A trip to your local book store’s magazine rack used to be the quickest, easiest way to find rich, diverse inspiration without a significant fee. Recently, the web has completely changed the way designers, developers, artists, writers and photographers search for influence. Now anyone with an internet connection can access a virtually unending stream of content that saturates the senses and breeds innovation. The best part: most of it is free.
The problem of finding inspiration then has changed drastically from one of scarcity to over-abundance. The biggest hurdle designers face today is sifting through the mess of content to find truly remarkable examples of creativity from whence great ideas can flow forth. Today we’d like to help solve this problem with a showcase of premium sources of design inspiration.
Design Blogs & Tutorial Sites
Design blogs can be the richest source of free content on the web. Unfortunately, they can also be the shallowest. There are a million of these sites vying for your attention, many posting the same content and offering almost nothing original to the mix. However, there are a few that stand out due to their absolutely stellar, original content. Let’s take a brief look at a few sites that are each great for a unique reason.
Abduzeedo is hands down my current favorite source of inspiration on the web. They post a mega collection of inspiration every day that features a wealth content you won’t find on any other design blog. The great thing about Abduzeedo is that they aren’t afraid, and in fact are rather inclined, to post “weird” stuff. I check their site constantly to remind myself to think completely outside of the box and not fall into the trap of simply jumping on the latest trends.
Smashing Magazine is the current reigning king for quality design-related content and information. Their freebies are always amazing but what really keeps me coming back is the depth of their articles. The authors at Smashing Magazine really do their homework and perform in-depth research for every single article they write. The result is a wealth of information on everything from web technologies to usability tests that you can really trust and actually apply to your designs.
Part of the larger Envato Network, the Tuts+ sites are the best online sources for free tutorials. Whether you want to learn Photoshop, web development, After Effects, vector illustration, photography, Flash or 3D modeling, the Tuts+ sites have a wealth of in-depth tutorials to get you on your way. I particularly find NetTuts to be an indispensable tool in keeping up with the latest web technologies and trends. In fact, I’ve learned most of what I know about web design from going through free tutorials on that site and continue to be inspired to try new things outlined in their posts on a weekly basis. If you’re looking more for pure artwork inspiration, PSDTuts and VectorTuts are bursting with great design ideas and techniques.
Other Great Design Blogs/Tutorial Sites
Design Galleries & Showcases
Design galleries are the best way to sort through tons of potential inspiration in a relatively small amount of time. These are usually divided up into niches such as logo galleries, flash showcases, CSS galleries etc. We recently posted a roundup of 70 CSS Galleries, so I encourage you to got check that out so we can leave most of those out of this post. That said, let’s look at a few galleries and showcases that stand out the most.
Just google “logo gallery” and you will have no trouble finding enough sites to ruin your productivity for days on end. LogoPond is my favorite as they seem to have the best offering of truly inspiring and unique logo design. If you’re a new logo designer, you might be tempted to “borrow” heavily from logos you see in a gallery thinking that the odds of these designers ever seeing your work is pretty much zilch. I strongly advise you to have more integrity than that. Use logo galleries as a great source of inspiration for color combinations and an overall stylistic feel, but never steal someone else’s intellectual property. As a designer, you should always strive to be creatively unique with the artwork you produce. If you can’t pull it off, find another day job.
Ember is a new and fantastic way to find and share inspiration online. Integrated seamlessly with screen grab application LittleSnapper, Ember encourages users to grab and upload any inspirational images they find from around the web. You can search by tag, look at your friends’ pics, or just browse through popular images. Ember is the best “social” source of purely visual inspiration I’ve found to date.
The great thing about finding inspiration on the web is that you don’t necessarily have to be looking for web-related content. Ads of the World contains tons of content from print, outdoor, TV & movies, the internet, and even radio advertising. The ads are nearly always stunning, humorous or just downright clever. I found this site back when I was in college and lost an entire afternoon worth of homework productivity just browsing through it. A year later, I still find myself getting sucked into clicking through all of these amazing ads for hours on end.
Sort of a sub-category of design galleries, websites that feature designer portfolios can be an excellent source of inspiration. They really help you get a feel for how designers can create unique styles that show themselves in everything they create. Here’s a quick look at my three favorites:
Much like Abduzeedo, Behance is full of crazy stuff that you won’t typically find on other stuff. Which is exactly why it’s an invaluable source for design inspiration!
Funny name, great content. Coroflot hosts portfolios from a remarkably diverse set of design disciplines. With over 159,000 portfolios to view, you should definitely be able to find an artist or two that can inspire you towards greatness. Bonus points if you can find mine.
Krop provides designers with a free, beautiful environment to display their work. Though not as searchable as Coroflot or Behance, they always have some really impressive featured portfolios and companies for inspiration.
Stock Photography Sites
Obviously, if you’re a photographer, stock photo sites can provide and endless stream of inspiration. But even if you’re a designer, the photography that you place into your designs is often a great enough influence that you end up designing your entire ad or site from that single piece of inspiration. Grant it, they’re not free and some are almost criminally expensive, but good photography can make or break a campaign. Here’s a list of some to check out. Note that iStock may be the reigning champion for cheap photos, but if your client has a significant budget and prefers a photo they won’t see on everyone else’s ads, you’re better off going with one of the more expensive sites. There are also a few free choices that you can take advantage of as long as you carefully read the usage rights for each photo you download!
As a self-proclaimed Twitter addict, Twitter is the first place I look for a daily dose of inspiration (though Facebook can be a great place as well!). When I first signed up, I definitely didn’t understand “tweeting” or why anyone would want to do it. It wasn’t until I found a thriving designer community sharing an endless stream of resources that I realized what an amazing resource I had discovered. You should see Twitter as a sort of gateway to all the other resources I shared above. I could spend hours researching all the best designers to follow on Twitter, but that’s been done so many times that it would simply be moot for me to create my own list. Instead I’ll just point you to a few great lists collectively featuring hundreds of designers to follow.
- Vandelay Design: 50+ Designers to Follow on Twitter
- Six Revisions: 16 Genuine, Authentic Designers on Twitter
- Digital Labz: 100 Web Designers to follow on Twitter
- Mashable: 85+ of the Best Twitterers Designers Should Follow
- inkpill: An entire site devoted to designers on Twitter!
- WebDesignDev: 30 Top Web Designers On Twitter
- Naldz Graphics: 300+ Active Web Designers to Follow on Twitter
See what I mean? This could go on for days so I’m going to stop there.
This post should give you enough online inspiration to last a lifetime. I hope your Delicious accounts are now significantly more filled with design-related links. Again, remember that these inspirational sources should be viewed primarily as a way to spark original ideas for your designs, not simply provide a bunch of stuff to copy. So get out there and create your own pieces of inspiration for others to marvel at!
We’d love to hear where you find inspiration online. Post your favorite links in the comments below along with what makes them so great.