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Where do you go for inspiration?
Time for a redesign Ė not sure where to begin.

 11:07 pm on Jun 30, 2003 (gmt 0)

Itís time for a redesign.

I have several sites that need to be redesigned from the ground up. The general subject area will stay the same. The content will be updated. And the designs ... the current designs need to be nuked and I need to start fresh. So really, Iím talking:

  • New links
  • New nav
  • New content
  • New layout
  • New ... everything

I think Iím experiencing a severe case of Usability and SEO Information Overload, though, and I donít know where to start!

So far, here are the steps Iíve taken:

  • Looked at my competitorsí sites
  • Looked at the top ranking sites in my subject area
  • Looked at the top ranking sites for the style of site (content vs. online store)
  • Stared at a blank screen
  • Played several hands of solitaire
  • Stared at a blank piece of paper
  • Folded a blank piece of paper airplane-style and sent it flying across the room

And I have nothing to show for my efforts!

I see so many poorly designed, hard-to-use sites in my space that itís easy for me to say, "See that? That is what I don't want." But when it comes down to it, I don't have any inspiration for what I do want.

So where do you start, when youíre ready to design a new site? How do you keep things fresh and exciting, without reinventing the wheel? How do you design a new site to make it both (a) familiar and usable to your audience, and (b) more than just a rehash of something that was inadequate to begin with?

Give me a site already built and I'll tell you what's wrong with it and how to fix it. But building a site from the ground-up, incorporating all of the best practices? I need inspiration!



 11:09 pm on Jun 30, 2003 (gmt 0)

The CSS Forum [webmasterworld.com] for starters, along with www.meyerweb.com (especially meyerweb.com/eric/css/edge/) and www.csszengarden.com


 1:14 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

Isn't CSS more of a tool to help implement the ultimate design?

I'm talking about more of a "writer's block" for web design problem. I need inspiration from the ground up - layout, nav, colors, images, etc. - before I implement.


 1:28 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

linkdup for design inspiration, but certainly not usability :¨p

creative craig

 1:40 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

Flashkit's featured sites, but again, usability is the last thing on their minds ;)



 1:41 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)


I have used both of these for inspiration...

Fresh Styles for Web Designers by Curt Cloninger and the more recent Deep Sites by Max Bruinsma.

You can dip in and out of these two over a week and then one day you wake up and you are back on the track!


 1:41 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

I've been there, brain freeze, writers cramp, creative starvation.

If I look at other sites it throws me out more.

I start with a clean canvas, no graphics, add links, tables and essential text.

Leave it alone, do something else, come back and think about cosmetics.

More often than not, I scrap the first stuff I did but the end justified the means.

Have a creative tantrum ... it works!


 1:50 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

Web Design Index 2 by the Pepin Press. Rave flyers. A walk through a yuppie neighborhood that has nice shops with nice window treatments.

I went through the same thing a couple weeks ago, and it didn't go away until I opened up PhotoShop and started doodling. It took a couple hours but the creativity finally kicked in.


 1:55 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

Did any Martini play a roll in the great thaw?


 2:04 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

A tip that always serves me well when suffering mental block - most hours of the day - is to open image app and with eyes closed, literally wiggle the mouse on the canvas, that's it, just wiggle the mouse!

Challenge then is to draw something using that wiggle as a starting point.

It kicks the mind into creative mode, trust me :¨o


 2:05 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

No martini's-

There's more:
I would like to think that the magazines and books and rave flyers help, and maybe they spark an idea now and then, but not as often as I would like. It's only when I start noodling around with PS that I start to get anywhere.


 2:22 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

I can really identify with your dilemma, HG. I'm not a skilled graphic designer, though I feel I can distinguish good design from bad design. (Kind of like a music critic who can't actually play an instrument.) Once I have an idea and a plan, I can execute it reasonably well, but what's difficult is sitting down with a blank screen and deciding what a site should look like. You hear a lot about "writer's block", but for me "designer's block" is a more serious condition. :)

A few of the tools I have used to try to set a direction are:

1) Looking at web design portfolios. There are thousands of web designers with portfolios on their sites. Many of them are uninspiring, but I bookmark the ones I like. I may not borrow a whole site design, but perhaps just a way of displaying several images, a navigation method, or even a few colors.

2) Visiting "reviewed" compilations of sites like [textbased.com...] . (Unfortunately, a lot of those sites tend to be rather, well, minimal. ;)) I haven't found many of these, though the oft-cited Zengarden site is turning into an interesting one.

3) If you are a creative design type, then drawing inspiration from magazine layouts, print ads, TV ads, etc., may work for you. Personally, I find it kind of tough to make that leap.

This whole process reminds me of shopping for wallpaper... paging through dozens of books, going "ugly... ugly... ugly..." until your eyes cross and everything starts to blur together. The paper designs aren't really ugly (usually), they just don't match that elusive idea lurking in the back of your head. Ditto for looking at web sites...

Here's my best solution to date: spend a small amount of money to have a graphic designer mock up one or two designs for you. ;) I just did that with a site I was redoing, and the small amount of money I spent saved me hours of looking for inspiration and no doubt resulted in a better design than I would have come up with. No frustration, nice design, project completed under budget. :)


 2:33 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

Perhaps it would help to grab some new reference material to give you something new to get you enthused, I work best when I've got something new I'm excited about I want to try. Like a book on effective web copy, or colour theory or something - something you havn't tried before. IMHO the worst thing you can do when you get that 'flogging a dead horse' feeling is just to keep on flogging it. I do think sometimes you just need to work through bad days, but if I reach the paper staring stage I try to do something else for bit (unless I'm at work of course, in which case I have to stare at the paper till hometime).

If all else fails maybe a good long ride on the Hawk would help ;-)


 3:26 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

This whole process reminds me of shopping for wallpaper... paging through dozens of books, going "ugly... ugly... ugly..." until your eyes cross and everything starts to blur together.

That's it! That's the stage I'm in right now. Iíve looked at more than 500 sites in the past few days and they all leave me cold.

I work best when I've got something new I'm excited about I want to try.

Thatís what Iíve been lacking. I havenít been excited about anything. Maybe my attitude on the project is making a difference, too Ė ďOh drat, another redesign of this same content, blah.Ē I should perk up and start thinking, ďYay, I finally get to fix these sites the way I want them!Ē

A walk through a yuppie neighborhood that has nice shops with nice window treatments.

It never occurred to me to look at non-web design to get my brain clicked into gear. Great idea.

a good long ride on the Hawk would help

Tried it. Did nothing for design inspiration. Did give me a fabulous surge of adrenaline, though, and I came home with a big grin on my face!

Thanks for the suggestions Ö if you think of other things please keep posting them. :)


 3:28 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

Hi Hawkeye,

I just start with a blank photoshop doc, a colour I like and a shape and develop it from there. I save it every five minutes, and design1 looks nothing like design5.

best of luck



 3:29 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

Go through your deleted emails looking for html newsletters, they sometimes have some great colour schemes.

Cant say much for the layout for most of them, but its a start.


 3:36 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

I try and build a concept around the function of the site. Say it is a site about toasters. So I do some research on toasters and look at old advertising for toasters. Some cool sites I have seen mimic old 50s ads and really work. I look at how different cultures would toast bread before toasters. I also look at relevent history around the concept and propaganda associated with it.

By the time you do this for a couple of days you have enough inspiration to do a network of sites (which is good for me being a designer and needing to pump out a couple of mock ups). I try and stay away from looking at other sites unless I casually find them. It will make you have a narrow view of design. Nothing worse than looking at templates and other things to stop the creative process dead in its tracks. Look at other mediums and see what visuals were used for that concept.

Let your intuition and knowledge of SEO and useability make it work. Spending to much time forcing it into a design will just cause frustration. Experience will force these things to appear. My father use to ask why Picasso and Monet were great artists. Anyone could have done that. It is the experience of art making that made them create something beautiful. Let your experience flow inherently and not conciously.

Hopefully that makes sense :)


 3:48 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

this won't give you an entire concept by any means, but something to click on to help trigger the creative juices...
strange banana [strangebanana.com]

just keep hitting refresh for an entirely new layout design idea... I wonder what their bandwidth bill is like, lol


 3:52 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

HG, one other thought: I attended a seminar years where the facilitator divided us into groups and handed out magazine ads clipped from a variety of sources. She then challenged us to turn each ad into an ad for our company.

Some of the ad ideas were goofy (turning an ad for hair coloring into one for an industrial product is kind of tricky ;)), but surprisingly, several groups came up with a few really, really good ideas - better than the bland stuff our agency was turning out, IMO. The key seemed to be that an unexpected starting point sometimes yielded a fresh and creative concept, vs. the logical, derivative stuff you get when you start with a blank sheet and some assumptions about what you should be saying. The new ads often weren't much like the original ones, but evolved from the ideas incorporated in them.

This was mostly a mental loosening-up exercise, but it seemed to work to get the ideas flowing. Adapting it to web design might be a little tricky, but you could try this either with print ads or other web sites. If it's another site, just say, "how would I adapt this to my site needs?" After a few false starts, maybe something will click and you'll be off to the races... :)

Marketing Guy

 4:03 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

Perhaps you're thinking too big HG?

I usually just start by sticking the text for the site title into a graphics programme and try to come up with a few logo designs.

The structure of the site tends to dictate itself based on your content.

When you have a rough logo and one or two colours to work with, chuck together some different template pages to mess around with - and some content to see how they look.

Then just work from there.

I usually find I cant focus on the big picture until it's there in front of me. So I start with one small point and expand on it.



 4:38 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

Similar to the methods of others, I'll normally go to one of the "cool web design" page collections like cwd and have a browse through for a couple of different styles that catch my eye for the project.

I'll then start the graphics programme and try to riff on them. As soon as one clicks, we're off to the races and the final design is mostly completely different in tone and style...

Like rogerd, I've also got a folder marked "inspiration" in the bookmarks from designer portfolios that I've saved when surfing or researching SEO projects.

Graphic inspiration from outside the web doesn't normally help me that much with site design but I find it can be useful in logo or header design.


 4:52 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

Heh. I'm kind of in the same place. I'm drawing to the end of an agonizingly drawn-out and stupid redesign of my company's website, and am at the stage where they're just nitpicking at me and making me change stuff that doesn't need to be changed and they already agreed it was fine as it is, but they've forgotten and now are just delaying, as far as I can tell. It's frustrating and stupid.
I'm trying to design a personal webpage now, and it's going to be everything the corporate one that's been sucking my soul isn't.
So I have all kinds of ideas there, and am excited at the opportunity to be able to enjoy webdesign again.
Unfortunately, that's not enough for me to really come up with anything good. I have a whole book of things i am going to NOT do. But...
My boyfriend's doing all the back-end of the site-- a really cool database, all kinds of crazy XML crap, etc., and he's refusing to get involved with the front end at all. I'm in charge of that, he says. So I have to come up with a kick*ss design worthy of the awesome backend stuff going into this.

Not having much luck. Maybe some of the suggestions on here will help!

I generally get most of my inspiration from music, though. It's nice to listen to an album you really like with your eyes closed, and half the time you end up taking a really good nap, but the other half of the time you get some good ideas. I wish I had the time to try that approach just now...


 5:22 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

You could challenge yourself:

"I will make a great looking site using only black."


 5:25 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

"I will make a great looking site using only black."

Interesting idea, but watch out for those hidden text filters! ;)


 5:28 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

One challenge I'd thought of was to use only black and white, and have no graphics over about 2-3k each.
I don't think I'll stick to it, but it was a thought.
(the corporate site has like eight different hideous colors, that they made me use, which is where that came from.)
Unfortunately, with that guideline, I couldn't come up with anything pretty enough to sustain my interest. That's the only problem with challenges... sometimes they're hard. ;)


 5:30 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

Good one Rogerd!

Maybe cheat a bit and use white for BG color. ;)


 6:22 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)


The best thing for gaining inspiration is to simplify your thoughts. Almost retard your brain. Act like a kid. Stop being so serious.
Meditate and relax with some cool downtempo music. That style of music is the best for kicken the creative juices into high gear. Once you feel relaxed. Look around; outside, inside, colors, shadows, adamant objects, inadamant objects, subconscious, conscious thoughts, books, magazines. It doesn't matter just look around. Once you have done this close your eyes and figure out what your brain is telling you. What pictures do you see. Pay close attention to the colors and objects. After about five minutes or so, with an empty PS canvas, start designing. You could even sketch on paper. The point is to take everything you have just observed and imagined and put those thoughts into your own perspective designs. Spend no more than 5 minutes on each rendering. After about thirty minutes tile all the canvases or pieces of paper and than you will notice that you have just created some pretty good ideas.

Some of Salvador' Dali's best paintings came from him inserting a spoon into his mouth, sitting in front of his canvas, he would fall into a deep meditation. Once the spoon fell out of his mouth into a tin can below him he would wake up and paint his thoughts. I recomend the same.


 7:27 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

<this may not be helpful>

what's the project mission? my impression is they're your sites, not a client's - if so then you're blocking simply because they are your sites, always hard to see your own stuff.

with a client, with a mission, you have something at least to play from - with paying work you can act responsibly as an artisan and get it done somehow like always

but if you're the boss, how will you ever scare yourself into it?

I don't design but I write, but mostly I know to subcontract out, and I also know there are a million artists, each with different art, and almost any one will do because the end user didn't know how differently it turned out from what you conceived - the point is does the site work, does it fulfill its mission.

what is the mission of the sites?

</this may not be helpful>


 7:33 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

A good friend of mine will sift through magazines to get ideas.

I tend to look for inspiration outside of myself. I'll spend hours and hours looking at sites, magazines, anything that I think will prevent me from thinking and being creative.

Then, every time, I end up just starting to write/design, whatever...and when I stop looking outside, inspiration tends to come.

My problem is that the web has so much information that I get lazy and stop wanting to think. Now, I'm trying to stop that and use my mind and creativity more.

That's the funny thing about the web - it's full of information but it's making us dumber :)


 7:51 pm on Jul 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

I always go to www.deviantart.com to get my inspiration.
So many great cutting edge designs by top artists around the world.
Sometimes it takes some searching, but I always find something I like that inspires me.

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