10 Places For Design Inspiration

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When Leonardo Da Vinci attempted to build the world’s first robot in 1495, his inspiration had come from the ancient Greek texts of Ctesibus and Vitruvius. Likewise, Auguste Rodin cited Lorenzo Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise” as the inspiration for his famous sculpture “The Gates of Hell”1. Designers and artists have traveled the world for centuries looking for those brilliant moments of inspiration.

Changing your surroundings is the easiest way to find new perspective on old ideas and common emotions. Sometimes you won’t even realize exactly how much you’ve absorbed until you return home. These ten locations from around the world offer a different type of travel experience than the more popular places most tourists are likely to visit nearby.

Fairbanks, Alaska Link

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History. Fairbanks is the largest city in the interior region of Alaska, and second largest in the state. It is the northernmost Metropolitan Statistical Area in the United States. Traveling around Alaska can be a great treat. It’s the largest state there and has much to explore although most of that is wilderness and uninhabited land. The Stikine River features the largest springtime concentration of American Bald Eagles in the world.

Getting there. Many domestic flights in the U.S. If you are coming from abroad to the States, you’ll likely connect in L.A. or New York.

Natural Inspiration. The Aurora Borealis. Auroras are caused by the collision of charged particles from the Earth’s magnetosphere with atoms and molecules of earths upper atmosphere. It’s long been one of the rarest sights on earth since it can only be seen from certain locations but due to the rise of digital photography, spectacular images of Auroras are quite common.

Why it will inspire? Color. The fantastic hues of the Aurora Borealis should be an inspiration to any designer. In fact, these days, simply snap a picture and upload it to colourlovers.com4 and instantly generate a color palette that might serve as the scheme for a website or design.

Split, Croatia Link

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History. In 1991 Croatia proclaimed independence by holding the first democratic elections in the country but had to fight a long and bloody war against Yugoslavia until 1995.

Getting there. There are many flights to Croatia, although you’ll probably want to fly into either Split or the capital, Zagreb, and travel outwards from there.

Natural inspiration. The Adriatic Sea, which borders to the south and west is the home to many incredible islands, castles other relics of the past. There are many buildings still standing from Roman rule giving rise to the areas slogan “The Mediterranean As it Once Was”. The densely wooded mountains inland provide a completely different experience than the rest of the country will.

Why it will inspire? Anatomy. The nude beaches here are an excellent source for sketching people and studying the human form.

  • More information: Split, Croatia

Oslo, Norway Link

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History. Wikipedia cites it as the world’s most expensive city to live in! It was called Christiania from 1624 to 1878, and Kristiania from 1878 to 1924. Oslo’s Vigeland Sculpture Park is the home to many magnificent statues celebrating the cycle of life.

Getting there. If you can’t fly directly to Oslo from your airport, any major city in Europe should be able to connect.

Natural inspiration. The Fjords along the coast offer some of the most breathtaking vistas on Earth. Parasailing, paragliding, skydiving, sailing, and diving are among many of the activities you can participate in while enjoying their beauty.

Why it will inspire? Tranquility. Sometimes to come up with new ideas you need to clear your mind. There are few places more tranquil than the icey, rocky Scandinavian coastline.

Darwin, Australia Link

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History. Over time Darwin has grown from a pioneer outpost and small port into one of Australia’s most modern and multicultural cities. Its proximity to Asia makes it an important Australian gateway to countries such as Indonesia and East Timor. The Stuart Highway begins in Darwin, ending at Port Augusta in South Australia. In the new movie “AUSTRALIA”14 Nicole Kidman’s character must protect her property from thieves amidst the bombing of Darwin just prior to World War II.

Getting there. Because of the distance, Australia can be extremely expensive to fly to. However, that doesn’t stop Australians from flying pretty much everywhere in the world for holiday. So, while tickets aren’t cheap, they won’t be hard to get.

Natural inspiration. The Australian Wilderness. You must experience the incredibly lonely and empty drive across Australia to truly appreciate how desolate much of the country is. Try the trip from Darwin to Melbourne….an estimated 3,755 km…one way!

Why it will inspire? Concentration. To drive across Australia you’ll build up the type of concentration and determination Michelangelo, Raphael, and Sandro Botticelli used to paint the Sistine Chapel….Maybe.

Kampala, Uganda Link

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History. The city grew as the capital of the Buganda kingdom, from which several buildings survive, including the Kasubi Tombs (built in 1881), the Buganda Parliament, the Buganda Court of Justice and the Naggalabi Buddo Coronation Site. If you saw the movie “The Last King of Scotland”, you know everything worst about Uganda. Well, the good news is, that was thirty years ago. Since then Uganda has rebounded to become one of the more stable and progressive regions of East Africa. The economy is healthy, the people are lovely and interesting and the equatorial climate is gorgeous! Careful getting around though, the highest cause of death here is automobile accidents!

Getting there. Getting to the capital of Uganda is tricky. First, there are no direct flights in the U.S. Instead, one must fly through a connecting in Europe, Dubai or another part of Africa and then continue to Entebbe International Airport in Entebbe, Uganda. From there the ride to Kampala is only about thirty minutes via hired taxi. Altogether the entire process can take anywhere from 20 to 48 hours.

Natural inspiration. Africa is the home to many wonders of the natural world and this is no different in the country of Uganda. Safaris, wildlife, camping with chimps, gorilla tracking, skiing (yes you can ski in Africa), whitewater rafting and the incredibly friendly people make it one of the most inviting destinations in the whole continent.

Why it will inspire? Flow and ingenuity. You have never found flow like you’ll find it in Africa. Local farmers get completely immersed in creating things out of limited resources, exemplifying two of the fundamental aspects of good design (focus and resourcefulness).

Chongqing, Sischuan, China Link

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History. Chongqing is said to be the semi-mythical State of Ba that the Ba people supposedly established during the eleventh century BCE. By 316 BCE, however, it had been overrun by the State of Qin. The Qin emperor ordered a new city to be constructed, which was called Jiang and Chu Prefecture. In 2005 Chinese tourist authorities began development of an attraction to be known as “Ladies’ Town” in the Shuangqiao District. The town’s motto will be: “Ladies Can Never Be Wrong, and Gentlemen Should Never Refuse Ladies’ Requests.” The project is expected to be completed in 2008-2010. Deuce Bigalow would be proud.

Getting there. Flights available from all over the world but they aren’t cheap. Flights to China usually average anywhere from $1500 to $3000 for a round trip flight. However, every now and then you’ll find can’t-miss-deals for as low as $800 roundtrip!

Natural inspiration. Do the Bamboo Forests look familiar? That’s because they were used as the backdrop for key scenes in the movie House of Flying Daggers21.

Why it will inspire? Fantasy. You know you want to do it…pretend you’re a great samurai warrior fighting off your enemies in a field of bamboo. If not come here and you’ll find plenty of other people whispering battle cries under their breath!

El Calafate, Patagonia, Argentina Link

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History. Mostly located in Argentina (and partly in Chile), Patagonia comprises the Andes mountains to the west and south, and plateau and low plains to the east. The name Patagonia comes from the word patagon used by Magellan to describe the native people who his expedition thought to be giants. It used to be considered remote and exotic, now that a huge brand of clothing and gear bears it’s name, it’s anything but.

Getting there. Cheap flights and frequent available from the Americas.

Natural inspiration. Ice. The Los Glaciares National Park (pictured above) draws a healthy stream of tourists to the area from around the world.

Why it will inspire? Negative Space. Let your imagination wander as you gaze upon the great ice formations jutting out against the spansive horizon and you’ll see all kinds of shapes that might inspire new ideas.

Rogaska Slatina, Slovenia Link

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History. The municipality of RogaÅ¡ka Slatina was formed in 1995. As the name of the place indicates it, there is a fresh water source there. slatina means (fresh water) source, and is often found in toponyms in Slavic-speaking area. The RogaÅ¡ka spa is one of the most famous for its magnesium-rich mineral waters used in medical treatments. A native treat is Mosht, a warm cider-like drink that is actually warm fermented wine drunken just after it is made but days before it’s cooled. Two pints will put you under the table, guaranteed. This area is also well known for it’s natural hot springs.

Getting there. Fly into the capital, Ljubljana or neighboring Bratislava, Slovakia and travel by rail or coach.

Natural inspiration. Castles, Valleys and Vineyards. This place is like a living breathing fairy tale. Along the slopping valleys you’ll find that at least seemingly endless array of homesteads with their own family vineyards.

Why it will inspire? Texture. The rustic medieval feel will might serve as the inspiration for designs using woodgrains, grunge or stone textures.

Tallinn, Estonia Link

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History. In 1219 Valdemar II of Denmark, leading the Danish Fleet in connection with the Livonian Crusade, landed in an Estonian town of Lindanisse at (Latin) Revelia (Estonian) Revala or Rävala, the adjacent ancient Estonian county. If you’re a fan of Medieval tales like Lord of the Rings32 or Record of Lodoss War33, Tallinn’s Olde Town is one of the quintessential places to see history preserved.

Getting there. Getting to Tallinn should be easy, many direct flights from the U.S. are available. If not, try flying through Berlin or London.

Natural inspiration.Women. Many people will confirm that Estonia has some of the most beautiful women in the world and more blondes per capita than Sweden!! Fashion photographers, illustrators, painters and people interested in the female form will be in heaven here.

Why it will inspire? Lust. The curves of the female form have inspired male and female artists alike since the dawn of time. The remnants of the former Soviet Union may also serve to motivate feelings of tension and intrigue.

Garches, Paris, France Link

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History. The northern part of the suburban city was marked by the combat of January 19, 1871 when the Parisians besieged and tried to force the German blockade to join the French troops of Versailles. The monuments that commemorate this event are two streets, Rue du 19 janvier and Rue du Colonel de Rochebrune. The south of France is often cited as being the most beautiful coastline in the world. After your architectural studies in Paris, head south to Montpellier, Nice, or Cannes for beautiful weather, savory wine and incredible beaches.

Getting there. I’m convinced every international airport in the world has a direct flight to Paris, then take the rails elsewhere in France.

Natural inspiration. The Architectural designs of Le Corbusier36 are all over the world but they’re in higher concentration in France than anywhere in the world.

Why it will inspire? Divine Proportions. Le Corbusier was a huge fan of two things: Leonardo Da Vinci and math. How apt then, that he used Leonardo’s research of Devine Proportions and the Golden Ration to create his work. In addition to the golden ratio, Le Corbusier based the system on human measurements, Fibonacci numbers, and the double unit.

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gates_of_Hell
  2. 2 http://flickr.com/photos/bianicastro/2220694772/
  3. 3 http://flickr.com/photos/ninabradica/1692940993/
  4. 4 http://colourlovers.com
  5. 5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairbanks
  6. 6 http://www.flickr.com/photos/paco_calvino/450566806/
  7. 7 http://flickr.com/photos/ww4f/2545265179/
  8. 8 http://flickr.com/photos/visbeek/2266569655/
  9. 9 http://flickr.com/photos/jongos/212087910/
  10. 10 http://flickr.com/photos/jongos/213467947/
  11. 11 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oslo
  12. 12 http://flickr.com/photos/kimtojin/2262107635/
  13. 13 http://flickr.com/photos/pmforster/2309550436/
  14. 14 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p447zpUmbxw
  15. 15 http://www.lonelyplanet.com/worldguide/australia/perth/
  16. 16 http://www.flickr.com/photos/emmedibi/330219402/
  17. 17 http://www.flickr.com/photos/themuffinman/241403528/
  18. 18 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kampala
  19. 19 http://flickr.com/photos/chongqing/50257156/
  20. 20 http://flickr.com/photos/chongqing/49721413/
  21. 21 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Flying_Daggers
  22. 22 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chongqing#Tourism_.26_Landmarks
  23. 23 http://flickr.com/photos/themightyjimbo/61863075/
  24. 24 http://flickr.com/photos/pinboard2006/2203057328/
  25. 25 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Calafate
  26. 26 http://flickr.com/photos/jongos/328282149/in/set-72157594430094588/
  27. 27 http://flickr.com/photos/jongos/279087329/in/set-72157594344399243/
  28. 28 http://flickr.com/photos/andrew_clough/98047451/
  29. 29 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rogaska_Slatina
  30. 30 http://flickr.com/photos/ok6/778134183/
  31. 31 http://flickr.com/photos/17898316@N00/352770593/
  32. 32 http://www.lordoftherings.net/
  33. 33 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VY6hHerdufc
  34. 34 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tallinn
  35. 35 http://flickr.com/photos/fromform/6277081/
  36. 36 http://www.greatbuildings.com/architects/Le_Corbusier.html
  37. 37 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garches

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Jon Gos is a designer, web developer and social entrepreneur living in Kampala, Uganda. He’s also the founder of the activist community for artists and designers WeWorkForFree.com.

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  1. 1

    nah, seems like most of the best places is in Europe :)

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  2. 2

    Split is awesome, so is Darwin. You forgot New Zealand and the alps ;)

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  3. 3

    It shows the Heaven on EARTH…. The best place for designers…
    ‘Men’ will not keep these things alive for their next generation.
    So designers must come forward with campaigns to keep these places for the new generation designers, to get inspired !

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  4. 4

    if there is Tallin (Estonia), i’d also add Riga (Latvia) to this list.

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  5. 5

    I’m from Norway, and I have to say, Oslo is the last place you want to go to if your looking for Tranquility or Fjords.. Oslo is like Norways dumpplace for ghettoes, horrible architecture and rude people. The rest of Norway thought, great place ;)

    You can find some really ave-inspiring places up in the north, both in the summer and winter (and its not covered in snow year around :P), Bergen and Trondheim and alot of small places along the E6 road, and they are places that are more true to the old lifestyle of Norway (old houses and architecture etc.), Hardangerfjorden (the Hardanger Fjord) is a lovely place to be in the summer and just driving along the coast is a great experience. In the winter, the outskirts of Tromsø or the town Røros are really beautiful places!

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  6. 6

    nice list, though i am surprised that Prague didn’t make it to the list.

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  7. 7

    Your first Darwin photo is actually Perth, Western Australia – also worth a visit. The most remote city on the planet in stunning surroundings with a friendly village feel to it. The link also goes to an article about Perth not Darwin

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  8. 8

    Nice places
    but u forgot the most important
    my Town :D
    Hadhramaut
    looool
    seriously, it has some great placec though ;)

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  9. 9

    Earth is FULL of beautiful places, you don’t have to go to the far corners to see it. It’s a fine list you’ve assembled, but the photography is what makes it. Go ahead and add Friendsville Tennessee to the list.

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  10. 10

    Well, this is great and all, but that is not Split on the pictures. First one is city Opatija, and the second is national park and resort Plitvice lakes. ;-)

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  11. 11

    Nice list.

    FYI, the two pictures you’ve chosen to include for Split, Croatia are not very near Split. The first is a statue in Opatija, along the coast in the north, while the waterfalls are from the Plitvice National Park are inland near the middle of the country.

    And for a shameless plug, I have some nice shots of Split.

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  12. 12

    Grat article before holidays!:)

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  13. 13

    destination Croatia: first photo is not Split … it’s Opatija, and that’s on the north. Split is South

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  14. 14

    I am from Slovenia, and it is really beautifull country.. but there is one BIG mistake…

    Getting there. Fly into the capital, Ljubljana or neighboring Bratislava, Slovakia and travel by rail or coach. –> Getting there. Fly into the capital, Ljubljana or neighboring Austria, Croatia, hungary or Italia and travel by rail or coach.

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  15. 15

    Rogaška is near my town and it is not neighboring Slovakia but Austria, Hungary, Italy and Croatia. Near big airports are Wien (Austria) and Venice (Italy). Optional: Graz, Klagenfurt (Ausitria), Zagreb (Croatia), Bratislava (Slovakia), and Budapest (Hungary). And let me know on http://twitter.com/jernej if you come:)

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  16. 16

    what a load of rubbish!

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  17. 17

    How could you forget Iceland? Once of the coolest places ever! Should have been on the top of the list!

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  18. 18

    I agree, skip Oslo, but see the rest of Norway.

    The paragliding picture is probably from somewhere around Aurland/Flom on the west side of Southern Norway (Oslo is on the east side).

    I paraglide there frequently myself, and the contrast between the fjord and the top of the mountains (going straight down in the fjord), is stunning and really inspiring :)

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  19. 19

    Search “Salar de Uyuni” on flickr that’s inspiring too…

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  20. 20

    I don’t think you have to travel that far to get inspired. the only thing needed is to have an open mind and an open eye. or better two open eyes.

    nice places listed though.

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  21. 21

    Nice catch, originally the Part about Australia was referring to Perth and not Darwin but I changed it to highlight the story from the movie.

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  22. 22

    Smashing Magazine used to be a great place to learn about webdesign, but it’s turning into a place about photography, designs of cookieboxes etcetcetc… Not the way to go

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  23. 23

    You missed Iceland! rookie mistake

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  24. 24

    You missed Krakow, Poland!

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  25. 25

    And Maybe Some Of These Places:
    LINK

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  26. 26

    Some nice ones, but I’d like to point out that Samurai are not Chinese, but Japanese warriors.

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  27. 27

    Dusan Smolnikar

    June 3, 2008 7:41 am

    That third picture of Slovenia – that’s Bled and not Rogaska Slatina :)

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  28. 28

    What about smelly, busy and totally mental places too. I find these more inspiring. Like Mumbia or kathmandu?

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  29. 29

    I’m a fan of smashing magazine and find it very useful. You can draw Inspiration from every new place you visit, maybe with the exception of Fresno, California… LOL (local joke)

    This article was somewhat lame. (Beautiful photography though)

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  30. 30

    I just wanted to point out that the photograph under the Darwin entry is in fact Perth (Western Australia) seen from King’s Park. The second picture looks a lot like Cable Beach, also in WA.

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  31. 31

    Also at the pictures of Slovenia. Slovakia is not a neighboring country to Slovenia. Our neighbors are Austria, Itay, Croatia and Hungary. Just to clarify. :)

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  32. 32

    Beautiful places

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  33. 33

    @Wolfy: That is the biggest pile of rubbish Ive ever heard from a fellow countryman. Oslo is the last place? Have you been to the West side of Oslo? Went skiing in the places around? Or anything at all? Offcourse I wouldnt recommend Oslo when it comes to the top 10 inspirational places in the world, but come on man.. I live in Oslo, I loove Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim are great places too, but Oslo top them by far. Ghettos? Rude people? ” the rest of norway are great though”? You need to live in Oslo for a couple of years, cus your mind is really depressing. And if you do live in Oslo, youve only seen the downside of it. I love the architecture in Oslo.. Man you just did not make my day. Go Smashingmagazine, for putting Oslo on the map. F. example in America, people think Norway is the capitol of Sweden. …

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  34. 34

    I love smashing magazine, but sorry, how is this supposed to “make my life easier” ? I would rather have less content, but higher quality, than have half of the posts here be “inspirational” padding. Sure the photos are great, and it’s interesting to discover new places, but there are already a ton of other sites for this, like flickr.

    I always used to be excited when I saw a new post from Smashing Magazine in my rss reader, but recently I’ve started to be more and more disapointed by the lack of original content, and especially lack of content that relates directly to design.

    Oh and it’s spelled Sichuan, not Sischuan.

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  35. 35

    Comeon, this post actually doesn’t fit in here. I am of the opinion that for Inspiration you do not need to go to exotic places. It could strike you anywhere, anytime. It could be a ball falling down, the twitter of a bird, smell of rain what not… Sorry to say, but for me this post looks like a leaf off a travel agent’s brochure. Hardly ‘Smashing’…. :(

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  36. 36

    You forgot Corumbá, MS – Pantanal – Brazil

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  37. 37

    What’s up with the last one?

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  38. 38

    I dont really get design inspiration from landscape photos…. but than again.. I must be wierd..

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  39. 39

    Actually I grew up in Fairbanks and refer to it as “the Fresno of the North.” Alaska is beautiful country but Fairbanks will make your eye bleed.

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  40. 40

    Not the best place to go when Sischuan, China just had the massive earthquake….

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  41. 41

    Wow! Oslo is a really beautifull place… =)

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  42. 42

    Valencia, Spain

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  43. 43

    Iceland! Iceland! Iceland! Iceland!…er…hummmm…and Iceland!…and Lisboa…and Iceland!

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  44. 44

    Amazing Collection. Thanks

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  45. 45

    you forgot to add Indian villages……………..rest awesome list …

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  46. 46

    I agree with the previous comments about this post not being worthy of Smashing Magazine. Not only for the weird subject, but for the amount of mistakes!

    Decide whether you want to be niche and talk design and technology or decide to be something more general (and of lesser quality.)

    For now, I’ll be demoting Smashing Magazine from RSS to bookmarks.

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  47. 47

    Tiruchchirappalli, India was on the Shortlist. ;)

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  48. 48

    @FavBrowser.com – The last choice was about doing something different in a place where most people go to be ‘tourists’. Also, I wanted a good place to study Divine Proportions. In that context Rome is the obvious place to go, Paris is not.

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  49. 49

    How about Maldives??? :(

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  50. 50

    The image being used for your Darwin section is actually Perth WA! Which is also a great place.

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