From Interaction to Inspiration: 5 Ways to find UI Inspiration

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Being blocked is “B.S.,”, as Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, says. He calls it resistance. He calls it excuses. And that’s certainly one way to look at it.

But, often, we’re not “blocked” because we haven’t been working – we may be feeling uninspired because we’ve been doing the exact opposite: working hard. We feel like we’ve exhausted our “storehouse” of brilliant ideas.

Nothing sparks us anymore, and we can’t seem to get back into the flow – that sweet spot where great design and ideas seem to flow from our fingertips to our tablets, down to our wireframes – it’s all but elusive.

What’s the cause? Repetition. What’s the “cure?” Breaking out.

Repetition, especially when you’re just getting started, is a useful tool that can help you be productive, focused and present with your work. Repetition relieves you of decision fatigue. Repetition helps you play the long game, taking pride in a job well-done everyday but still keeping your eyes fixed firmly on a long-term goal.

But it’s a fine balance. Sometimes, all we need is to break the routine, switch gears and take the time to feel inspired again. Because, sometimes, it’s not resistance, excuses or fear. Sometimes, it’s time to reset and refresh.

As you read through this post, you’ll understand:

  • How to use the everyday world around you to refresh your work
  • A unique method that will help you commit to engaging with these five spaces to find inspirations
  • A set of resources you can use to find inspiration when you’re going through a creative block

While this post is geared towards designers, feel free to use one, some or all of these places and tricks to inspiration to get your creative work going again.

Methodology Matters

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

Any creative who cares about being profitable knows methodology always matters. This means, how you do things is just as important as what you end up doing.

So we’ve put together a nifty little routine that can help completely randomize your inspiration experience and help you stay accountable and committed to following through.

Start by reading this article.

Once you’ve finished reading these five tips for finding UI inspiration, write out the headings for each section on five separate strips of paper. Find a regular-sized envelope and pop the five strips in.

Shake the envelope around a bit while holding it closed (but don’t seal it!). Then, on a designated day of the week, every week, pick one strip out of the envelope.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to spend that day ( or, heck, even that week) doing whatever it says on that strip of paper.

Now let’s take a look at what you’ll be doing.

1. Map Out a Solution to a Problem 

find solutions to a problem

Messy on-boarding workflows

When you’re first looking for inspiration, make yourself a “problem map” or a “Great Big List of Things that Tick Me Off.”

The best UI inspiration comes from real-world problems or messy on-boarding workflows that can be improved.

By who? By you!

Mapping out the problem will help get your juices flowing. If you’ve been frustrated by it, chances are, someone else has been too, and you can provide them with a solution. It’s also deeply satisfying.

Solving or actively working on a problem is a great fulcrum to launch you back into creative and inspired UI work. You won’t need inspiration or motivation to get to work on addressing this problem because it matters to you.

You’re annoyed by it or pained by it enough that you’ll actively seek a solution. Even if you don’t do anything just yet, start to think about it.

The answers will unfold as you’re asking the question.

2. Use Biomimicry

If you’re one of those multipotentialites who has always wondered how to mix disciplines in innovative ways, this one’s for you.

Biomimicry is the field that combines the study of the natural world and design. More specifically, designers, thinkers, artists and architects look to nature for clues on how to solve the most pressing design problems and produce innovations in the things we construct for use around us.

Advocates of biomimicry believe that the answers are all around us in the form of natural inspiration. They look to a hummingbird’s wings and flight patterns for answers to how to re-think aviation questions.

Or they’ll use the smallest creatures on Earth – the funny, bear-like tardigrades – to re-design the vaccination refrigeration process. Essentially, these designers use a key principle – intersection – along with deep and incisive research into one or two niches to re-imagine the products and systems we’re building.

Try this yourself: Take a day (or the week) and find examples of design in nature. It can through fractals in flowers or a whale’s blow-hole.

Flowers in nature

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash – Design Inspiration in Nature

 Design Inspiration in nature

Photo by Abigail Lynn on Unsplash – Design Inspiration in nature

Find one or two functions or specific observations that you find fascinating about these creatures and try and mind-map related concepts.

Does this creature’s function remind you of any problems you’ve encountered in design? Start to sketch your ideas out.

For more inspiration, be sure to check out the resources at The Biomimicry Institute and over at AskNature.

3. Join an Online Community or a Meetup Group

Join an Online Community

Often, just looking at a fellow UI designer’s portfolio is enough to get you inspired and fired up again. It’s not just a sense of competition but the collective identity – “I can do that too!” you’ll realize. And while there are plenty of UI websites you can visit for fresh new ideas, we recommend making a bigger commitment than simply browsing.

Because it’s such a new field and not all designers work for an agency, choosing to be freelance instead, UI designers can often end up feeling isolated. They can end up working non-stop, in a silo. If this is you, you’ll want to do one of two things to find inspiration again.

Get involved in an online community. This could be via Facebook or even through engaging with other UI designers on Twitter. A social network is important to build – and don’t just post laudatory comments or “like” things and “RT” them.

Instead, post constructive feedback, create polls on creative questions you’ve been asking yourself and engage with other UI designers in a real conversation. If you want to take it a step further, find a local UI designer Meetup group in your area.

4.  Teardowns, Workflows and Emails, Oh My!

Interacting with the world around you  through problem-solving, meet-ups and even nature  can be incredibly fruitful, as you’ve seen. But there are several times where UI designers just need to hunker down and niche into their own industries.

Yes, you could access hundreds of curated sites that focus on the user interface of web and mobile apps through Product Hunt.

But we thought we’d save you the sifting time and focus your attention on these three major sites that don’t just wet your UI appetite but leave you high and dry. You’re looking for inspiration that’s actionable in this post, right?

So we give you three smart websites that do precisely that:

  • Good UI: UI designer Jakub Linowski created “Good UI” or “Good User Interface” to help UI designers focus on smart workflows that are either featured for “ease of use” or “high conversions.” You’re welcome.
  • UserOnboard: It’s a simple site designed by UX designer Samuel Hulick who frequently “tears down” or breaks down, analyzes and critiques the onboarding experience of popular web apps. Ranging from the Truly Great to the Really Shabby, you can get those creative juices flowing, along with Samuel’s whip-smart commentary and never have to actually sign up for any of these platforms.
  • Really Good Emails: It’s not just web and mobile apps — email marketing campaigns are major opportunities to form a connection to the user via UI design. It’s also an incredibly fertile space from which to gain inspiration. Really Good Emails makes it even easier for you: their 165 pages worth of email marketing campaign inspiration can be further sorted through using categories like “Behavioural > Abandoned Cart” or “Enhancement > Interactive.”

5. Use Prompt Cards

There are two sets of prompt cards we like for this technique to finding UI inspiration: the first is Danielle LaPorte’s “Truthbombs.” The second is the classic, “Oblique Strategies.

Prompt cards can be an excellent, external sort of master. They can give you a concrete direction to head in or introduce a new way of looking at things. You can spend the day contemplating them and how the idea connects to your work or you can go ahead and do what it’s directing you to do on the card.

Now, enough with the reading. Go and do!