Menu Search
Jump to the content X X

Today, too many websites are still inaccessible. In our new book Inclusive Design Patterns, we explore how to craft flexible front-end design patterns and make future-proof and accessible interfaces without extra effort. Hardcover, 312 pages. Get the book now →

Balancing Inspiration and Individuality

I love it when a good story is broken down so that even the simplest of minds can understand. I’m not the smartest, fastest or most creative person in the world, so I don’t like using a lot of big words or fancy jargon to try and impress you — but I’m learning every day, and that is what pushes me on. Let me cut the small talk and dive right in.

The Current State Link

When I look out on the hillside of design, all I see are copies of what great designers have done before us. The landscape has become so congested with cookie-cutter homes that seeing the real people living inside has become hard. It’s like watching that movie Pleasantville, in which everything is black and white and no one knows any better, and yet there are those pursuing something different, something original.

My hope is to inspire you to step away from the computer and open your eyes to the world around you. Expand your mind; think beyond the limits of the liquid crystals staring back at you.

Getting Started Link

The first step in any recovery process is to admit that there’s a problem. Once we’re comfortable admitting that we’ve been copying each other’s style, we can move on. The next step in this design detox, if you will, is to close the laptop, turn off the monitor, put down the iPhone and go find a pen or pencil and some paper. Not so fast with that Moleskine journal! It won’t help you. You understand that Apple and Adobe products don’t do the work for you, and neither will the Moleskine make you a better [fill in your profession]. Only with time, patience and practice will you begin to refine your skills.

Don’t worry if you think you can’t draw. I hear that a lot, and I wish people would remove the word “can’t” from their vocabulary. Maybe you’re not good at drawing people but are amazing at drawing monsters, or maybe you’re not good at drawing buildings but are excellent at sketching wireframes. Just because your drawings don’t look like those of people you admire does not mean your drawings are no good.

Live in the Moment Link

Time does not stop — shocker, I know. You can’t fight it. Rather, think of it as the Rolling Stones do: time is on my side. Realize that time will make you better. The get-rich-quick approach is a cheap substitute for an investment of time: it might work for a few people, but it never lasts. Save yourself the trouble and commit to the long-term effort. Better yet, take an art history class and learn how long it took the great artists to achieve success. You’ll find that some were not recognized until after they were dead.

Pioneers Of the New Frontier Link

So where do we turn for inspiration? I always look to artists in other media. I’ll mention a few who have set a high standard — one so high that it hasn’t been beat. Still, I believe you have what it takes to run faster, jump higher and think bigger.

Leonardo da Vinci Link

Leonardo da Vinci was the original Renaissance Man. Not only was he an amazing painter, he was also an extraordinary mathematician, sculptor, anatomist and writer — and those were just a few of his occupations. His career, which left a legacy that is still unsurpassed, is characterized by a passion for discovery and creation. If for no other reason, da Vinci is an inspiration to us because of his fervent passion for learning.

M. C. Escher Link

Maurits Cornelis Escher is a great example to us because he pursued his passion and succeeded, even without a degree. M.C. Escher’s artwork — an excellent source of inspiration for modern design — has a great deal to do with mathematics, but he never had formal mathematical training. Those of us building the Web could learn a thing or two from Escher’s work on symmetry and patterns.

Norman Rockwell Link


Normal Rockwell defined a generation. His depictions of the American lifestyle in the early-20th century are iconic. If Rockwell were alive today, he would definitely be one of the all-stars posting stuff to Dribbble.

Closing Words Link

There’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment that comes from doing something you didn’t think you could. Whether you want to build websites, paint a mural, design icons or draw characters, I encourage you to make time for practice and to get away from the computer at least an hour a day. Pick up a book, take a walk, call a friend — do whatever you can to take your mind off technology. In those moments when we quiet our minds, inspiration comes and we can just be ourselves.

P.S. Link

Just one last nugget before you leave: don’t let a lack of inspiration overwhelm you or make you feel like less of a person. I know from personal experience that drowning in inspiration makes me feel unsuccessful. And yet when we judge ourselves against our own work, we hinder our growth. We have to find a balance between being inspired and being true to ourselves. That’s what makes the journey so exciting.


↑ Back to top Tweet itShare on Facebook


Kyle Steed is human. He writes and designs for his own personal site at and is illustrating people's profile's over at all while learning the art of UX Design at Fellowship Technologies. When not making things by hand, Kyle enjoys living life to the max with his wife and two dogs at their home in Dallas, Texas.

  1. 1

    Callum Chapman

    August 20, 2010 5:53 am

    Great little article. I love M. C. Escher’s work.

  2. 3

    Good thoughts.. It awes me how pre-renaissance artists were able to create master pieces of art having least or no resources compared to what we enjoy today. I’ve been a avid follower of Leonardo’s works and his approaches have inspired me a lot and helped me in thinking better and to contemplate ideas faster. I am big fan of Escher’s works too. Norman Rockwell, a legendary artist as well.
    Thanks for the good read.

    On a lighter note, (sorry for the shameless plug) I wrote an extensive article on how to seek inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci. I hope your readers find it useful :


  3. 4

    Matthew Giovanisci

    August 20, 2010 6:42 am

    “Pick up a book, take a walk, call a friend — do whatever you can to take your mind off technology.”

    I don’t understand. So should I use my iPhone to call a friend?
    Just kidding, nice article. I enjoyed it.

    • 5

      Thank you Matthew. But no iPhones. You’re only allowed to use a tin can on a string. ;)

  4. 6

    I can’t help but find this article a bit patronizing. I do think that the message here is positive though. It’s very important to realize our debt to artists and ideas that came before us, and to strive to be as original and relevant as we can. I started off as a draftsman and painter, and began doing digital design as a career choice. Stepping away from the computer for inspiration is a no brainer. I also think that while It’s fine to tell people to look at Da Vinci and Escher, they are some of the most celebrated artists of all time. I think almost everyone is already looking at them. Sorry for coming off like a prick, I definitely think that this article is well intentioned.

    • 7


      Hmm… interesting perspective. I would argue that people are already looking at the great artists of our time (on a regular basis). But at the same time, I would agree that probably most everyone has heard of these artists (at one point in their life).

      The point I was hoping to get across was simply this; take time out of your regular schedule (whether that’s designing, photographing, cooking, building, etc.) and look to other master “craftsmen” for inspiration. I simply used Da Vinci, Escher and Rockwell as examples of some who inspire me.

      I’m sorry if it came off as patronizing to you. Please note that wasn’t my intention.

      • 8


        Honestly, I think you worded your message a bit better in your response to me than you did above. I think that establishing the proper tone is crucial with a blog post like this and it was something about your tone that irked me. I think that it was this statement that put me on guard:

        “open your eyes to the world around you. Expand your mind;…”.

        It felt patronizing to me because you come off as if you know better and I don’t. It’s touchy. I’ve been told to open my eyes and expand my mind so many times, and I already try to look at the world and at my work with an open mind every day.

        I do however, like this language:

        “Once we’re comfortable admitting that we’ve been copying each other’s style, we can move on. ”

        Thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment. I think that’s pretty cool.

        • 9


          I can see how reading something that you’ve been told a lot in your life (possibly in a negative tone) can bring up some of your defenses. But please, don’t let my article make you feel any less of who you are. I speak to myself as much as I am to everyone who reads it. Be confident in the work you’re doing and the way you look at the world.

          Take care.

  5. 10

    Da Vinci, Escher & Rockwell.
    Pioneers Of the New Frontier you say…

    You should really take some art history classes Kyle

    • 11


    • 12


      Thank you for your comments. But I have taken Art History. The statement you singled out was a reference to my belief that there is nothing new that hasn’t been done already. So while we may see new ways of going about creating images, we are still pulling ideas from those artists that came before us. And the three artist I referenced are only a bird’s eye view of those who inspire me. I would hope that you have a difference of opinion than me, and would love to hear those who inspire you.

  6. 13

    I get what you are saying. I like to read a book, mainly fantasy novels so i can escape into another world.

    I like to read about how the brain works and how people perceive things and make descisions (books like Blink and Don’t make me think).

    This all helps me when being creative. It’s a mix of imagination and understanding your customer that helps you produce soemthing successful.

    I don’t think the articles patronising. I see lots of techy people shouting about what they have seen here there and on other websites and why aren’t we doing that and following research to the letter and it’s nice to sit back and see things outside of the screen, opening your mind and let it wander a little…sorry i’m already wandering now :)

    Nice article.

  7. 14

    Great thoughts, Kyle! As always, I appreciate learning from your thoughtful approach. The sketchbook and the park have been a huge resource to me lately!

  8. 16

    Giotto –>Masaccio –> Da Vinci. Leonardo and his contemporaries in the High Renaissance were the culmination of 200 years of artistic development. He trained in the studio of an established artist. His artistic brilliance is the result of intense training and tradition. His subject matter is the same that had been produced for patrons for hundreds of years. Religious scenes and portraits. Brilliant of course, but not particularly a turning point in the history of art. His Mona Lisa is more iconic today, but I believe that Raphael actually had a more profound influence on the direction of painting.

    Escher – Decorating dorm rooms and introducing undergrads to the power of linear perspective for over 70 years!

    Rockwell- Again his skill is the result of intense training and tradition. He was working at the height of the golden age of Illustration, when print was the dominant communication medium. Supremely skilled of course, but more of a culmination of an age than the beginning.

    • 17

      I think you make a great point in all of this. All of the artists work are a result of “intense” training. It takes a long time to get good at something. It takes a lifetime to become great.

      • 18

        “It takes a long time to get good at something. It takes a lifetime to become great…”
        Great summary

        Here comes pain of our times – everyone want to have instant and online success.
        THX Kyle for this post

  9. 19

    Wow! What a gem! Short, sweet and to the point.

    All of this ‘in the moment’ talk I hear popping up in the design community gives me hope that people are starting to recognize the importance of any sort of foundation; looking through a camera trains your eyes. Playing a piano trains your ears. These two basic tools offer the user a limitless playground of exploration. By giving myself time away from structure, away from limitations, I feel more empowered to be more creative when working on a design project.

    I highly recommend Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art. It’s a wonderful read that can change the way any artist, designer or person looks at their work.

    “There is in all these forms of expression a unitive experience that is the essence of the creative mystery. The heart of improvisation is the free play of consciousness as it draws, writes, paints, and plays the raw material emerging from the unconscious. Such play entails a certain degree of risk…”

  10. 21

    Just find myself in this article!

  11. 22

    Mmmm… sorry. I understand the idea of this article, but it´s incomplete, superficial, poor documented. I really like Smash (it´s in my Top Ten All Time), but this articles are for less professional – more personal blogs.

    I apologize for comment only this time, when the post is regular-to-bad, you guys have a lot of great work here. Keep the quality content!

  12. 23

    I totally agree that the web today does look like Suburbia! And you’re very right, there is something about working with your hands – sketching, molding or sculpting that really makes me happy and feel inspired. Those ideas that come out of the non-computer sessions are generally the most original – they are the ones that get you recognized.

    Great article! -(I was sad it wasn’t longer)

  13. 24

    I think inspiration comes usually when we are enjoying whatever we’re doing. Leisure is important when it comes to finding your way out of creative block. And I totally agree that looking at inspirational pieces too much is a bad thing – you become envious rather than inspired.

  14. 25

    Gimme a fucking break

    August 20, 2010 8:16 am

    Good god, get your art history straight before you start spouting off crap like “the original renaissance man”. If you can’t handle that, at least have an adult look over your copy.

    What are you, 13 and from West Virginia?

    • 26

      The person who has to resort to foul language needs a break!

    • 27

      Joseph Alessio

      August 20, 2010 9:38 am

      Michael is correct here… if you can’t express yourself in true language (as opposed to slang, i.e. spouting off, foul language i.e. all the words I won’t repeat, then please don’t get upset at other people for not being ‘smart enough.’

      Art history is formed by intellectuals, not by the people who use the most meaningless 2% of the dictionary. I’m not intending any offense here, but I’m simply pointing out a fact.

      On a side note, I think what Kyle meant by “the original Renaissance man” was Da Vinci’s extreme fulfillment of the Renaissance archetype: the complete intellectual demigod who practiced art and science in many forms. The Renaissance period was very optimistic about the power of humanity (erroneously, as history has proven), and thought that humankind was the pinnacle of life. Da Vinci was a great example of a hero of the Renaissance.

    • 28

      Thank you Joseph for your well formed sentences and support. I appreciate it.

      Dear Mr. Anonymous,

      Let me begin with an apology, an apology for you for making such a bad name for yourself. For one, if you feel so strongly and have such strong opinions then why hide behind an explicit anonymous name? That doesn’t give me any reason to respect you. Second, why didn’t you expand on someone that inspires you or at least share some of your Art History knowledge with the rest of us. Since it seems that you have it all figured out.

      Please think before you speak next time, and feel free to elaborate with more complete sentences. Thank you.

      • 29

        Bravo man! nice shot there!! “Please think before you speak next time, and feel free to elaborate with more complete sentences. Thank you.”
        We’re with you Kyle.

        It’s in the nature of some people that they can’t just stand better things ! & Mr. Anonymous elaborates it very well!!
        If he really had some strong points, he would not feel himself inferior & use such a language!!
        I’m not against anyone here but I’ve found it useful & practical! The points included are catchy & not so hard to apply! & Yes, they sure seem more creative!!
        Thanks a lot for such a wonderful article! Short & Sweet!!

  15. 30


    Inspiration and individuality are great, but ultimately they are NOT what being a creative professional is about.

    I was (and am still) having issues with the standard of my work. I don’t think it’s good enough. I don’t think I’m good enough. And I know a good chunk of my work is not inspired, nor is it breathtaking. A lot of the time it’s just not very good technically.

    So I had a chat with someone I look up to. It turns out even our heroes feel the same way.

    We all have to manage, cobbling bits and pieces together while we wait for our true masterpiece. Turns out that’s what makes us creative professionals. We’re in the business of faking it. It’s a skill not many people have, being able to say “I don’t feel it, but I’m going to make it happen anyway”.

    Continually training yourself and pushing for higher levels will affect your mediocre work just as much as it will your great work. As a worker, what’s important is that you produce. As an individual, what’s important is that you release/express.

    • 31

      Joseph Alessio

      August 20, 2010 9:46 am

      David, good points here. Inspiration and individuality are by no means the definition of a creative professional. Producing good work even when we “don’t feel like it” is necessary, because all of life is based on keeping up even when we don’t feel like it.

      Ironically, taking a look at the title, it feels facetious: “balancing inspiration and individuality” sounds almost as though inspiration and individuality are polar opposites. Why? Individuality means acting as an individual (Captain Obvious to the rescue! hehe). Inspiration, since the recent phenomenon of the internet, simply means googling “website gallery” or “best [whatever]” and more or less cloning something on the “inspiration” site. The irony is that inspiration is no longer inspiration… it’s merely cloning or cobbling.

      So, what we actually need to do is get inspired in the original sense of the word: a “breath of life” for the imagination. This comes from all sorts of sources, but it doesn’t usually come from where we look for it!

    • 32


    • 33


      I know it takes time to get to the point where we can be happy with a piece that we create. God knows I’m my own worst critic. But constantly berating ourselves won’t help our situation. We have to be confident that even if we’re not where we want to be today, we are working towards our goal. Kind of like Frodo in the Lord of the Rings movies. Okay, that might be a poor example, but I hope you understand what I’m saying.

      It’s good to have encouragers in our lives equally as it is those who inspire us. We need to stop looking at “gallery” websites for ideas and look within ourselves.

  16. 34

    A lot of negative comments on this article above… but I thought it was good article Kyle. I think it’s important to always keep reminding ourselves to be original in everything we do, no matter the project/client.


  17. 36

    hey, leave west virginia out of it! hah

  18. 37

    I’m also not the smartest, fastest or most creative person in the world but I actually like fancy jargon, not so much to impress as to communicate with precision (and maybe also to avoid crass accusations of being an ignorant pubescent hick).

    That said, I don’t disagree with anything you wrote although I think that whether or not you can take time to wander the forest paths and listen to the birds depends on your context. If you’re being paid by the hour to have your ass sat down in front of the computer creating, it’s not always advisable to take off to find some inspiration.

    It seems to me that having awareness of the masters and all the principles and rules they discovered about composition and technique or what-have-you is a no-brainer. I’ve heard it referred to as our competency, something we should always be pushing towards the “next level” whatever that may be for us. There’s a lifelong curve, The sooner we raise our competency level to a professional standard, the more chance we have of becoming a master in our field by the time we’ve been doing it for a few decades. Look at writing for example. If you’re a tween using a lot of fancy jargon you’ll be accused of merely trying to impress. If you’re in your 60s and you don’t use at least some fancy jargon once in a while, people will think you didn’t read much or spend time on your vocabulary over the years.

    Anyways. Thanks for this reminder that there are solid simple basic steps we can take to find our inspiration. Well done.

  19. 38

    HA! You make the assumption there are any “artists” on dribbble.

  20. 39

    Alright, I wasn’t going to comment on this article, but I can’t help it. While I agree with your message that design (especially on the web) has become too inbred, I feel that the advice in this article does little to address the issue.

    Shutting off the computer, picking up a pencil and seeking out the work of great artists is all well and good, but is it really the right catalyst? Just look at the artists you chose to feature here. Leonardo da Vinchi was an amazing individual, but how many times have you seen his Vitruvian Man used in other mediums? The same can be said for Escher’s never ending staircase and Rockwell’s self-portrait. I’m not saying unique inspiration is impossible to find here, but there’s got to be better places to look. I was really hoping for something a little more original than “step away from the computer and pickup a book” when I clicked on this article. Trite advice like that just doesn’t get people very far in my opinion.

    Once again, I don’t disagree with the message of your article, I just feel that the advice being offered here is neither fresh nor helpful (outside of maybe being a jumping off point for conversation).


↑ Back to top