As a designer, I think we all have experienced the hard time of finding new ideas and inspirations. That’s why I’ve chosen to talk about this topic in my presentation at the FOWD conference. In this post, I want to do a recap of my slides – Finding Inspiration From Your Environment. Read on to find out how my work habits and environment influence my design.

Working at Home = Killing Your Creativity

My work habits and environment have a big influence on my work. So, I’m going to talk about my work environment first. Being a freelancer, I get the freedom to work anywhere I want as long as there is internet connection. Most freelancers would prefer to work at home or in a small/shared office. Personally, I find it very boring working at home. To think about it, how can you find new ideas if you are constantly facing your work and computer. Yes, you can browse the web or CSS gallery sites such as Best Web Gallery to find inspiration. But since my work is web design, I prefer to find inspiration offline (this way I can avoid being overly inspired by other websites).

My Office = Starbucks

Starbucks office

To keep my creative juices flowing, I like to take my laptop and work out of my home or office. My favorite places are coffee shops such as Starbucks and book stores. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you setup a home office at Starbucks like this photo. I only use a tiny table that is enough room for my laptop.

You may wonder: isn’t that annoying when people bump into you? Actually, I like that sort of distraction. I like to see fresh faces walk in and out. Sometimes I even get inspired by the clothes they wear or the tattoos on their skin. If I need a break or design feedbacks, I will talk to the Starbucks employees or the regular customers. For design feedbacks, I like to ask non-designers because they often give me comments from a different perspective.

I like to see fresh people and things around me, so I don’t go to the same location all the time. I hop around, sometime 2 to 3 different locations in one day.

Book Stores

The other place I like to go to is book stores such as Chapters or Indigo. Book stores are like a massive inspirational depot filled with a wide range of books, magazines, gift products, posters, and print ads. Whenever I have a brain block, I like to walk around the book store and scan the magazines, book covers, and post cards.

Shopping Mall

Shopping center is another inspirational depot. You can get inspired by so many things – from clothing to print ads, from window display to mall decoration, etc. By looking at the fashion design, you can tell what are the current trends. I look at the fashion trends and adapt it in my design. For example, when I was designing Web Designer Wall, I noticed a lot of apparels were designed with floral patterns, so I adapted it into my design.

Art Supply Stores

Although I don’t create traditional art nor need art supply any more, but I go to art supply stores from time to time to check out the craft papers. Below are some nice art papers I found in an art supply store.

Art Galleries

To find new art styles and trends, I visit comtemporary and private art galleries. Sometimes I may even spot inspiring street art while walking on the street in downtown Toronto.

Inspired by Nature

Now I would like to present to you two of my latest illustrations: Abstract Phoenix and Peacock. I will show you where I drew inspiration from and how I incorporated them into my design.

#1: Phoenix Illustration

I started this illustration by drawing a basic shape of the phoenix in an abstract form. As I moved along, I added many elements that you can find in nature: DNA helix, dandelion, tree leave and butterfly wing patterns.

#2: Abstract Peacock

This illustration entitled Abstract Peacock because the main idea was inspired by the peacock’s back and feathers. If you take a closer look at the illustration, you may find elements like: flower petals, rooster feathers, snake tail, and fireworks.

How to Avoid Copying

It happens sometime: You get inspired by something, become too focused on it and ended up creating something that is too similar to the original source. So, how can you avoid being a copycat? I have two techniques which work really well for me:

  1. Zoom into the subject and pick up the details.

  2. Mix and match different sources.

1. Look Into The Details

For example: let’s say you want to create something that is related to the octopus. You can:

  • Zoom in and focus on the tentacles.
  • Use the shape of the sucker to form a tentacle.
  • Create in abstract form.
  • Zoom in further and focus on the suckers.
  • Manipulate the sucker in different forms.
  • Form a shape with shapes.
  • Design a pattern with the shape.

2. Mix and Match

The following example shows how I gathered different design patterns and create my own pattern. I zoom in and find the partial patterns that I like and then put them together to form a new pattern.


Next time you are outside, try to pay more attention to you environment, you may find a lot of interesting things that you can incorporate into your design. I don’t purposely go around to find inspiration. The places I mentioned in this article are part of my life and daily routine. I always have my iPhone or camera handy. Whenever I see something nice, I will take a photo to document it. Hope you find this post useful. Enjoy your life and design more beautiful things!


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  1. Hendra Permana
    Aug 25, 2012 @ 12:06 am

    Nice share, thanks for your many inspiration…


  2. DymoLabels
    Jun 1, 2013 @ 6:19 am

    i really like your thoughts
    thank you for sharing your thoughts


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