Maybe You Need an Inspiration Purge

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If many of us designers admire minimalism and simplicity in design, why do we “gather” inspiration? Inspiration as a commodity is neither finite, delicate nor valuable. Let me explain. It will never run out, erupt panics over its depletion or be Forbes’ front page news as a stock market crasher. Regardless, designers tend to collect as many images on their computer as a tourist takes with a new DSLR camera. Exploring new methods in inspiration management is like trying out another workout program. I started mine by deleting my “inspiration” folder and never looked back.

Over time I realized that I regarded inspiration all wrong. By definition, inspiration is something that makes you want to do something or gives an idea about what to do or create. Basically, a force or influence that gets people moving. If that “something” does not do that, well, it’s not inspiration but more thought fillers. It’s not to say that this “something” cannot be used later. But we digest so much information every day, inspiration poo is at its maximum.

It took a lot of courage to delete my “inspiration” folder. It felt like a project as much as designing a new footwear collection two years out. Something felt precious and irreplaceable about those images, as if I would never find another great spark to fuel an idea again. But I know that I am no design hoarding pessimist like my last sentence suggests! We keep our inspirations too close even though they should be a bird to catch, admire and then let loose.

After being a designer for the last seven years, rotating between starting projects and ending projects, starting projects and ending projects, I gathered - oh there’s that word - insights into my relationship with inspiration. When I started a new assignment, I was not the same designer as my last. The learnings from my last project and then current personal interests directed my focus. My design mind takes on a different tint when making more videos, for example, then researching sewing repair techniques. It’s unavoidable. A line does not separate my mind processing design inspiration from personal endeavors.

When I recognized I was never the same designer each project, it made me realise inspirations expire. That image from McQueen SS13, though a damn right amazing show, will never affect me like it did years prior. So I got rid of it. Any image I wanted to “archive”, which is like 1/100, went on my Tumblr. These are images I feel define my style or taste. Some I kept in year-by-year folders to analyze later against trends of today. So I did not completely dismantle my “inspiration” folder, but more categorized them for other uses. Inspiration might expire, but it can be repurposed.

Technology today is an inspiration purger’s safety net. Images that we once stored on our computer can now be shared and even career enhancing as others look to our Instagrams and Tumblrs for their own inspiration. An image can quickly be refound if necessary, even if all you search is “lace Burberry neutral three people”. And even if your search renders absolutely nix, the process will surely offer another idea generating image or insight. You can purge without fear because inspiration is everywhere.

Us designers now need to be our own curators. Our computer and work space should be an exhibition as much as it is a laboratory. From time-to-time we will call it a mess and act upon our declaration, however it does need to be actively managed. The better I did this, the more flexible I was to unexpected ideas, adjusted concepts and new design briefs. We actually have too many ideas as designers. Treat inspiration like the infinite, yet vital, resource that it is while remembering that right moment and ample motivation are also part of the equation.