The Problem with Design Inspiration

Design inspiration versus idea generation.

As most designers know, during a client meeting there is that moment where you come to a standstill wondering how to explore the brief. A common way to tackle this problem is to look for "inspiration". This strategy has followed me through the design industry and it's something I never understood. Looking at other peoples work, generally on Behance or Dribble, can hit you with the moment of clarity where you want to or should be doing really good work. But most of the time this boils down to looking at solutions that other people have made, without a clear progression of how they came about that conclusion, and adapting it to the brief that you have been given.

But this is not how inspiration works. At least not practically. We say these behaviors are us seeking inspiration when they’re really us looking for existing solutions.

At this point it is idea generation that is required not inspiration. Inspiration is an artistic term, to find a muse, to become inspired by something to the point of action. However in design we have deadlines, and while this can be acceptable in some situations is not practical. For example, a business that comes to you and says they need to stay on top of three high growth competitors that are taking market share. Do you say, so I can come up with a great idea just let me find some inspiration? The brief should be your inspiration, it is the foundation of the research and development phase of what will eventually be a solution. There should be a lot more emphasis on developing and exploring a design process that suits your environment which helps keep creativity consistent even when you aren't feeling that spark of inspiration.

Further Reading

Pong Game Cover
Fiends Gold Tea