A lot of people (clients?) think designers turn a switch and crank out a creative solution in between trips to the Keurig. As great as that sounds the truth is creative problem solving, which is what design is, is anything but predictable and on demand. It’s a process that, in all honesty, designers are cycling through all the time; even when they’re not working on a specific project.
Creativity isn’t some bottomless well of rainbows, clay and iPhones. Designers need inspiration to couple with knowledge, skill and experience to create effective design solutions. I’m always looking at the world around me for inspiration. It’s like keeping a knife sharp. Staying inspired to create and solve.
There is a process to design. I like to start with a creative brief which outlines the task at hand, timing and deliverables. Next the team and I identify and research the brand, product and marketplace. At this time we look to trends and inspiration before we put pen to paper. Images, words and materials are arranged artfully on (typically virtual) “boards” that we reference throughout the design process. I liken it to cleansing your palate before a really good meal. Collecting information and then coupling that with trend and inspiration boards gets everyone in the right frame of mind to create a design solution. In fact we often include these boards in our final presentation so everyone understands what inspires the aesthetic and functional design details. It’s more about purposeful fact based design, and less about objective or personal preference. We never just throw stuff up on a wall.
I don’t know if there is a formal definition for any of the boards we create, but here is how I define them and how we use them, along with examples of boards we’ve created for clients.
Trend Board – whenever I travel I’m always looking at stores, buildings, products, displays, events; taking photos with my phone and collecting ideas. See enough of the same things in various places and you’re starting to see trends firsthand. I also look online at store websites to see seasonal collections, trend websites to see what they’re saying the latest trends are; anywhere we can get a pulse on society. And they may not always be images, products or colors. They could be social or shopping trends in which case we’ll capture that with an image of some sort.
Inspiration / Mood – These are the most fun because they can be virtually anything, and while they are somewhat subjective, they help inspire the designer to design. Pinterest and Google searches are great places to find inspirational images. As a designer I look to colors, textures, product design details, fashion, nature, architecture, global influences, essentially anything and everything to generate inspiration boards. These boards inspire and set the tone for the design. A project could have just one or a dozen plus boards, it just depends on the scope and how much reference material we’re drawn to.
Here is a collection of some of our favorite mood boards that we’ve created. Gathering this inspiration for a project is one of our favorite parts of being designers.
Word Cloud – occasionally on larger or deeper projects we’ll collect words and create a word cloud to inspire us and keep us on task. These words help us define the problem and what success looks like. It’s created at the beginning and we use it at the end to weigh our design solutions against – to make sure we are on brand.
Material Board – It’s good to have a sense of what materials will work with the brand or product we’re promoting at retail. We’ll also consider the materials of the surrounding space that we may not be able to control. A material board can be “high level” indicating general wood tones, paint colors, and materials such as glass and plastic. Or we might get very specific and call out actual laminate names and numbers or paint specs. The material board is created in concert with trend and inspiration boards; it might even be created after we’ve started the design process.
One last note, sometimes we even combine several of these into one board to help guide us through a project or tier the various concepts we know we’re going to work on. Below is an example of how we combined a word cloud with inspirational images to set the tone for a specific concept that was yet to be designed.
There you have it, my quick overview of these fun design tools and why we use them. Where do you find inspiration? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks.
Chris Weigand is president of Chris Weigand Design, LLC in Peninsula, Ohio. Gathering inspiration is one of his favorite parts of the design process. His love of nature, automobiles, art and architecture all manifest themselves in his designs. If you’d like to find out more about how Chris and his team can help inspire your next amazing design experience, visit the CWD website at http://www.chrisweiganddesign.com and contact him by phone at (330) 858-8926 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org