posted by Matt Ward on Apr 20, 2010.
In this article, I would like to tackle the question of inspiration, and suggest that it is not something that we can just go out and find, but something powerfully unpredictable, which should force us to rely more heavily on our own skills as designers.
Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about the many galleries that are littered across the internet, collecting examples of various well designed (or at least pretty) websites, packaging, print material and virtually everything else that could or would ever be touched by a designer. Often, we talk about these sites as sources of “inspiration” for our own work and designs.
In a similar fashion, there are hundreds of sites publishing hundreds of lists of similar material – usually taken from the same sites we’ve already mentioned – which are also created to be a source on inspiration.
These days, it seems as though inspiration is always just a few clicks away (or taps for iPhone/Pod/Pad users). In fact, I would even go so far as to suggest that this kind of inspiration itself has become a commodity, freely peddled across this vast internet.
Does anyone else see a problem with this?
If this is the extent of our understanding of what inspiration is, it seems to me that it will lead to an (unintentional) mechanization of the creative process. It suggests that inspiration is something that can be found on the internet as easily celebrity gossip, teeth whitening kits and other content of a more questionable nature. It is telling us that inspiration can be consumed, just like everything else.
This is simple not the case.
Inspiration is not a product to be picked off the shelf. It is much more vital, much more organic and far less predictable. We don’t find inspiration – inspiration strikes at us. It presents itself to us boldly, lights a fire under our imaginations or dreams or visions. It comes on us, often unexpectedly, and when is comes it demands a response.
To put it another way: true inspiration moves us to do something that we never intended to do, or at least to do something in a way that we had never intended to do it. Often, in the midst of life, as I look around at particular situation, I may be inspired to create or write a story. Thoughts and ideas begin to peculate in my mind – usually related to whatever circumstance I am faced with. Characters spring to life for me. A plot begins to unfold in my mind. Soon, I find myself excited by the emerging adventures.
From my perspective, this is true inspiration. Taken quite literally, it breaths life into me.
When was the last time you had this kind of experience while surfing through an online gallery, or reading an “inspiration” blog post, or even flipping through one of the many showcase books that feature some of the best work from some area of design? When it occurs, I would guess that it is a rarity, and that if you made your living moving from one such moment to the next, it wouldn’t be much of a living at all.
Design is a different kind of beast altogether. It is purposeful and intentional, the process of building a solution to meet an expressed need. This differs dramatically from the sudden an unintentional nature of true inspiration, though the two need not be exclusive. Often inspiration can be the need that design works to fulfill.
One of My Own Inspirations
For example, at one of the more recent points in my life, I was inspired toward an experiment in which I would publish parts of an interesting new fantasy story to a custom built website on a continuing basis, keeping the plot open and allowing it to evolve according to reader response. The idea for the story came from a dream and the idea of how to present it just came upon me one day as I was thinking of how best to deliver the story.
Since, prior to idea coming to me, I never had any intention of creating such a website, it certainly qualifies as inspiration for me.
Yet, despite my inspiration, the imagined product does not simply spring into existence, full grown like Athena from the head of Zeus. Oh the story and many of the characters are there, but the actual product itself does not exist at all yet, mostly because I have not found the time to devote to building the site in question, or to commit to the continued writing of the story. Even if I did, though, design would still be necessary. I would have to analyze the elements of my inspiration and then set about building the proper framework to bring it to fruition.
In this sense then, design is actually the intentional execution of spontaneous inspiration. It does not seek out “inspiration” from various blogs and galleries in order to establish a working foundation. More often than not, though, the designs that we are working on don’t even have that initial moment of true inspiration. Many are client projects, for which we as designers are charged with creating an appropriate solution, regardless of whether inspiration chooses to appear.
What We’re Really Looking For
So what am I saying? Am I suggesting that you should abandon looking at galleries at the outset of a project? Not at all. I think it can actually be a very valuable practice – just not one that can really be called inspiration.
At the most extensive, I would call it source or reference material, since the purpose of browsing these galleries should only every to research different ideas and concepts. Examine the solutions that other designers have used solve various design problems. Take notes, compare these solutions against the requirements of your own project, using your findings to help devise the best possible design solution.
I am also not suggesting that inspiration can never occur in design. It most certainly can, and some of the best work probably springs from true and legitimate inspiration. What I am suggesting is that we cannot wait for this true inspiration to strike. Nor can we force its hand.
Instead, we should focus on honing our craft, learning the fundamentals of design so that we can learn to produce beautiful, effective and well crafted solutions, without having to rely on a sudden burst of inspiration to drive and/or motivate us.
What are your thoughts? If you seek “inspiration” when starting out on a new design project, are you actually looking for ideas, concepts and solutions? Have you ever had a real moment of genuine inspiration while tackling a client design? I expect that this post may be a bit of a pot stirrer, so I’d love to hear your thoughts.Post A Comment
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