In this article, notable designers share their tips and tricks for getting—and keeping—themselves fresh with creative inspiration.
1. Delve into the history of your craft
To get inspired in your present work, it’s worthwhile to go back and look at the history of your craft. Depending on your particular design field, you might be overlooking hundreds of years of accumulated wisdom simply by neglecting to bone up on your history.
"To get a sense of where our industry is headed, you need to look at where it’s been," says Scotland-based brand identity designer and author David Airey in his book Logo Design Love. "Those who have worked through a lifetime of design have amassed an incredible amount of experience, and I never tire of listening to their stories and anecdotes."
One of the best places to learn about design and art history is Wikipedia. Start by using the site’s search feature to read up on things like "typography", "web design", "grid page layouts", or any other topics that interest you or might provide creative inspiration.
You might discover something new simply by looking back to the past.
2. See what others are doing
"Seeing what already exists out there allows you to build upon and improve your own work," says Australian graphic designer Jacob Cass, whose work you may have seen in magazines such as Layers Magazine and Computer Arts. "For example, I recently worked on a pro bono website design project for Haiti… I’d never done a charity website before so seeing what was already out there allowed me to see what design elements were most important. I could then build upon these foundations and create a website that achieved the goals of the charity I was working for."
The Web gives designers a convenient venue for discovering sources of creative inspiration. Design blogger and freelance designer Chris Spooner reveals, "I’m forever stumbling over great artwork from designer portfolios, amazing illustrations and great new ideas being put into practice in website designs. This always springs new ideas to mind for projects, blog articles and tutorials."
Blogs like Abduzeedo, Smashing Magazine, and Yanko Design will give you a consistent stream of inspiration. Be sure to utilize an RSS feed reader like Google Reader, which can bring all of these sites to you in one handy location. Whenever you’re experiencing a creative lull, hit your feeds for a surge of inspiration.
4. Go to the bookstore
"One thing that always gets me inspired is browsing through books in a bookstore. I feel like the level of craft in your average book is a lot higher than the level of craft in an average website. If I see a book with some killer typography and just a nice overall design, I usually can’t wait to get back to the computer to see if I can incorporate some of those ideas into one thing or another," says Chris Coyier of CSS-Tricks.
Looking at books in your favorite bookstore is a surefire way to getting creatively inspired. Simply stepping outside your work area for a few hours can present you with a much needed hiatus that enables your creative juices to refresh.
And books, being one of the oldest forms of design, can stimulate your creativity by showing you a myriad of design, art, and typography styles and techniques through their covers and pages. Additionally, skimming books that interest you may allow you to discover some knew information that inspires you creatively.
For freelance web designer Lee Munroe, reading books is a good source of inspiration. "I find myself most creatively inspired when I’m reading a good design book (e.g. Handcrafted CSS, The Design Of Everyday Things)," says Munroe.
5. Follow your favorite designers in social media
Services like Twitter and Facebook allow you to see what your favorite designers are up to at any given moment. By following them, you might uncover some links to inspiring web resources and thoughtful anecdotes for inspiration.
"Currently I find a lot of my inspiration from other people. Rather than browsing galleries for inspiration, I think it’s much more useful to look at people who could inspire you and keep updated with them," says Liam McKay of Function. "This could be as simple as just following them on Twitter. Seeing other people succeed and create cool things gets me inspired, seeing works in progress and projects being built up from nothing is a great motivation for your own work."
Designer and illustrator, Nick La puts it plainly: "Follow creative people on Twitter." To find creatives on Twitter, you can start by subscribing to Twitter lists that auspiciously give you the opportunity to find and follow designers and artists on the ubiquitous social networking site. Visit the site called Listorious—an index of popular Twitter lists, sorted by tags such as design, graphicdesign, typography, and more.
6. Change your surroundings
Things can get stale real fast when you do the same things repeatedly. Getting out of your normal routine can help you find creative inspiration by affording you a chance to break out of the daily grind and see new things.
Angela Rohner, web designer and founder of popular web inspiration gallery, The Best Designs, imparts this thought: "I usually have to take a break away from the computer screen to really get my creativity going. Sometimes I will take a walk – especially during the fall and spring, I love to take a walk outside to clear my mind and get some fresh air."
Design blogger and website designer Steven Snell reveals: "One of my favorite techniques for inspiration is to change my surroundings. If I’ve been online for a long time, which is usually the case, I like to get outside or at least away from the computer for a little while."
"Mixing things up can help to get a fresh perspective," adds Snell.
For Jad Limcaco of Design Informer, engaging on another activity besides your creative work can generate inspiration. "Whether it be going to the gym, playing basketball or chess, or even taking a nap, these are all different activities that help me clear my mind. How does this get me inspired? Well, I find that by getting away, my mind is stimulated and refreshed, and I usually come back with a fresh perspective on things and a ton of new ideas," says Limcaco.
Digital media designer Jan Cavan (Dawghouse Design Studio) suggests why changing your surroundings can be inspirational: "Freelancing makes me feel a bit secluded sometimes so I go out and head to a coffee shop with my laptop and just try to enjoy and draw inspiration from the things going on around me."
7. Work on projects that are inspiring
"I find inspiration from working on projects I’m really excited about. The trick is getting those projects. One thing that’s really helped me is having personal projects that I can’t wait to work on. A lot of the ideas and experiments I try out trickle in to my client work and leads to more ideas and inspiration down the road," says illustrator and web designer,Brad Colbow.
Just realizing what a project will take, the challenges that it may pose, then getting a good sense of what’s about to come—for some— is enough to get you creatively inspired. "When I get all the information I need to know about the project I feel more confident and secure about what I have to do and that really inspires me," says highly sought after Brazilian designer, Fabio Sasso of Abduzeedo.
Find work that challenges your creativity—that begs it to come out—simply by picking projects that are inspiring and fulfilling to you.
"I see creativity as something outside of me that reveals itself at the moment it chooses. If my mind is open, I recognize that element as something that can be applied in a design. I normally begin with a goal," says Francisco Inchauste ofFinch.
"For example, creating a unique navigation look for a certain type of Website. I let that concept stir in the back of my mind for a bit and get away from the computer. I might be reading a magazine, see a nice animation on a TV show, or come across a fantastic color combination on some packaging in the store when inspiration strikes. I try to sketch out a few initial thoughts on paper to capture it. From there the ideas really begin to flow; at the speed of water from a fire hose. I then start playing out those design concepts on the computer," explains Inchauste.
9. Work in a comfortable environment
"One thing I’ve noticed that gets me inspired on a daily basis is my work environment. Working on a laptop, I will almost never design from one place for an entire day. By changing my location regularly, I find that my mind doesn’t hit the dreaded post-lunch slowdown like it does when I’m chained to my office chair. Relocating doesn’t mean you have to work at a coffee shop every day; a simple change of rooms in the house can do a lot. If your work machine is a desktop, one combatant is to rearrange the office space as often as time allows. That being said, keep your desk and direct viewpoint free of trash and unneeded clutter. Your focus needs to be on your screen, not the stack of trash or magazines next to you. Natural sunlight (but not the blinding sort) can help stimulate your mood, as can ambient lighting when you’re working into the night. Just a few irregular daily routines I’ve picked up on over the past year," says Sean Baker of Elysium Burns.
10. Just get something started
When you’re in a creative rut—instead of wallowing in it—why not fire up your favorite design tool and experiment. See what happens when you learn to let go.
"The best thing for me is often to get something started. There’s nothing worse for me than staring at a blank screen hoping something will pop into my head, so sometimes I will just start dropping stuff onto a page hoping to see a couple of things click together. I’ll also often be surfing galleries in the background or looking at textures or stock graphics. Basically, I try to simulate normal designing until all of a sudden something ticks over in my head and I’m no longer simulating but actively designing something," shares designer Collis Ta’eed, Envato’s CEO and founder of top design blogs such as Psdtuts+ and Creattica.