efelle Talks Design Inspiration, Part One: How We Find Fresh Ideas
Looking for Fresh Design Inspo? Here Our Designers Talk About Staying Inspired On and Off the Web
As someone who has first contact with clients, it’s fun to watch projects move from the simple notion of “I want a better website” to a beautiful, highly functioning, SEO-charged finished product. While each project is a huge team effort involving every one of our departments, coming up with ideas for how a site should look, move, and feel falls on the shoulders of our awesome design team.
With this in mind, I’ve been wondering—how do our designers stay fresh? What inspires them?
I recently sat down with three of our designers to chat about these questions and more.
What first inspired you to be a designer?
Kerry: I loved art growing up. That was my favorite thing to do: draw, color, all that stuff.
Veronica: Growing up, I always judged products based on their label—I would look at everything from my shampoo bottles to the packaging of the latest iPod and think, “This is so beautiful.” And then, “Someone made this. I could make this.”
Ariana: In 10th grade, I took a graphic design course which is not what it sounds. We learned things like how to merge two animals together in Photoshop or make a cereal box—just random things. We had a personal project where I downloaded all of these brushes online and made t-shirt designs. My teacher mentioned I should major or minor in design. I hadn't thought about pursuing it, but that comment put me on the track to consider it as an option.
In the past, we’ve talked about how you get inspiration offline as much as online. These activities from when you were younger certainly fit that bill. Why look offline for inspiration when there's so much content and inspiration online?
Veronica: For one, you get tired of looking at the screen.
Ariana: I think there's so much tactile enjoyment in looking in a book. Also, it’s refreshing seeing things that are in physical form or that have longevity because for websites, the average lifespan is three years; after that, most look outdated. Books and other objects tend to have more life in their use outside of the screen.
Kerry: And you don't want to do what all the other web designers do—you see so much repeated stuff when you're just looking at websites or Pinterest or stuff like that. It just gets really repetitive. Going elsewhere, looking in different areas—it's crazy the kinds of places you can find inspiration.
Veronica: I think, too, when we're looking online, it feels like work for us because it's our job. When you look around outside, it's life and culture that inspires, which feels more genuine. It’s not forced.
What other types of media inspire you?
Ariana: Magazines. I love magazines. I also like museums—viewing art, looking at the use of color. And films. I really like films.
Kerry: Even TV shows and advertisements; it's interesting to see the branding.
Are you always drawn to “artsy” magazines or shows?
Veronica: Not at all. Even restaurant menus can be an awesome source of inspiration.
Kerry: I love restaurant menus. Even the menu at Starbucks...that's always nice with where the pricing is and what not. Even with their mugs and other merch—everything is so cohesive.
Ariana: Bus ads, too. I look at them to see what's trending in printed advertisements versus what's trending on the web, though I feel like there's a lot of overlap. It’s interesting. I shop at Fred Meyer and whenever I'm there, I look at the jewelry ads. I always feel like they do trendy things that are similar to web designs and I'm like, “I know what you're doing there.”
What about places? What kinds of places inspire you?
Ariana: Basically anywhere that's intentionally designed...Good architecture. I like to go to a new city and walk around to see different buildings. And I like a blend of nature and cities, because in cities you have human-designed things (signs on buses and buildings, cute shops with lovely print goods in them), but then in nature you see colors that are varied but still cohesive—everything is cohesive and visually pleasing in nature.
Kerry: I always feel really inspired going into little boutique stores and seeing the cool books, jewelry, greeting cards. I mean, any of it...I always think, “I want to do stuff like that!”
Veronica: Also concerts and music festivals—they blend of all kinds of art. A lot of them have structural art that you can interact with on the festival grounds, an interesting subculture, and then there is the music itself.
I also find a lot of inspiration particularly from the light shows and video graphics. I often think about how they do stage and screen graphics. It’s the interesting how the colors and shapes can transform and go with the music. The first time I went to rave was blown away by how intricate the graphics were. They were so detailed and almost more entertaining than the music to me.
Ariana: I went to see Anderson .Paak, and because his CD covers are collages, his concert displays were also collages and cutouts. I was like, “Wow! This is actually art!”
Veronica: I feel like artists are getting really into customising their concert lighting. It's not just like, “Oh, let's have some blue lights.”
Ariana: You should check out the Netflix series, Abstract. It's all about design. There's an episode about a woman that makes sets for artists like Jay-Z.
What films and music are currently inspiring you?
Veronica: I love Frank Ocean. His lyrics inspire me. They're deep and interesting and kind of unusual sometimes. They make you think of things you weren't thinking about before, which I think is a sign of good artists—they stimulate new thoughts. Also, his voice is beautiful. And I love his album covers.
Kerry: My tastes come and go in waves all the time, but lately I've been listening to a lot of Van Morrison. I just love his lyrics.
Ariana: Lately I have been really interested in Beach House, Rex Orange County, and Tom Rosenthal (recommended by the lovely Haley—an Account Manager here at efelle).
In terms of films I'm obsessed with Wes Anderson. I feel like he's a designer more than a filmmaker. Recently, I’ve been watching French New Wave films—what Wes Anderson was inspired by. In the late 50s/early 60s, French filmmakers rejected American cinema and started to experiment with different ways of shooting.
The first movie I watched I thought, “This is so odd, but I like it. It's breaking all the rules.” It felt very liberating to watch. I want to watch it again and just take screenshots of everything, especially in terms of photo composition inspiration.
So, I love quirky, colorful films. Essentially, anything in that realm.
You mentioned concerts and festivals. What are other inspiring experiences do you tap into?
Ariana: I drive a lot unfortunately, so I listen to a lot of audiobooks. Right now, I’m listening to Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I'm obsessed with it. Whenever I play it, I have to stop whatever I'm doing and I'm fully in the zone.
It makes me think of how we make content. If you have good content, people are going to be interested. Vonnegut will just randomly make you laugh and there's these unexpected delights throughout the novel that make me think "This is amazing!" It inspires me to want to design work that’s authentic rather than trying to include irrelevant visuals solely for aesthetics.
Veronica: For me, it’s putting food together! Sometimes when I go home and want to be creative, I cook. I challenge myself by only using what I have in my kitchen to try and create new combinations of flavors. Sometimes it turns out great, sometimes it doesn’t, but I’m always learning in the process.
Do any people inspire you?
Veronica: I'm inspired by the other designers at efelle. Just seeing their work makes me think differently about my own work. I'll look over at their designs and feel more inspired by them than other design I see on the web.
Kerry: Yeah, I agree with Veronica. I love checking out to see what everyone here is up to. Because I agree that the stuff that everyone puts out is as good or better than other professional designs I see online. I'm always impressed.
Ariana: I went through a really big phase of reading creative interviews. This magazine, The Great Discontent, has a bunch of interviews from designers of everything across the board. I like reading about other people's creative processes or journeys throughout their career in terms of what work they've done, different jobs they’ve had, and eventually getting into freelancing.
Specifically, I really like Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh—not just their work but their outlook on design. They wholly apply design to their life by experimenting with their lives through design thinking. I like the mentality that design is not just for the web—you can use it for personal development, you can use it for communicating on social platforms, you can use it for whatever you want. Design isn’t just limited to selling things.
Show and tell time. Ariana, you brought some objects in that bring you inspiration. What are they?
Ariana: This is a cookbook called Heartwood. I bought it solely because of the looks. I knew that I would not cook with it. My plan was to give it to my mom when I was done looking at it because I feel like she'd actually make something from it.
Kerry: I love the cover.
Ariana: Yeah. Sometimes it reminds me of helping [Kerry] out with those food websites we've done, like Taylor Shellfish. It's just very clean. Clean images of food, especially.
Also, I was always obsessed with this. It's called Stay Wild and it's a magazine from Portland.
Kerry: Oh you've shown us these before!
Ariana: I got the first magazine and was like, “What is this?!” The photos, articles and layouts are great for inspiration. Printed designs have some of the best typography too.
Finally, this is a journal—Scenes—my boyfriend got me in San Francisco. It's basically scripts for movies and also photography. I just like the pastels and the typewriter font—you never see that on the web.
Kerry: What inspires you, Tessa?
Tessa: I like the outdoors. And also baking. I do that a lot and that's really fun.
I also like old stuff—stuff that has been around for a long time. It's like how Ariana talked about everything being designed—if something has been around for a long time, they obviously did a good job designing it, so, what can we learn from it?
Ariana: Yes! When things are literally designed to get better or at least last with age, that's such a feat.
Tessa: Like your favorite shirts getting comfier?
Ariana: Exactly! That's the key—how can we do that in design?
efelle Makes Inspiration Happen—Come Partner with Us!
efelle creative has been in the business of designing and building inspiring websites since 2005. Don’t believe us? Check out our portfolio. When you’re ready to start on a web design and development project for your own business, reach out to us at 206.384.4909 or by filling out our online contact form.
For more, click on over to our second part of this two-part series:
efelle Talks Design Inspiration, Part Two: Our Process for Transforming Inspiration into Professional Websites