Breaking Out Of The Box: Design Inspiration (June 2016)

About The Author

Vitaly Friedman loves beautiful content and doesn’t like to give in easily. When he is not writing, he’s most probably running front-end & UX … More about Vitaly ↬

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Simple design is hard, since it requires much more thought and inspiration. Colors play a major role, and today Vitaly Friedman would like to show you a couple of illustrations that may motivate you to try out some new color combinations and techniques. From 3D illustrations to artwork created with ink and watercolors, Vitaly is sure there’s something that’ll spark your inspiration. Be warned though, some of them may even give you wanderlust from just looking at them.

There’s no doubt that simple design is hard, since it requires much more thought and inspiration. It’s about understanding exactly what your users need. Colors play a major role, and today I’d like to show you a couple of illustrations that may motivate you to try out some new color combinations and techniques.

Take a look at the following photographs, posters and book covers that have been created with some really inspiring shades and color palettes, and some even show how to cleverly use negative space. From 3D illustrations to artwork created with ink and watercolors, I’m sure there’s something that’ll spark your inspiration. Be warned though, some of them may even give you wanderlust from just looking at them.

A Writer, A Hero

Clever executed light & shadows. The typewriter and the gun are super cool. Just enough details to be convincing.

Image credit: Jeremy Booth

Santa Monica

Illustration based on water fountains in Santa Monica. It’s the illustrative interpretation of Jeremy Booth. The shadows & light are like his trademark to recognize the work is his.

Image credit: Jeremy Booth

Girl - Goldfish

Refreshing style especially if you know it isn’t created on a computer. Bodil Jane is an illustrator from the Netherlands who creates almost all of her illustrations with ink and watercolors.

Image credit: Bodil Jane

The Upshot

Illustration for The New York Times about an article that talks about how the same-sex marriage effort found a way around polarization. The legs and arms are such an eye-catcher here. I love the geometry and the way the colors are applied.

Image credit: David Doran

First Place Coffee

Identity for First Place Coffee. Smart how the star ribbon is cut out in the coffee cup.

Image credit: Salih Kucukaga

Patagonia Dreaming II

Black and white photography can be super powerful. The mountains are of course a very thankful subject to work with as well. The light is so perfect in this photo. It creates this mystical atmosphere.

Image credit: Andy Lee

Dave Matthews Band 25th Anniversary

Insane amount of details in this poster to celebrate the fact that the Dave Matthews Band has been performing for 25 years. The texture on the car to get those details in are seriously inspiring.

Image credit: DKNG

36 Days. Numbers

A beautiful example of character design. The distinctive feature here is the small head in combination to a much larger body. Great colors too. Be sure to check out the other characters as well.

Image credit: Rafael Mayani


Just looking at this wonderful piece makes me happy. A very tasteful color palette to begin with followed by analysing those lines with the darker parts on the body. It looks easy, but I can assure it isn’t. Those waves! Gorgeous work.

Image credit: Xoana Herrera

Apple Flavor

After that beach scene we all could use an ice-cream right? Lovely humorous T-shirt concept. The bite marks make it look like it was delicious. A beautiful piece of 3D style that still have a certain flat style flair.

Image credit: Glenn Jones

Swimm - Maria Svarbova

Love how color gets the lead actor role in this photography. It’s applied smartly also in those other shots.

Image credit: Maria Svarbova

2cv Dyane Camping

Some cute details to discover in this artwork. I especially like how the 2cv dyane is drawn.

Image credit: Peter Goes

Faroe Islands I

The Faroe Islands seems like a nice place to snap some beautiful pictures. Love how the color of the water contrasts so nicely with the soil/grass.

Image credit: Dan Rubin

The New New Economy

So good and so much detail. Adore the minimal color choices, subtle gradients and shading. Lovely geometry and flat 2D design.

Image credit: Justin Mezzell

Moscow - Russia

The colors let this vintage travel poster shine. The way how the structure of the buildings are created is also very inspiring.

Image credit: Anderson Design Group

Gebrauchsgrafik 11-1953

Created by Heinz Schwabe in 1953 for Gebrauchsgrafik. The pre computer era of graphic design when everything was created by hand using pen & pencils/crayons. The items you also see in this poster. Beautiful colors.

Image credit: Ideenstadt Düsseldorf

Summer Ici Paris XL

This new work for Ici Paris XL is using miniature versions of Miami and Santa Monica created in cardboard. The products are the actors in the artwork and they blend in so nicely. Nice use of colors!

Image credit: Adrian & Gidi

Faroe Islands II

If you need proof that nature is a master in creating the nicest gradients, this picture on the Faroe Islands by Dan Rubin would be it. Just look at that!

Image credit: Dan Rubin

Melbourne - Australia

Another one from the classic travel poster collection. In this one the typography and the colors are the stars.

Image credit: Anderson Design Group

Dreamy Twilight

I hear the sound of the waves in this lovely scene. Another example of wondrous gradients, and color palette. Warning! You may get wanderlust from looking at this photo.

Image credit: Elena Morelli

Stinkdigital Illustrations

One of the nicest 3D illustrations I have seen lately. All items are perfectly placed and laid out on the isometric grid. Perfect shadow and light, and great soft color tones too. Be sure to check out the other ones as well.

Image credit: Lesha Galkin and Olia Marchenko

Emu Bikes

A series of illustrations created for Emu Electric Bikes and their advertising campaign, showing the bikes in the various environments of the countryside, suburbia and the city. The red of the bike draws the attention. The trees and other ‘green’ have an interesting more organic shape and contrast well with the other shapes. They are in sync with the guy on the bike, and the lines of his bag.

Image credit: Neil Stevens

How To Manage Your Checking Account

What an awesome idea to use a revolving door to illustrate ‘how to manage your checking account’. I also very much like how the darker color is giving the figures a bit of volume. Again, perfect shadow and light which makes it so beautiful.

Image credit: Davide Bonazzi

Soft And Furious

Just imagine you are there. Those orange fire in the sky tones are pretty spectacular. Nature can be so amazingly colorful sometimes, especially during sunsets or sunrise places like this.

Image credit: Elena Morelli

Summer Evenings

Beautiful shot to represent the best time of the year where one can enjoy those lovely long Summer evenings. Best ones are on the beach of course. Sunsets can be so beautiful. They’re moments to suck in, stand still and escape the real world.

Image credit: Greg Storey

Weekend Edit

Speaking of Summer, here’s a shot to get some wanderlust. A fine example of some clever post processing. The sky is muted, but those flowers are still vivid. Looks easy, but it is an art to find the right balance.

Image credit: Dust Jacket


Very cool illustration for H’University. Loving the ripped pants and sport shoes. It has a certain coolness to it. Also the simplicity of how everything is drawn, using these dark borders, and the patterns on the clothing gives this illustration an extra punch.

Image credit: H’University

Budget Party Ideas - Summer In The City

Bold geometric shapes, bright colors, and voluptuous vacationing characters are giving this illustration a whimsical and sultry personality.

Image credit: grain edit

4th Annual AAFOpen Mini Golf Tournament Poster

Poster for the 4th Annual AAFOpen Mini Golf Tournament. Very well executed as you can see the courses in the letters and the green jacket that the winner takes home.

Image credit: Sean Heisler

Drink By The Pool

Lovely scene with a basic city skyline in the back. Works perfectly with the pink sky. The dark plants adds the perfect color balance and contrast. Shadows and textures are inspiring too.

Image credit: Paulius

Five Guys Named Moe

Poster for musical revue “Five Guys Named Moe” Arena Stage Washington DC. A very inspiring color palette being used here matched with elegant use of darker areas. This illustration is simply amazing. I can keep looking at it all day.

Image credit: Paul Rogers

Harold Arlen

CD cover for a collection of songs written by Harold Arlen, Milan Records, France. The butterfly chair originally designed in 1938 plays a prominent role in this scene, almost as prominent as Harold Arlen himself. The backdrop is also nicely executed.

Image credit: Paul Rogers

Ustaria Posta

I love the Dolomites. One of the nicest places in the world, especially through the lens of Ashley and Jered Gruber. Taken at the Giro d’Italia.

Image credit: Gruber Images

Cabins- Taschen

The blocky geometric shapes and flat colors are joyful and confident, but a certain restraint of going too detailed. They fully illustrate the natural silence and placidity of a cabin in the woods.

Image credit: Cruschiform

Cabins- Taschen II

What I especially love about these illustrations from Marie-laure Cruschi is that there isn’t as good as no roundness to be found. Everything has these sharp edges, but she still manages to keep it all elegant. Her color palettes are always so perfect too. Very inspiring.

Image credit: Cruschiform

Tree Grove Study

This looks great thanks to such a nice composition. I also admire the use of textures here especially in the sun.

Image credit: Matt Carlson

Monocle 24 Radio

Illustration for Monocle 24, the Internet radio station from London based Monocle. The typography works hand in hand with the illustration. The shapes of the houses, car and boat are very original.

Image credit: Moniker

Honest To Goodness

Nice artwork for The Kitchen, the prepared-foods division of Whole Foods Market. The illustration is part of a visual identity system that spanned everything from identity and packaging to custom illustration and signage. I love the simple shades and color palette. The black background works really well. See it all.

Image credit: Moniker

Swiss Made

Interesting color palette especially with the sun being the same color as the shadow side of the mountain. Works well in this case.

Image credit: Steve Wolf

Commissioned Cityscape

Much to like here in this custom illustration. Architecture plays a leading role in this piece with some of the more iconic buildings like from Yale, Chicago, and New York to create the cityscape. The face you see in the top tower is a nice touch.

Image credit: Matt Carlson


Beautiful work! An illustration with delicious details. I adore the lines on the sardines. Subtle textures just in the right amount. Who says orange can’t be combined with pink? Don’t they work well together here! It’s all a matter of how you apply colors.

Image credit: Bailey Sullivan


Check out this stunning photograph by Kyon.J, captured from high above the city of Guilin, China. It almost doesn’t look real.

Image credit: Saatchi Gallery

Lauren Oliver’s Panic

The mission was to create an intriguing and visually appealing cover illustration. Mission accomplished with this collage. It draws you in and you wonder what’s the story.

Image credit: Emi Haze

Sisters: Arya & Sansa

Interesting interpretation of the Game of Thrones sisters. Excellent colors and lines at work here. All resulting in a beautiful kinda watercolor style.

Image credit: Monica Garwood


Perfectly framed and pure tranquility. Love the soft pinkish tones of the clouds against the sky and horizon. Also the reflection in the water creates this nice gradient (again).

Image credit: Dan Rubin

Material I

Matthias is a regular in my inspiration stream. He just published some new work where he captured architecture, places, and scenes taken in the cities of Tokyo, Seoul, Berlin, Leipzig, Lisbon, Milano, Rome. He has such an interesting eye as he’s able to transform these places, that many of us would otherwise just pass, into interesting compositions.

Image credit: Matthias Heiderich

Olivetti - Valentine

Olivetti has always understood the skills to use graphic and interior design to communicate its products. This poster for the Valentine typewriter, designed by Walter Ballmer (1969) is part of a new exhibition on the design and architecture of Olivetti, opening at the ICA in London and runs until July 17.

Image credit: Creative Review


The shark is back. The (cycling race) “Giro d’Italia” is done and dusted. It was another unpredictable edition with Vincenzo Nibali making a come-back to remember in the few last days. This illustration celebrates that, and refers to Nibali’s nickname ‘The Shark of Messina’.

Image credit: fabbrica della bici

Big Bear Lake

My niece has travelled to the Big Bear Lake this Memorial weekend, and send me this photograph of the amazing scenery along the way. Makes me want to book a trip to California.

Image credit: Valérie Grahame-Lehn

Greetings 1983

Poster from Tom Eckersley, a giant in the British graphic design history. Clever use of negative space. Simple design is hard. This one proofs it.

Image credit: It’s Nice That

Further Reading

Smashing Editorial (ms, il, mrn)