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01 16 2008

While reading Brendon Dawes’ Analog In, Digital Out, he speaks briefly in an early chapter about his inspiration—everyday things. While this is not exactly a novel idea that hasn’t been reiterated about design for many a year, he does make another statement that truly deserves some reiteration:

if you’re designing for the web, why look at loads of design portals that show loads of web sites that essentially all look the same? […] Surely they offer too narrow a view to be really inspirational.

Quite.

In fact, if you watch galleries that are upgraded often, you will quickly notice spurts of sites that look similar to something else previously submitted. Where’s the blasted inspiration these sites supposedly offer?!

Personal Style

Recently, I showed a friend of mine a concept I was working on, to which his response was, “Typical Kyle Meyer cookie cutter.” Further discussion exuded that my style was too minimal. It was bland and boring. At first I was a bit perturbed, but to each his own. Then I got to thinking about it more; at the very least I have a developed style and mannerism, and I have reasons for doing things the way I do.

Developing a style seems to evolve from iteration. I feel mine mainly came out of my methodology of process. I find Photoshop tedious and slow to get my ideas on the screen, so instead I tend to actually write CSS and photoshop images or slight conceptual variations by screenshotting what I have working in the browser. It’s a bit abnormal but it’s how I do things and it typically leads to a very minimal sparse typographic layout. I’m capable of doing fancy graphics and the sort when it’s necessary and depending on the site I’m working on I may do the whole thing in photoshop, but I love the results that come out of just using code with minimal graphical flair.

I’m a big fan of Dan Cedarholm’s design work and he’s an perfect example of personal style. Especially in sites that are personal projects of his; but it also flows over into his client work.

Simplebits
Figure 1a: Simplebits

Dan continues with a similar feel on his wine tasting site Cork’d with a lot of similarities that seem to permeate his work.

Corkd
Figure 1b: Cork’d

Missed Opportunities

I’ve been having a debate with myself lately about sites that seem as though they were dropped into a premade generic template that was bought, yet were in reality specifically designed for that specific client. Somehow they came out looking inappropriate for the company and more often than not: “Web 2.0” Design has a chance to bring attitude, identity, and personality to what is essentially nothing but a logo and rambling marketing babble in many cases. I would hate to think that the client was naive enough to find this acceptable or if it was budget concerns, or whatever. In any case, there was a missed opportunity.

Sometimes it can be hard to find inspiration for such things, but resorting to something so generic is such a waste. Combining a personal style with the needs of a client usually creates something that is nothing short of spectacular. But we shouldn’t put a personal touch above the needs of the design itself when it comes to client work; I think some designers who would marry their gradient tool tend to let their love for such design devices ruin work where it doesn’t fit.

Print Wins

Right now, I think the print design world does a much better job than the web of combining style with client needs. There’s plenty of sheep-herding design trends, and overused elements; but as a whole there is a greater amount of variation. Granted, there is a lot more freedom in the print world but there’s so much untouched territory in online design it’s staggering. What print design seems to have an advantage in is that it is a physical medium, using different materials lead to interesting textures, lighting plays a factor, etc. But what’s to say that we can’t grab a scanner or digital camera and work these things into the digital medium?

Maybe it’s because I’m hopped up on Brenden Dawe’s seemingly endless creativity, but do something different; try to stand out. Make a website background with acrylic paint, scan the bastard, and use photoshop to touch it up. Experiment with opacity and depth. Just go nuts. Develop a style.

Eleven

Responses

  1. Excellent post. I too have noticed the 3 webdesign inspiration sites in my feeds are often ‘meh’ (though i won’t be removing them as it’s always good to see what’s possible). I have found that print inspiration sites and industral/furniture/fashion design gives me much more variety, and inspiration :)

    Interesting working process there, I might try it.

  2. Great post, mate. You’re absolutely right and it’s funny you should mention being inspired by print design - I’m going to be talking about that at FOWD in London! My talk title will be Print is the new web: why we can - and should - draw inspiration from print design.

    I’m also doing a workshop about creative processes in Photoshop, so I wouldn’t mind getting your thoughts later today about how you “tend to actually write CSS and photoshop images or slight conceptual variations by screenshotting what [you] have working in the browser.” It’s an interesting way of working and something I’m even starting to do from time to time; or spending less time in Photoshp, anyway.

  3. Daniel: I totally agree, in fact, I’ve turned to books more than anything on the web now for inspiration. I’ve been fending off the temptation to purchase every page layout book I lay eyes on because while much of it is meant for print, quite a bit relates to the web.

    Elliot: I’m hoping to explain more about the process of writing code rather than Photoshopping things when a certain project is released that I can use as a case study. :)

  4. I agree 100% and I have been trying to make this more back to a print mentality in designing websites. I think that it also allows us to create a stronger brand link between printed materials and websites.

    Unfortunately the “web2.0 style” (and I use that term very sarcasticly) of design has reached our clients. They now think that good design is glossy and reflected. Reverse programming of this idea has proven very difficult for me lately. While finding more trusting clients is high on my priority of things to do, it is not any easy task to accomplish when everything out there looks the same. Getting someone to go against the grain is not an easy task, however it is one that I am attempting every day.

    Great post, and keep up the great work. If anyone is interested, I also wrote an article that quotes elliot and is very similar.

  5. Zinni: Thanks for comment. :)

    I read your article and I have to say that the most important thing is educating the client (which you mentioned). But it’s subject to debate how to educate them. Many clients do want something that looks like x even though it is not fitting for their market. As designers we have to stress the importance not of good design (though indirectly), but what succumbing to trend based design will do to their business. We need to explain not only why the glossy, reflected, gradient logo is not representative of their company, but why it does not communicate what is important to their clientele. Why it will not make them as much money as something else. Because in the end clients do not care about our process or why this is a trend or why we don’t do things that way. They care about the results our designs deliver, and that is what we need to stress.

    Cheers. :)

  6. Kinda reminds me of this website I came across:
    http://www.makemylogobiggercream.com/
    :) heh heh

  7. Great article. I too at times when in dire need of some inspiration trawl through endless CSS galleries and the like - many design look similar but there sometimes is the odd 1 or 2 that really stand out and you can get something from it and develop it further.

    You comment: “I love the results that come out of just using code with minimal graphical flair” really hit home. Seeing a design with the absolute minimum in graphics is rare, but when its done right it can be great.

    I tried a small experiment a while back to see if I could make a 1 page layout with no images at all. This was before I knew about benefits of the grid and looking back there is a lot I’d change about it now - overall I suppose it was a good learning experience and taught me not to rely im images so much.

    Here it is:
     http://www.azeemalim.co.uk/imageless02/

  8. I think that design should solve the problem. Style is just part of the solution. That being said I enjoy making cool stuff as much as the next designer. My style preferences are always evolving. I get interested in everything I see.

    I do think its important to be a bit of a chameleon as well. That allows you to make a design that fits the clients needs irregardless of your personal style. And lets not forget about fitting their budget. I’d rather get a quick professional website completed than spend hours in Photoshop as well.

    You might like Fireworks. I mention Fireworks because it allows you to prototype quickly. I’m comfortable working in any of the Adobe products, but Fireworks is just really fast.

    Thx.

  9. HA! YES! Finally someone intelligent!
    “do something different; try to stand out. Make a website background with acrylic paint, scan the bastard, and use photoshop to touch it up. Experiment with opacity and depth. Just go nuts. Develop a style”

    FREEKING AMEN!

  10. Great article! It’s funny, I have the exact same design development process as you. Most of my sites tend to lack in heavy imagery and photoshop flair because I rather like minimalism and subtle color variations. I will start with a basic design fleshed out in CSS and screenshot that into Photoshop to see if this particular design calls for something more than just background colors.

    I just found your site a few days ago and I’m catching up on the archives. Great stuff man.

  11. With regards to your final paragraph, I recommend that you view a friend’s website…

    http://www.cedarseed.com/

    She uses mixed media in the majority of her work…

    I hope you enjoy