote a social aspect to their work are often much more creative. In the Shropshire Council Innovation Lab we talk a lot about our work and the work of others; we’re constantly sharing links to interesting media and I’ve also started a fortnightly #LabBlab where colleagues are invited to provide a link to social, design or innovation media that has interested them over the previous two weeks. Every fortnight the team meet over a coffee or a pint in order to chat about what they’ve been watching, listening to or reading. We find this is a really good way of sharing and learning, and it has certainly provided me with lots of inspiration.