Using Inspiration In the Design Process

Categories Articles, Web Design

This is a guest post from Patrick McNeil, author of The Web Designer’s Idea Book, Volume II: More of the Best Themes, Trends and Styles in Website Design. You should also follow Patrick on Twitter as well.

Get inspired, but don’t copy. There is a thin line between inspiration and copying – – one that is further blurred as we are surrounded with designs and art in our everyday lives. Finding inspiration for a design is an easy task these days, having so many valuable resources to leverage.The web has been inundated with web design showcases. There is no exact formula for how to use inspiration and not copy someone else’s work, but there are some straightforward ways to avoid it. Here, I will take you through my design process for a web site I recently created. Through examples of inspiration, I will demonstrate how I created a fresh and new design while leveraging various sources of inspiration. But before we step through an example, let’s look at some core concepts when it comes to using inspiration.

Use More Than One Design For Inspiration

When you have found a design that you like and you think, “I could do something like this,” don’t stop there; keep searching for additional designs that are similar in color, structure or content to what you have in mind. The goal will be to leverage the best elements of each of these as you merge these ideas into your new layout.

Start visualizing your design with a combination of elements that inspire you. Look at the wire frames for your new site, and consider styles that might be applied to specific elements. The goal is not to pick a single design and copy it, but rather to find an assortment of elements that can work together in a new way. By the time you start creating mock-ups, you should have developed some fresh ideas with the result being something new and – – most critically- – unique.

Break the Designs Down

A great way to approach inspiration is not to look at the whole design, but rather to scan for the elements that are relevant to your project. Observe how others have solved problems similar to yours, and run with those aspects of the design.

* The header is not split off by contrasting colors or boxes like typical sites are.
* The color palette is limited with lots of subtle tones.
* A large tagline clearly states the site’s purpose.
* The large slide show has a clear set of icons below it, giving a sense of placement in the show.
* Lots of white (or gray) space makes the site feel comfortable and open.

Pick Your Favorite Details

When you have found some designs that inspire you, take a closer look and pick out the elements that really make them shine. Watch for gradients, light effects, typography – – all of the subtle details that breathe life into the design. Ask yourself: What is it that makes this design so great?


If you look at the finished product, you can see how the various sources of inspiration contributed to it, and yet the result is a fresh design that doesn’t feel like a direct replication of any of the other designs. Some will say I am suggesting you Frankenstein together various pieces to form a new design. Certainly, if you simply clip together various elements, the results are not likely to inspire anyone in a positive way. You must always work to unify the new work with common stylistic approaches and never lose track of the big picture. In the end, be inspired – – but don’t copy!

The above is an excerpt from the book The Web Designer’s Idea Book, Volume II: More of the Best Themes, Trends and Styles in Website Design by Patrick McNeil. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

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Copyright © 2010 Patrick McNeil, author of The Web Designer’s Idea Book, Volume II: More of the Best Themes, Trends and Styles in Website Design

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Patrick McNeil, author of The Web Designer’s Idea Book, Volume II: More of the Best Themes, Trends and Styles in Website Design, is a web developer focused on content management systems and front-end web development. His love for both technology and design makes the web his ideal playground, and his diverse interests allow him to be involved in everything from writing and speaking at conferences to digging into jQuery and advanced content management system integrations. Ultimately, his love for design drives him to obsess over cataloging web sites into the various trends and patterns presented in this book.

  • Was looking for a break down on the design process. But still well done..


  • El

    I think picking the details you like from a design you like is the most importand

  • This was a really nice article! Thanks for sharing.