An engineering student in pursuit of a career in Product Design.
When it comes to design, many people wonder what the source of inspiration is. I know myself I wonder this quite frequently. The first thing I consider when I’m designing something is “who is going to use this?”. Broadening the subject from design to art in general, the audience is often one of the first considerations.
Lil’ B giving a lecture at NYU [Image via Ice Cream Conversations]
["What inspires you?"] You guys. It’s you, bruh. Being here, we could be brothers now. It’s good, regardless. And everybody, speak both languages too. Listen to slang. Slang is like learning another language. Be bilingual and go learn some slang. For sheezy! Brang dang dang. If you know some slang, rep that. You feel me? You feel me?! Yeah, bruh. Use swag, yeah, dummy.
-Lil’ B (Based God) [Quote via The Fader]
This quote from the Based God may at first seem to be completely meaningless, but if you translate his message from the “language” of slang it appears he may be on to something. He is validating that what we create is made for an audience. (Side note: This also may help explain why none of his music seems to make any sense. He uses words as an expression of feeling, rather than that of meaning.) The audience is important in anything, because they will be the ones using and enjoying the final product.
While focusing on the audience is important, it shouldn’t be the only consideration. People don’t know what they want. It is the job of the designer or artist to innovate something that the consumer may not know that they want. This is one of the great parts of designing anything, it is what I like to think of as planting the seed. As a designer, I always try to think outside the box to create something that no one has ever seen before. This becomes a challenge when you are working with other people or with a client. People often find it difficult to understand a novel design intention without seeing it or using it.
In the past I have had another type of problem. The problem was that I so badly wanted to design something truly innovative. This desire clouded my judgment and made me look for something complex. Design, however, is a display of simplicity in solving a problem. This experience is somewhat similar to “losing” your wallet or some other important item, and then searching restlessly until you find it in an incredibly obvious place. It is so easy to get caught up in this mindset, but after I freed myself from this I was able to see inspiration everywhere. Having an unclouded mind is one of the most important things for me when I am trying to design something. This allows me to overcome the limitations of approaching a problem in the same way that it has been approached in the past.
Nike Air Max 1 [Image via Sneaker News]
It still remains difficult to define what what exactly inspires you. One of the best explanations I have heard is from the architect-turned-designer Tinker Hatfield. He explained that design is the culmination of everything you have seen and done in your life previous to that point [YouTube Interview]. He was discussing what inspired him to design the original Nike Air Max shoes. He said that the main inspiration was the “Centre Georges Pompidou” in France. This building is a large utilizing with a High-Tech design, with all of the utilities of the building are easily visible.
This notion that design is an expression of experience is also recognizable in that no two people would design something in exactly the same way. While there would be many things that are common between two designs, there will always be differences. This is a parallel to the fact that there are many universal life experiences, but everyone has something that experience that differentiates them from everyone else. It is because of this that the landscape of design will continue to change throughout the rest of time. With this being said, it is also important to recognize that many designs during any period in history show great similarities. This could be because the particular style was just the accepted style of the time. This very well could be the case, but it should also be recognized that the people of a given time period share many common experiences, which could lead to similar designs.
I agree with Hatfield’s approach to design because I feel that the best way to get inspired is to go out and see the world, experiencing new things as much as possible. At the same time, I think it is important to repeat experiences. I find that each time you repeat something, you not only learn how to do the action better, but also experience a different facet of the activity.
The Whole Earth Catalog Back Cover [Image: Love Neverending]
“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” Although this idea is very important in design, it extends through all aspects of life. This slogan originated from The Whole Earth Catalog, and was used as a promotion of Apple Computers. In all aspects of life it is important to stay hungry, and strive to be the best at everything you do. In my experience, I have found that to be truly satisfied with the work you do, it has to be our best. Especially as designers, we should never settle for anything less than the best we can perform. Without this hunger, intellectual progress would certainly not be made. It is equally important to stay foolish. By losing our foolishness, we also lose our ability to innovate. Instead, we should employ a childlike curiosity in the work we do. With this mindset we will be able to see the beauty in everyday experiences and how this beauty can be enhanced.
In the end, does it really matter if you know what inspires you? No. What is important is that there is inspiration and innovation in everything you create.