I have always found the research phase of the creative process to be the most exciting. A blank page scares a lot of people, but it has always made me happy. It opens the door to endless possibility. We want to share some tips and tools to help you kick start your visual research for projects. Downloading your brain with visual inspiration at the start of a project can inform great work.
Our design teams dig into visual research during the legwork and craftwork portions of our approach. During this part of our process we hunt for visual inspiration. We look for anything to back our strategic directions for creative branding and design solutions. We present research internally and to clients as visual mood boards before we even dive into creative execution.
When we dig for visual inspiration, we use several tools. Some of our designers like to use Evernote, Pinterest, Dribble, or Designspiration to name a few. Each platform offers something unique if you are looking to put together visual mood boards. It also helps to identify the tool you like the best and just start saving. You never know when that piece of magical inspiration is going to be needed, so always hang on to it, and know where it is.
There was a time not too long ago when I used Evernote constantly. It offers the best UI for saving images categorically. It also lets you quickly save notes from your phone. It makes images searchable so that you can quickly tag them and find them later. My Evernote library was such a crucial part of my process for years. It can act as a digital file cabinet, note-taking tool, and daily visual journal. The one thing it is missing, is the ability to find new images for you.
It might sound lazy, but one huge plus of Pinterest is a visual search tool that actually does a lot of the work for you. If you pin something you like, it will reference additional related images. When they introduced this function in 2015, I started to leave Evernote behind. I also love the ability to create a public facing set of personal boards and still have a ton of private boards for specific clients, teams and projects. What is the biggest downfall of Pinterest? It doesn’t natively let you batch save images from a pin board. Some indie plug-ins solve this, but I have not found one that works flawlessly. So you are stuck manually saving each image from the website individually.
The best thing Dribble offers is an endless amount of work in progress from designers. On the downside, it is limited to only being curated by designers. Sometimes the best inspiration comes from unexpected places, and we try to look to these places first. It also does not have the high-end tools to organize and save inspiration. It is a great place to find some fresh work, but we recommend using various sites in collaboration with Evernote or Pinterest to build a collection of visual inspiration across categories and projects.
We love where Designspiration is going. They are introducing a few new features that will add to the already stunning UX. A new color search feature is coming that will let you search through designer curated inspiration completely by color. Using Designspiration is very easy. It’s all about collecting things you enjoy and being able to dig through endless records of design from all around the world.
Sometimes the Internet is great, but nothing beats doing some research in real life. We often go to our collection of design books, magazines, and assemblage of miscellaneous inspiration. Our team has a wide variety of interests, and as designers, we all collect what we find to be visually interesting. Some might call us hoarders, but don’t worry, we won’t let that stop us from hanging on to every well thought out design execution we encounter. We are also lucky to live in San Diego. Our city’s library has a collection of over 5 million books, many focused on art and design. We hit the library for research whenever we get the chance. Don’t be afraid to roll your sleeves up, and do the work of research the old fashion way.
Building From Your Collected Inspiration:
With images from the Internet, or scans of what you have found IRL start to print, cut, and hang those gems. Keeping images separated allows you to freely move inspiration between concepts or directions. As you present a few times, you should see boards get tighter as you move through a project. By the time you are ready to start pushing pixels and doing the work, you should have a good sense of what the client is expecting to see.
Being original is extremely challenging. Whatever you find during your research, always strive to use it as inspiration and not a template. Copy the inspiration, not the outcome. Be inspired by what you find, what you have experienced, and put in the hard work to make something original. Don’t be afraid to use something as inspiration, just own it and make it unique.