“Malfunction! Need input!”

Johnny Five

Perhaps it’s because Christmas already seems like a distant memory or maybe it’s because the weather outside my window is grey and dreary, but this week I’ve been in search of a kickstart. I’ve been designing some discovery workshops and more than once I’ve found myself drifting to Twitter, Blogs or TED Talks for a bit of colour, energy and inspiration. It’s actually been a useful exercise. Taking some time out to take on input can sometimes feel like a guilty pleasure when the world around us demands output, but I firmly believe that it’s something we should all do more of. Inspiration is the fuel that feeds creativity, so taking on input should be an important part of anyone's week. Far from being a one-off or snatched activity, space away from the hamster wheel should be something that we can all embed into our standard day-to-day.

It got me thinking about a post I wrote a while ago about my own sources of inspiration. Setting aside dedicated time for inspiration might seem a little onerous or contrived, but if you walk through life with your senses open for business, inspiration is actually everywhere. For me there isn’t one single source of inspiration; a library of inspiration develops through a lifetime of experiences. When I’m checking into a hotel or visiting a friend or relative in hospital, I can often find myself critiquing the experience. What would have made it better, what would have added value, what could be done differently? Before long I start mentally flicking through my library, desperately trying to generate an inspired pairing. The more open your mind, the less barriers you give yourself, so you’ll be open to referencing more of your experience library to generate a wider range of pairings – OK, so you read a blog post a year ago about how a team is planning to make an ascent of Everest using an innovative way to carry their equipment, but why should that inspiration be off limits to a designer looking to improve a hotel check-in system or someone’s pathway through hospital care?

These are my top five tips for building a library of design inspiration:

 1 – Live Life

Inspiration is just an experience you’ve had which now means something to a current situation. Everything you experience can be drawn upon at a later date and used as inspiration. So keep your eyes open and your mind free. Whether you’re commuting, working, undertaking leisure activity, watching a movie or even day-dreaming, soak it all up; don’t compartmentalise your experiences and embrace the abstract.

2 – Twitter

Social media is a great source of inspiration. Digital social networking is a great way of helping you to connect with the type of people and organisations that interest you. Twitter can be a great source of links to all kinds of media which can inspire – from TED Talks to Instagram, it’s possible to find inspiration in them all. You can even sign-up to regular mail-outs like Yammer Time from FutureGov, Creative Boom or This Deserves Your Attention from Leisa Reichelt to get their picks on the most interesting content around.

3 – Blogging

Reading blogs and writing blogs can provide you with bags of inspiration. Following bloggers who write about the things you are interested in is an obvious place to start, but don’t be afraid to read blogs which are not your usual cup of tea. Set yourself a target of following at least one blog each month that has a subject area well outside what you would normally consider reading. I find that writing blogs also provides me with inspiration, not only in the research I undertake, but also constructing the blog post itself tends to act as a catalyst for creativity.

4 – Follow Peers

Find people and organisations who design things that you like and learn more about them. Read case studies highlighting the work they have done, not to plagiarise, but to learn more about how they view the world and how they tackle challenges. Even if they don’t relate to the field in which you are working, if you like the cut-of-their-jib, you’ll likely find that before long you’ll be thinking analogously about how they approached a particular challenge in order to help you solve one of your own. Slack channels like Practical Service Design, OneTeamGov and Service Design Network are a great place to pick up interesting insight from others working on the same problems, as are blogs published by the guys at GDS and Coop Digital.

5 – Discussion

This is probably the most important. In the Lab we are always critiquing our own work and talking about the work of others; we share links to interesting media on Twitter and once we’ve consolidated our thinking we’ll write a post to summarise our thoughts. From time to time we’ll get together to chat about what we’ve been watching, listening to or reading and we’ll tweet about it using the tag #InspireMeLab. We find this is a really good way of sharing and learning, and it has certainly provided me with lots of inspiration.

Over the last few years, I’ve found it really useful to dedicate part of my week to taking on input. I’m making it a goal for 2018 that no matter how busy I get, I’ll continue to make sure I keep my inspiration library topped up.

Oh, and the inspiration for this post . . . I came across the image of Johnny Five and it reminded me that he was always looking for input, and the rest, as they say, is a Bromford Lab Diary post.