Drawing inspiration for designers

As designers, we get paid for our ideas. We build brands from the ground up and design entire platforms. We imagine dream and invent, not just because it’s our job or career, but because it’s our passion. Like any other professional, it is difficult to admit that you have reached the limits of your capabilities or that you have reached a roadblock and cannot solve the problem with your creativity. Sometimes you may feel like a fraud or that you are bad at your job. We want to feel competent and creative. If we hit a roadblock, we get caught up in our skills and retreat inward, when we should really be opening up and looking outside ourselves for solutions to our problems. If we can admit to ourselves that we can look for inspiration elsewhere than ourselves, we can elevate ourselves as designers. We don’t have to be the end of all original thinking. Where our ideas come from is not important, but we do our job well.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

You usually feel that you need to have original ideas. Working in the creative field is mostly subjective and our ideas are what we get paid for, so it makes sense to feel that your work has to be completely new. However, this mindset is actually detrimental to your work and development as a designer. Taking inspiration from the work of others is not “copying”; designers do it all the time. Even big companies imitate styles or UI elements. For example, Instagram “borrowed” Snapchat stories and repurposed them in a way that made more sense for their platform. Using other models as a springboard is a great way to get started with a focus on understanding what works and how they can be used. It also saves you time trying to do something completely new for UI elements that are in heavy use and don’t need to be reimagined. Trying to make something completely different from what the original model looks like will prove not only difficult but also counterproductive. When using different elements, make sure that they are user-friendly. Learn to look at different designs and pick up small parts that you think would make sense for your project, whether it’s the layout, size, or navigation designs.
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Find inspiration

Having a list of ideas for design inspiration is good for any designer, but it’s also important to know what to look out for and how to use them. It’s a good idea to keep a regular eye on current trends in the design world, even if you’re not working on a specific feature. There are many talented designers you can follow for general research or aesthetic inspiration. When we are looking for ideas related to a new project, there are many different places where we can draw inspiration, but these are mostly divided into three categories.

Website design:

Well-known sites like Dribbble and Behance act as a portfolio and social networks for designers. Using websites for inspiration and web design is a great way to challenge yourself to improve your skills and explore how others have imagined the features you’re working on and see the feedback they’ve received on their work. An important caveat when browsing these models is that many times you are much more focused on the user interface and not so focused on the user experience. This isn’t always important, but sometimes upon closer inspection, you’ll see elements that lack functionality or just cause confusion. Even if the designs look very impressive or are created by respected designers, still look for where they can be improved. Your opinions and insights are always important, no matter whose design you’re reviewing.

Relevant apps and websites

When you are given a task that has already been done on other platforms, you should first look at how they approached the design. This will set the standard for what’s already out there and give you ideas on how a similar view might work on your platform. Sometimes very different products overlap or complement each other. For example, video streaming apps may have a “my list” feature that allows you to save videos for later viewing, but the nature of the platform will dictate how the feature is used. The show list is much lower than the course list, so the video streaming platform can present shows that you have saved but are not currently watching on your home page. The courses are long and require your full attention. Seeing a long list of such content every time you open a page can quickly overwhelm you. The context of the platform has a big impact on how the app works, and sometimes it’s what will drive the design forward.

Competitors

It’s likely that more of your features will overlap with your competition since you have similar platforms. While it’s difficult to try to build something different from what you already see, it’s a great design challenge and an opportunity to make something better than what your competitors have. They set the bar; now it’s your turn to pick it up. If you’re not the only one in your space, you might be implementing a feature that one or more competitors have already built. Obviously, you should never copy someone else, but when you’re doing tasks already created by competitors, it’s important to have fundamental differences.

Ask yourself the following questions

How does this feature specifically fit your product and suit your user base? This will determine what separates your features from your competitors. What steps can you skip? Where can the layout be changed? These questions sometimes allow you to figure out how to better articulate your core value in contrast to your competition.

Yes and no

Make sure you use your time productively by taking inspiration from other models. The best time to look for inspiration is before you start any design work on a feature or are in the preliminary drawing stage. If you don’t start looking for inspiration until you’re deep into the design, you may not be as receptive to making changes that could improve it, or you may be forced to undo work you’ve already done.
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Avoid classic pitfalls by following these rules

What makes sense to do and how to properly approach the work of looking for inspiration from the outside:
  • Find items to include. Learn to look at different designs and pick up the little bits that you think would make sense for your project, whether it’s layout designs, text sizes, or navigation.
  • Rethink your approach. Go into the process with an open mind and be willing to let go of ideas you previously had, especially if they didn’t work for you.
  • Find out what you like or don’t like about design and think: How can I approach this differently? We all have different sensibilities when it comes to design and you can bring something to the table that no one else can.
What is best to avoid or consider:
  • Don’t copy something as it is. You should always remake things to make them your own, using an idea rather than copying the exact design.
  • Obsessing over a particular design that is impractical due to your skills or lead time is pointless. Always know your weaknesses and play to your strengths. If the design is difficult to illustrate or beyond your ability, it’s best to move on to something that will work better with your skills.
  • You look at the polished work and feel deflated or intimidated. If you see something you like but think you can’t reproduce it, it might not be for you. Consider other ways to achieve a similar result. If you think you can learn it, you can use it as an opportunity to learn a new skill. Find a specific practice method or take an online course. If you talk to your employer (and there is time) they will probably encourage you and allow you to do this in the company. After all, development also benefits them.
Some of the designers we compare ourselves to have been working longer than us and have more different tools at their disposal. No one can do everything and no one is expected to do it. Don’t hold yourself to imaginary standards; occasionally celebrate your abilities and move on.

How designing with inspiration makes you a better designer

Using pre-existing models for inspiration prevents you from putting unnecessary stress on yourself and allows you to perform tasks more efficiently. In the end, it’s the quality of your products that matters most, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve borrowed ideas. If you look at the work of other creators, you may find that there is an aesthetic or a certain type of UI element that you didn’t know you liked or could implement in your product. Being exposed to more content can help you better understand yourself as a designer. You may also see more sensible alternatives to the things you’ve been doing and incorporate them into your design. We are at our best at our jobs when we are learning and developing, and we should be looking at that whenever and wherever we can. Watching exercises, spreading knowledge, and seeing the work of others challenge us to be better and learn more about ourselves. There is a certain amount of defensiveness about how other people view our work and the quality and originality we want to have as designers. When developers code something, you can judge it relatively objectively by how well they do the task and by the bugs they find. As designers, however, our work is much more subjective and complex. Users often don’t get feedback on features until months after we’ve designed and developed them. We must take pride in our work, but we must not let that pride and defensiveness hold us back. Our job is to create the best products and to do so we use all the tools at our disposal. It can be difficult to let go of these defenses and accept that we could learn by looking outward. However, taking inspiration from other models is a common practice used by most designers. For the good of your business, and especially for the good of yourself as a designer, open up and see what’s out there. While it’s good to be inspired, it’s also important to give back. Become an active member of design communities to learn from others and showcase your work as well. People will often be looking for new designs to check out, so even if you don’t have a following to begin with, your work can still be seen. Designers tend to be respectful and give insightful and encouraging feedback.