Finding Design Inspiration in Others’ Work While Still Being Original

Finding Design Inspiration in Others' Work While Still Being Original

Originality can be hard to find, which is surprising since each one of us are creative individuals. Why don’t we embrace that individuality more often? It seems like it should be such an easy question to answer, but nonetheless, it doesn’t seem to be. Being a designer is a constant battle between embracing our own style, and judging our designs in comparison to others in hopes of improving.

Finding Design Inspiration in Others' Work While Still Being Original

It’s good to look to other designs to gain inspiration, but it can also lead to the trap of simply copying. In this article, we’ll look at how we can still gain from viewing outside design, but at the same time integrating it into our own personal style, rather than allowing it to put one deeper into a creative rut.

Finding Design Inspiration in Others’ Work

Admire Work Ethic

Sparks of creativity are overrated. Great work in any field is 80% hard work and dedication, while only 20% inspiration, motivation, or skill. When we see a great design, it’s likely that it took a lot of back-and-forth collaboration, new idea generation, research for best practices or new techniques, and a lot of time. Why should your next project be any different?

Great designers are hard workers. They don’t make a design on a whim through a lucky dash of inspiration that guides them through the whole process. Instead, they tough it out, through times of high motivation and times of boredom and frustration. Admire your favorite designers’ work ethic; what have they done professionally that you’re impressed with?

Do they have some important clients in their portfolio, have they become an expert in a particular niche, or have they worked with such meticulous detail that most things they put out there end up being fabulous?

Work Ethic

Recognize that nothing comes easy, even for those whose work you take inspiration from the most. Most of that work you admire is the result of classic work ethic and determination to output the best quality product in the end, despite their current mood.

Inspiration alone doesn’t get stuff done. Inspiration doesn’t even always get something started. Stop looking for that “spark” of creativity, and find inspiration apart from the design itself, but rather from the process of the design.

Read more about how inspiration doesn’t work.

Try Building Some Self-Confidence

Practice telling yourself that you’re good enough. This is a lesson in creative skill self-worth. Many designers – and we are all guilty of it – look to others that they believe are better designers, so that we hope to become that good someday, as if right now we’re not good enough yet.

No matter what your current skill level is, no matter how long you’ve been designing, and no matter what others have told you thus far, accept your current skill level, and accept that it’s perfectly good enough.

Self Confidence

Stop bashing your work and repeatedly starting over. Build something, and if you’re not satisfied, figure out why. If you can’t, put it out there and see what others have for suggestions. If you can think of a way to improve it, then do.

Embrace your own personal design style, always work to improve, but at the same time, accept that your work is good. The future will bring only better work, but that doesn’t mean you’re creating bad work today.

Every day, tell yourself that your ideas are good enough and that you are a creative person.

Recognize Patterns in Design You Like

What is it about the designs you’re drawn to that make you so drawn to them? Is it clean lines? The quirky and unexpected? Great type? Cool and real-world textures? Find patterns, and try out new techniques that exemplify those patterns in your own designs, but in your own way as well.

13th Floor Belvedere
13th Floor Baltimore

Giant Ant
Giant Ant

Waller Creek: The Final Four
Waller Creek: The Final Four

Boar’s Head
Boar's Head

Finding the main concepts of what we are into design-wise right now can help us create unique designs while still obtaining inspiration in the bits and pieces left by another designer’s work. Instead of copying another and breaking it apart to make it your own, break another designer’s work down first, and piece it back together.

See New Things, By New Designers

Each one of us has our own small set of places for inspiration. Dare to break away from that. Keep your favorites on your list, but be sure to recognize that you can never grow and find new inspiration if you’re looking at the same stuff every day. Find a new blog, a new showcase, or a new gallery to explore. Go to a new place.

See Something New

If you’re always going to the same old places, you can’t possibly discover something new. When you can’t discover anything new, you can’t find inspiration. Go actively in search of new sources of inspiration. Write them down, bookmark them, whatever. Then, visit these new sources for the next several weeks. You may discover a new method, or be re-inspired by a design look you’re already fond of.

Stop Actively Looking for Inspiration Right Now

If you’re in a creative rut, maybe you’ve been looking too deliberately for inspiration. When we look too much to others for inspiration, that’s a recipe for copying and unoriginality, no matter how subconscious it may be. To come up with a truly original idea, go for a walk, unwind, and draw inspiration from yourself.

Don’t reference your own work, and try not to reference the work of others. Instead, get away from thinking about design, and come back to viewing some inspirational design pieces with a fresh mindset. Sometimes we can look at something once, and have a completely difference experience from it the next day.

Stop Looking

Unless there’s a pressing deadline, take some time to refresh your mind so you can effectively interpret and gain from someone else’s work in an entirely different way.

Places to Start

Below are a few galleries or showcases to get you started in your inspiration search. Note that many are design-specific showcases, while others are more art related. Stray away from strictly design too, and draw inspiration from that as well.


A designer of any type knows that building up inspiration is essential to keeping our jobs creative, fun, and interesting. Inspiration is all about coming up with new ideas, rather than repeating old ones — whether that be your old ideas or the completed ideas of someone else. If you find you’re having too much difficulty coming up with some inspiration, take a breather, and find a new point of reference.

What are your tips for coming up with unique ideas, and designs that reflect your own personal creativity?

Kayla Knight is a web designer and frontend web developer. She specializes in responsive web design, progressive web technologies, and also knows her way around most CMS’s and PHP. You can find out more and check out her portfolio at


  1. / Reply

    Excellent article! I appreciate the visual examples and websites for inspiration that you referenced. Thanks!

    • Brian Hermelijn,
    • February 13, 2013
    / Reply

    I gotta say, this is one heck of a great article. Because I am a victim of pulling my hairs off when I do not know what to do, and why I feel bad about my designs.

    I just realized that the reason it makes me feel like that is due that I browse through way to many inspirations galleries, which tends to be a double edge sword in the long run, because you will start saying you’re not good enough when you don’t even start taking more actions and practice your design skills.

    Thumbs up!

  2. / Reply

    My strategy as well I am lurking the net for designs previously made and criticizing or judging their ideas the way I am seeing it as a designer and on readers/ researchers point of view. I am adding some details or changing the images to make it more lively or the way I think will be more attractive.

  3. / Reply

    Imitation is the highest form of admiration. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think a lot of designers are trying too hard to be original than trying to be the best at what they do (specific style etc.)

    I think one of the best exercises a designer can do is to recreate someone else’s design. It teaches you a lot and you will come to appreciate the works of others.

    Thanks for this article, it was a great read!

    • Angelica,
    • March 10, 2013
    / Reply

    I am involved with a business specializing in website design in Springfield. Honestly, there were times that I experience “Designer’s Block”. This is where these design inspirations come in. As a designer, you can just look at someone else’s designs to grab inspiration. While this is good, some designers couldn’t help but to copy them. This should be avoided. Originality should always be the number one priority when creating designs.

    • Emma,
    • March 19, 2013
    / Reply

    Great post with some good tips, Kayla! I especially liked look at the inspiration websites you posted. I was inspired to write my own post with some of my own personal tips.

    Emma Galli

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