Inspiration can be a wonderful thing for a designer. Unfortunately, inspiration is also a painful source of frustration for many designers. They spend long periods of time waiting to be inspired, but it never happens. In many cases, it is because they simply refuse to see the inspiration that is all around them. Instead, they wait for inspiration to kick in the door and announce its presence. It is this passivity that results in a lack of creativity and productivity. Inspiration is something that needs to be sought out. Fortunately, finding inspiration is easy. It doesn’t require vacations to an artistic mecca. It doesn’t require access to anything that is extravagantly beautiful. Any designer who is willing to pay attention can find inspiration in the things around them.
There are two types of simple objects that can be used for inspiration. The first is man-made objects. We are surrounded by functional objects that we use every single day. We rarely spend any time thinking about these objects whatsoever, let alone consider using them for design inspiration. The second is natural objects. These are objects, solely created by nature, that have not been influenced by any significant human intervention. This post will be divided into three parts. The first two will address how to find inspiration in man-made and natural objects, by giving suggestions on becoming more aware and rethinking the way we see everyday objects. The third will focus on specific design elements we can take away and use in design projects.
Finding Inspiration in The Ordinary Man Made Objects You Encounter Every Day
Don’t discount everyday man-made objects as sources for inspiration. There is a beauty in simple, functional items that many designers overlook. The same flow, symmetry, quality of materials, and ingenuity that is behind designing items that are known for beauty in function, exists in items that are designed for utilitarian purposes.
Learning to Repurpose
One way to get inspiration from ordinary items is to force yourself to see those items in new ways. Repurposing these items is a great way to do this. When you take something, and find ways to make that thing into something new, you force yourself to look at the item, not as the designer intended, but for its untapped potential. If you are working with an object that is practical and plain, you can find ways to add elements of beauty to that object. If you are working with an item that was designed soley with beauty in mind, you can find ways to repurpose that object so that it gains practical function.
The process of repurposing forces you to reexamine an object. You must look at its structure, textures, colors, and moving elements in order to find untapped potential. When you do this, you become an active consumer of design instead of a passive consumer.
Finding Inspiration in Simple Everyday Objects by Finding Inspiration in Everyday Objects
The preceding statement may be a tautology, but it is absolutely true. There is no magic trick when it comes to finding design inspiration in simple, everyday objects. If you want to do this, you simply have to make the conscious decision that you are going to do this, and then follow through. Become more observant. Notice shapes, lines, and colors in the items you use every day. If you must, set a daily quota for yourself. Refuse to go to bed each evening until you have found five new items in which you have found at least one element of inspiration (shape, color, form, function, beauty…).
Get Out of The House or Studio
It’s very difficult to find any kind of inspiration without exposure. So, grab a notebook, sketchbook, camera, smartphone, or any other tool that you prefer to use to capture inspiration. Then, get out of the house. Notice patterns in the objects that you encounter. Find symmetry in practical objects that you see in use around you. Notice how things move. Pay attention to everything, even something as mundane as the stainless steel coffee carafe at your favorite coffee shop.
Finding Inspiration in Natural Items You Encounter Every Day
There is nothing new about finding design inspiration in nature. There are beautiful places all over the world that draw artists and designers looking for inspiration. Unfortunately, for many of us, those places are simply inaccessible. However, this does not mean that it is impossible to find inspiration from natural objects. Natural beauty isn’t limited to lush forests, beaches, majestic mountains, or painted desserts. If somebody is willing to look for it, design inspiration can be found in nature no matter where you are. It doesn’t matter if you are looking in the grittiest urban setting or the most cookie cutter suburb.
Become Aware of Natural Items That You Encounter Daily
If you live in an urban setting, there are so many big objects drawing your attention that items in nature go unnoticed. You won’t see forests, for example, in these areas. This requires looking for these items on a smaller scale. On the other hand, if you live in a rural or suburban area, you can probably look at your window and see trees, flowers, hills, and other natural elements. Of course, presence does not always equal awareness. In fact, you may need to force yourself to truly notice what you see every day.
Make Note of The Practicality of Objects in Nature
One of the most beautiful things about natural objects is that they have functionality as they are. Designers and craftspeople can take a tree, a rock, or other natural object, create a design, and physically change that object until it suits our purpose. However, even without that intervention there is still practical functionality. For example, trees bend towards the light.
Take Away: Applicable Elements of Design That Can be Found in Nature
Patterns are everywhere. They exist in both natural and man-made items. Ceramic tiles set into floors, brushed stainless steel appliances, leaves on trees, and even rocks, when observed closely have patterns. Patterns are soothing to look at because they provide visual consistency. Designers can use patterns as backgrounds in web and graphic design, and to add subtle elements of design when a muted approach is best.
Texture adds an element of beauty and makes items interesting to look at. Like patterns, we cannot necessarily feel patterns in web and graphic design, however they are obvious when we look at them. Different textures evoke different emotions. For example, a texture that mimics denim or wood might give a comfortable, down home feel, to a website. A leather texture might give off the impression of wealth and luxury.
Symmetry can be found in the most seemingly mundane objects. It can certainly be found in nature. In fact, the human body itself is symmetrical. In a visual sense, symmetry meets our expectations. The lack of symmetry does not. Now, this doesn’t mean that lack of symmetry in design is a negative thing. In fact, lack of symmetry can be visually striking, and if used correctly can make a big impact. Think about a grove of trees. All of the trees are roughly the same size and consist of the same round shape. Then, within that grove is trees is one tree that has been half sheared off due to a lightning strike. The presence of that asymmetrical tree doesn’t ruin the beauty of the entire group of trees. The tree itself isn’t repulsive looking. However, the presence of the tree does change the look of the grouping, and the asymmetrical tree is the first thing most people will notice.
Some people go to design school and design beautiful decorative objects for which people pay hundreds of dollars. Most people who go to design school work for manufacturers and retailers designing items that serve a practical purpose. Too many people assume that the second group of people loses their ability to think creatively in addition to thinking practically. Not only is this untrue, the members of the second group often have an amazing ability to use color to make practical items beautiful, and to draw the eye to specific parts of the items they design.
Examples of color in everyday objects can be used in web and graphic design to draw attention to items that you want to receive the user’s attention. Color can also be used to create separation between elements on a screen.
There are not many elements in natural and practical objects that we see every day that are extraneous. All parts serve a purpose. There is a good lesson to learn from that in web and graphic design. When there is temptation to add one more element to a screen, nature serves as a good example that simplicity is often the best way to go when it comes to function and design.
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