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February 23, 2011

How to Get Inspired Off the Web

February 23, 2011

As a designer, I spend a lot of time in front of the computer creating designs and solving design problems. Sometimes, I get tunnel vision and find that I've spent the last four hours staring at the screen, wrapped up in the details of this color over that, this element here or there. If I stare too long and too often, I usually get what I like to call the Brain Numbs. My whole head feels foggy and I seem to have run out of ideas for a little while. I start mumbling incoherent phrases and my office mates start looking at me funny. I can't be the only person who experiences this, so I thought I'd share ways to take a break, come up for air and find inspiration in the world outside of the computer screen.

A nature-inspired photo taken with the Instagram app

It's the little things
The first thing to do is get up off your chair and take a walk, preferably outside. If it's too cold or the outside doesn't lend itself to exploration where you are, a stroll around the office will do. Take a deep breath in, then let the air rush out. Look up, look down, look at something up close, look at what's far ahead. Take a few more breaths. Look around as though you've never seen this environment before. Notice and find the little things. Snap a photo of them. (If you have an iPhone, I suggest trying out Instagram or Hipstamatic.) We tend to get used to the environments we see everyday, so making a point to look at things from a different perspective forces us to use different parts of our brain, which in turn can open different pathways to solutions in other parts of our lives.

Get out and about, play, stretch yourself
You can do obvious things to find inspiration, like visit an art museum. But also consider things like heading to a playground to play, making shapes in the sandbox, or grabbing a box of sidewalk chalk to doodle with in your driveway. Take a walk in nature and find interesting patterns or color palettes. Roam the streets to check out band posters and other neighborhood art (or you can cheat at gigposters.com). Stretch your brain with a crossword puzzle (also fun to do collaboratively) or try some sudoku.

Cruisin' the magazines

Consume (sort of)
Head to your favorite grocery store and check out how items are packaged and labeled. Go to your favorite local, independent store and browse handmade wares by local artists. My favorites are Artifacts, Chelsea's and the Village Experience — they always seem to have something neat and eclectic I get inspired by. (Buddha board, anyone?) Or next time you're at your favorite restaurant, check out their menu and the decor. What paint color do they use? What other details exist? Head to a movie and pay attention to its style and art direction. Or, really, just get lost in the movie. Lastly, one of my favorite ways to get inspired is to head to the bookstore to browse not only the magazine section, but to check out the latest books and book cover designs.

I know there are tons of other ways to get inspired, hopefully these ideas will get you started. Next time, we'll talk about how to take inspiration from some of these places and apply them to various aspects of design work.

In the meantime, how do you get inspired?

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