Keep an Inspiration Notebook to Retain Offline Design Inspiration

Finding inspiration is important to designers of all kinds. For web designers there is plenty of design inspiration available online through gallery sites and design blogs that compile posts for inspiration. This abundance of potential inspiration makes it quick and easy to browse through these sources, but unfortunately it also tends to make many of us forget that there are limitless sources of inspiration all around us in every day life that don’t involve the internet.

When you’re looking for design inspiration quickly, it’s not always easy or possible to use a variety of sources. One habit that can help with this is to keep a notebook, binder, or folder for other types of inspiration that you come across in print, such as magazine cover or brochures. This way when you are in need of inspiration without having time to hunt it down, you can pull out your inspiration notebook and browse through what you have already collected.

Why Keep an Inspiration Notebook?

Become Less Reliant on Online Source of Inspiration
If you find yourself drawing inspiration only from other websites, it’s likely that you could improve your creativity and your design by branching out and drawing from other sources of inspiration. If you follow this blog you know that I like and appreciate inspiration from other websites, but when we stop looking outside of the online world for inspiration we put ourselves at risk of simply following trends in web design without a real purpose.

Encourages You to Pay Attention to a Wide Variety of Design Disciplines
Once you’ve started your inspiration notebook and you’re regularly adding to it, you’ll find yourself paying closer attention to things all around you that could provide excellent design inspiration. Rather than just focusing on inspiration from other websites, it will help to open you up to a wider variety of sources.

Will Likely Lead to More Originality in Your Design
As I already mentioned, taking in inspiration from more places will help to promote greater originality in web design. Web design is like anything else, it has trends that come and go frequently. If other websites are your only source of inspiration you’ll probably find yourself following popular trends rather than branching out and implementing something more original. With an inspiration notebook you’ll have all kinds of sources at your disposal that can help you to come up with some creative and original ideas.

It Will Always be Available When You Need it
After you’ve started to compile some great sources of design inspiration in your notebook, you can turn to it at any time when you need it. Most designers have a great appreciation for offline inspiration, but without having a way to keep track of the things you come across it can take a while to find inspiration from these sources. With a notebook, all you’ll have to do is pull it out and start flipping through it without any real time requirement.

How to Keep an Inspiration Notebook

Get a Binder or Folder
The obvious first step is to have someplace to keep the various items of inspiration that you find. It doesn’t really matter what you use, as long as it works well for you. It could be a 3-ring binder or a loose leaf notebook, or anything else that allows you to store things that you find and easily browse through them later.

Categorize It
Most likely, as you add items over a period of time it will get more difficult to find what you’re looking for. In this case, it’s a good idea to categorize the contents by using tabs or something else to separate the various sections. You may want to categorize it according to the type of item, such as pages from a magazine, brochures, business cards, etc. Alternatively, you could categorize it according to the design style of the type of inspiration that it provides, such as typographic or color schemes.

Add to it Consistently
In order for the inspiration notebook to be of the most use, you’ll need to consistently add items to it so that you’ll always be able to find great sources of inspiration when you need them. Get in the habit of looking at items around you in your daily life that and add them to the notebook if you find them inspiring in some way. You may also want to add post-it notes or something to make notes to yourself about aspects of the design or elements that you think may be useful to you in the future.

Make a Habit of Turning to Your Inspiration Notebook
If the inspiration notebook is going to be useful to you long-term, you need to not only add new items to it, but you must also rely on it as a source of inspiration on a regular basis. When you’re looking for inspiration online, make an effort to also spend a few minutes browsing through your notebook. Once you have developed the habits of actively watching for items to add form your daily life as well as turning to it for inspiration, the notebook will be very valuable to you as a designer.

What to Include in Your Inspiration Notebook

The point of keeping an inspiration notebook is to add various sources to your regular inspiration in addition to just online sources, however there are some limitations. Obviously, you’re limited to whatever items you can fit inside a notebook or folder. Many designers enjoy drawing inspiration from nature and the outdoors. While you can’t keep the outdoors in a notebook, you can keep photos of inspirational landscapes and scenes from nature. So while there are limitations, there are also plenty of opportunities to use a notebook for this purpose.

As you go about your daily life, you see design and creativity all around you. Here are some things that you can easily keep in an inspiration notebook for a later time.

  • Magazine covers
  • Magazine pages and layouts
  • Newspapers
  • Junk mail
  • Brochures and pamphlets
  • Fliers
  • Advertisements
  • Business cards
  • Letterhead and stationary
  • Photographs
  • Post cards
  • Album covers
  • Stickers
  • Anything else you can find

What’s Your Approach to Keeping Track of Offline Inspiration?

How do you find and retain sources of design inspiration aside from the internet? Do you find that having an organized system makes it more useful for you?

Published June 3rd, 2009 by

Looking for hosting? WPEngine offers secure managed WordPress hosting. You’ll get expert WordPress support, automatic backups, and caching for fast page loads. Visit WPEngine.

Join Our Newsletter!

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter chalked full of useful tips, techniques, and design goodies. We have 20,000+ loyal readers and counting! We’ll even send you a free e-book (Freelance Designer’s Guide to Multiple Income Streams) and a $10 discount on our most popular product the Freelance Starter Kit.

29 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Melaina, June 4, 2009

    wow, your post is an inspiration in itself, thank you! I have been thinking for the past few days about keeping an inspiration journal and your post has definitely prompted me to go out and buy a suitable journal to paste all the clippings, business cards, magazine pages etc into.

  • Nathan Beck, June 4, 2009

    Too true. Moleskines out everyone!

  • Craig, June 4, 2009

    I think the best point made here is the originality you can gain from NOT browsing css galleries and the like.

  • Scott Thomas, June 4, 2009

    I just started my collection after last week after my one Art Teacher’s said to start being a pack rat. Great advice! There’s great design that you can’t find on the net.

    If anyone uses twitter, post your inspiration to @inspired_by. Its a project in the works to help me and others to discover & share designs.

  • Brad, June 4, 2009

    I keep an inspiration wall. I put up 3 giant foam-core boards and have a big pot of thumbtacks handy. When I find a great design I just tack it up on the wall with everyone else. I keep it behind my chair and can swivel around anytime I need some inspiration – an entire wall of great design is staring back at me!

  • tina, June 4, 2009

    wow…nice tips. I often find myslef staring blankly on what to design next. It’s hard to keep an inspiration or to find one especially when you’re already stressed out and meeting some deadlines. i’ll definitely make an inspiration notebook ;)

  • Michael, June 4, 2009

    Great post!!! I have defiantly bookmarked your site!

  • Vandelay Design, June 5, 2009

    I personally visit design/css galleries quite frequently. My point here was just to say that it’s good to have a balance and not ignore all the other potential sources of inspiration as well.

    That’s a great idea too!

  • Dan, June 5, 2009

    I’ve kept inspiration journals since my early days in design school. The process of constantly judging and evaluating other design work is a great practice and the journals are invaluable when you need to kick start the creative juices.

    I intentionally do not categorize my journals I just collect as I go along. This lets ideas cross pollinate when I’m browsing them later. I might be working on a web design but find my inspiration in a photograph. Who cares where it comes from.

  •, June 6, 2009

    I keep an inspiration day by day from all the place I go…at supermarket, at megastore by music, at restaurant..For every graphics each location must be used to create something! I have a personal bookmark..and Vandela is the best source for me! Thanks a lot! ;)

  • Samuel Intégrateur, June 7, 2009

    Nice post, sums up nicely the urge to get out more often… I as many of us sometime forget to get out more often for inspiration purpose. I have started a few month ago keeping a Moleskin with me. I also have hundreds of bookmarks on well organized.

  • Nikki, June 9, 2009

    I have a sketchbook that I tend to shove stuff such as magazine clippings, pretty flowers, etc in that are great inspirations for my design style. It’s not very organized though – I think that’s my next step.

    Great article – thanks!

  • amirek, June 19, 2009

    nice… it really tuned me up on what to do next… the tips you have given is really brilliant… thanks a lot… hope to read more from you… :)

  • Kelli Piperata, June 27, 2009

    great :D
    im inspired

  • kelly2, August 6, 2009

    These are soooo cool – they brighten up any ring binder from the dull (officy) look that we all know and hate to something that puts a smile on your face – great post.

  • Free Xbox Live, August 15, 2009

    Great article, this will help me get more offline inspiration.

  • Webjohn01, October 23, 2009

    Hello Steven!

    It was a great advice/tips for us aspiring web designers that we could still looking
    for any design inspirations that are easily find elsewhere.

    More thanks!

  • Justin, January 2, 2010

    This is a great post. I’ve been moving more and more into the “analog” lifestyle and trying harder and harder to get away from the all digital work. I have found the library to be incredibly inspirational, especially with vintage and archival magazines and print work you can find.

  • Vlad Carp, July 29, 2010

    offline inspiration it’s endless

  • Tinju Ashok, July 17, 2013

    Nice article. I agree with alot of your points. However, I think some if not most of what you’ve suggested here as offline inspiration wouldn’t be a viable option for those working in a design agency as management tends to not understand why you would like to go for a walk to get inspired etc.