Back in 2007 I’ve organized a Group Writing Project and collected 37 sources of inspiration that brought tens of thousand visitors to Inspiration Bit in just a few days (yes, Digg was to blame for that). It remains to be one of the most popular posts on iBit, a proof that we all need a bit more inspiration in our lives.

Year 2008 has witnessed a surge in articles with the sole purpose to inspire readers, hence thousands of ubiquitous Top 10, 50, 100 (and any number in between) lists that flooded the blogiverse. It is yet to be argued what has in fact been achieved by such posts: legions of inspired people or a crowd that is too busy to read and too eager to scan articles by merely looking at a few dozen pictures/links, or both?

So I thought it’s time to conduct a mini survey and find out what were the actual sources of inspiration for you in 2008. Some of the answers were surprising, others quite expected, but nonetheless auspicious to hear.

One can find inspiration in unforeseen places, in looking at things under a new light, in trying out something we’ve never thought to be interested in or simply unaware of its addictive nature. Sometimes we get inspired by someone’s achievement, writing, work. Other times it’s a mere click of a button, a visit to a new site, a trip to a new place, or even a new book, that determines how we start perceiving the world and our work from then on.

Person of the Year

For me this person remains to be my daughter, who can’t wait to turn four in a couple of months, and whose inquisitive questions What and Why would drive any sane person crazy, anyone but me: — Mama, do I make you happy? — Yes! —Why?

For David Airey it was Paul Arden, the late advertising guru, and his creative writing: His books are short, but contain a wealth of knowledge I’m sure you’d appreciate. In particular, his book, “It’s Not How Good You Are. It’s How Good You Want To Be” is highly recommended.

For Jacob Share there were several people who’ve made an impact last year: Tim Ferriss’s assumption destruction, Jacob Cass‘s success, Alex Shalman’s insight and Jeff Pulver’s social eagerness.

Tracey Grady, on the other hand, has drawn much inspiration from her husband Paul, who at the beginning of 2008 recovered after a period of very serious illness, and got back to setting up his own solo business venture (not design-related). Every time I find things a bit heavy-going, I think of him sitting at the other end of the house, getting on with things, and I find it easier to keep plugging away, too.

Design Phenomenon of the Year

I’m sure many designers would agree with me that the year 2008 could be attributed to bringing beautiful typography to masses on the Web. It is such a relieve to witness the dedication of many designers to pay as much attention (if not more) to the way a written word is displayed on the Web as to how shiny the buttons or how cool the visuals are. There are many sites, publications and people to thank for educating us on the intricacies of typography, but there’s one person, who deserves a special mention and whose site continues to be a success story of the year. It’s John Boardley and his site iLoveTypography.
His weekly type articles inspire Piotr Fedorczyk, Simon Pascal Klein and thousands of others.

Jon Tan sums it up really well:

After racking my brain for a few seconds with very little that was springing to mind as outstanding, I realized that Johno’s iLT was top of the list in 2008. He’s collected and written some fantastic pieces in the last year and is working wonders in curating a place where the print and web world come together. If this was the late 70s iLT would be the Studio54 of its time, or the Hacienda of the late 80s. A truly outstanding achievement.

Web site(s) of the Year

There are millions of sites on the Web, but not all of them inspire, educate, challenge and make us green with envy. We all favour a handful number of such sites that stand out in the crowded Web. Just like Simon Pascal Klein I can’t stop admiring beautiful sites designed by Jon Tan and Piotr Fedorczyk.

Steven Brian Hall has improved his Photoshop skill set thanks to resources from Smashing Magazine and tutorials from psdtuts.

Charity Ondriezek, on the other hand, has found tutorials from NetTuts to be superior to most I’ve found elsewhere, and the whole network of sites are beautiful and meticulously designed by Collis. A few more extremely useful discoveries include, WP Zoom and most recently, Six Revisions.

Kyle Meyer has been longing for a resource similar to Pattern Tap for quite some time. Frequently I just want to be barraged with a ton of ideas on a particular aspect of a design to fire up my own creative thinking. Seeing dozens of ways that people have executed the style of a blockquote for instance really helps me think in new ways. It’s a bit of a, ‘what if I combine a few of these styles, or reverse this style?’ sort of thing that encourages experimentation. Now if there was only something similar for application design elements for user interface work…

Pascal has found articles by Cameron Moll, Jeff Croft, Mark Boulton to be as invaluable as they are inspiring.

When Andrew Rickmann discovered David Peralty’s blog, Alt Sci-Fi, it inspired him to start writing a novel. I have always wanted to, but never got around to it. It is slow going, but ‘Fun’.

Tracey Grady has been saving every new source of online inspiration in her Delicious account and was kind enough to share them with us:

  • Web design — Vitor Lourenco
    I love the simplicity and attention to clean layout in his designs — they make sense without screaming ‘minimalism’.
  • Web site — Meomi
    This site has received lots of attention on web galleries and blog lists this year. I think the site beautifully represents what Meomi is all about, and the illustration has great appeal.
  • Blog — Ali Felski
    I will be redesigning my blog in 2009 and have been making notes for a couple of months already in preparation. I discovered Ali Felski’s blog in the final week of 2008; her design (more than any other I have found lately) resonates for me in terms of the approach I will be taking for my site’s new look.
  • Illustrations:
    Stephen Michael King, Samuel Bismes, Sophie Griotto, Charlene Chua, Evgeny Kiselev, Yulia Brodskaya, Jing Zhang, Zutto.
    The single most inspiring illustration I have found this year is this red power.

Community of the Year

Remember how in 2006 Time magazine chose YOU as the person of the year? You, as one of the millions of anonymous contributors of user-generated content. I would dedicate the year 2008 to the Community of users. It was truly the year when social media sites have reached the heights taller than Mount Everest, when the word tweet now has a meaning other than “the chirp of a small bird”.

Charlene Polanosky agrees with me on that: I would have to say my new source of inspiration was definitely Twitter! The conversations are all there, it gave me the opportunity to connect with a broader range of people and really demonstrates the power of social media.

Aaron Russell didn’t discover Twitter in 2008, but it is the year when he stopped dismissing it as the ultimate waste of time and actually started using it, and since then I’ve eaten my words many times over.

I still fail miserably when I try to explain to the non-twiterate (yes I did just make that word up, sorry) what Twitter is and why it isn’t a complete waste of time, but ultimately it is not really Twitter itself that inspires me — the technology doesn’t do anything particularly clever — but the community of people with whom I’ve embedded myself with the simple click of the “Follow” button have been massively inspirational.

In that sense you could argue Twitter is no more or less inspirational than any of the other countless social media / bookmark sharing / web 2.0 services. However, Twitter feels less like a game and more like a conversation. There is less tendency to pimp top ten lists of predictable hyperbole (although there still is a bit of that) and more tendency to share genuinely interesting and inspirational news and articles with the community.

Jacob Cass has discovered another social networking site, designfloat, as one of his resources for inspiration, and honestly confessed that another one is his own website. I have learned so much from these two places. The comments and community really help you become a better designer.

New approaches

Sometimes all we need to get back into a creative mood is to look at things from a different perspective, experiment with new things. It is when we stop getting annoyed by some of the ads in magazines and start admiring their perfect blend of typefaces and superb colour schemes, and noting the cleverness of their art direction.

Lauren Krause‘s new source of inspiration is just that: it’s not so much a specific person, publication or site, but rather a new way of thinking about design. When I wrote about the elements of design, that made me start recognizing them more in work I would see and create. When I really like a design, I’ll study it—break it down into the elements and principles of design–in order to learn how to incorporate those things into my own work. You know how it is: it’s all in the details.

Other times it’s the different approach we take at doing things we’ve done a million times before, like shooting pictures, developing sites, designing, drawing or even exercising, that’s fueling us with a refreshed energy and sources of inspiration.

Brian Auer is an avid photographer who is not afraid of experimenting with a different gear or new approaches to take pictures. So it’s not surprising to see that his new darkroom is quickly becoming his source of inspiration for photography. There’s something magical in loading a piece of film into the enlarger and creating a photo from light, paper, and a few chemicals. The tactile and visual qualities of paper far outweighs the additional cost of printing. Seeing one of your own photos on a silver-gelatin print is pretty amazing. So with that, I’ll be shooting a fair amount of black and white film this year. I’ve also discovered the awesomeness of printing from medium format film, so I’ve vowed to get more use out of my old Twin Lens Reflex (which is crazy-sharp even though it’s over 50 years old)!
Brian has also questioned the readers on his blog and got some interesting responses with their sources of inspiration.

Andrew Rickmann always loved blogging, photoblogging and working with WordPress, but then he reached a point where he got tired of all those things and even considered quitting them all. But then came Habari and changed everything.

Habari, the way it was coded, the way it worked, made Andrew ditch his personal site which had been stagnating, started up a Habari site, created a theme to work on both WordPress and Habari, and which I could use for photos, and created new sites around a single brand: Fun with Opinions, Fun with Photographs, Fun with WordPress, Fun with Habari, and Fun with Wizards.

Inspiring Publications

Don’t get me started on this topic: I’ve never spent so much money on books and magazines as I did last year. I’ll be blogging more about them in upcoming articles on iBit.

Looks like I’m not alone: Simon Pascal Klein has filled up his library with The Element of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst, Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton, The Zen of CSS Design by Dave Shea and Molly Holzschlag, Transcending CSS by Andy Clarke and TIME magazine.

Places and Events of the Year

If you’ve tried all the sources of inspiration listed above, and still hitting the wall due to the lack of creativity and inspiration, then you ought to get out, visit new places, much like Simon Pascal Klein did with his six or so visits to the Gutenberg Museum in his native Mainz, or just pay attention to design and type around me when out and about.

Or perhaps, like Jacob Share, you might get inspired by the ballet we call Nature, the economic crisis (really), and eerily quiet intercity train rides.

So what were your sources of inspiration in 2008? What got your adrenaline pumped and heart beating faster than a newborn’s? I would love to hear your stories. Let’s inspire each other and get inspired.


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Comment Bits

20 Insightful Bits in response to “Sources Of Inspiration to The Rescue”

  1. Wonderful article—found some new gems from the many interesting other respondents to your question. Thank you Vivien. (:

  2. Sometimes all we need to get back into a creative mood is to look at things from a different perspective…

    How very true, Vivien. You’ve compiled a fantastic selection of resources, and I hope you get some well-deserved sleep after the late night!

  3. My new favourite post on iBit; and not just because of Jon Tan’s obvious eloquence and erudition ;) This kind of post is what the social Web is all about — brain pooling (akin to car pooling, only the ride is so much more comfortable).

    I shall now re-read. Thanks, Vivien. May your 2009 be a Northern night sky spattered with myriad bits of inspiration.

  4. What a terrific read and a great addition to this blog. Good idea, Vivien.

    Stumbled this for you:

  5. Oops, I think I clicked something I shouldn’t have, so was unable to edit that last comment to include:

    One of my sources of inspiration in 2008 was my discovery, or rediscovery of twitter. Being terminally impatient, It’s immediacy is a huge hit with me. And, with some wonderful twitter clients offering multiple levels of tweet filtering; & hash tags, it’s without a doubt, the forerunner of the Web as a real-time info-stream. The challenge — that, to some extent, is already being met — is to filter this torrent of information, so that what comes out of the other end is relevant.

  6. Great collection of insights, Vivien! You’ve picked out some great bloggers for this and I’m sure we can all gain a little inspiration from each other.

  7. Thanks everyone for your kind feedback and for sharing your sources of inspiration with others.

    @Pascal, glad you’ve discovered more inspiring resources here, that was the purpose of this post: someone’s past sources of inspiration will become other person’s new fountain of inspiration.

    @David, thanks for your concern. :) I did get about four hours of sleep after posting this article.
    I have this bad habit of either completing something by working on it without interruptions until I’m done, or dragging it forever because of all the breaks in between.

    I also need to learn how to blog faster, producing posts if not in 20 min, but not spending on them a minimum of five hours either (and I type fast, btw). So I would appreciate any advice in that regard.

    @Johno, thanks for your sparkly new year wish and for sharing your source of inspiration here.
    What are you using for tweet filtering? My rescue there is a mere fact that I don’t follow many people, otherwise I won’t be able to catch up with everyone.

    @Brian Thanks for passing the torch and extending my question to your blog readers. It was very inspiring to read their responses.

  8. Whoa. Wow. Woohoo!

    I recently called Johno the Energizer Bunny for his seemingly endless amount of energy creating, writing, researching, twittering, commenting…. He just keeps going and going and… then thinks of wonderful new ways to keep on sharing :-)

    I want to drink to everyone mentioned and everyone who contributed to this article. This is a superb collection of inspiration. Thank you and Salut!

  9. I’m using TweetDeck. Love it.

  10. I can empathise with that, Vivien — spending either too long, or dragging out blog posts so they’re never-ending. The number of drafts in my WordPress admin is daunting, particularly as the majority of my posts are more ‘spare-of-the-moment’.

    To help keep writing brief, I remind myself that most readers prefer short, sharp, to the point articles. That’s not to say I wouldn’t love each of my pieces to have the content of this one! Johno’s type round-ups are also far from brief, and, rightly so, gain a lot of praise.

    I’m one of those people who check, edit, re-check, check again, publish, re-check, edit…. so I’m really not the best person to be handing out advice. ;)

  11. gosh, how did I miss Jacob’s comment?! :( I realized about that only when waking up in the morning today and suddenly asking myself: did I thank Jacob for the stumble?
    Sorry about that, but better late than never, right? ;)

    Jacob, thanks, for the stumble and the encouragement.

    @Deb wow, I love how you express your excitement. Glad you liked this post and everyone’s input.

    @Johno, thanks. I’ve installed TweetDeck, and trying it out now. I’m not crazy about their layout, would’ve preferred to be able to switch between groups with tabs or a dropdown, rather than horisontal scrolling. But the filtering options are great!

    @David Thanks for the encouragement. At least it’s a relief to see that I’m not the only one struggling with that. ;) I should start posting shorter pieces, but so far all the ideas I have require some research and a longer input. Perhaps I could start interspersing long posts with short ones.

  12. Super duper collection of inspiration made really interesting by the insight of the designers interviewed. Great stuff.

    For me personally, I’m a addict and the StumbleUpon button is starting to look very worn on my browser.

  13. First of all: Jon Tan is one of the most skilled web-typographers out there and seeing my name separated from his with an ‘and’ makes me feel very special. Thank you for that.

    In fact Jon’s articles is where most of the present Designr’s interface was born and I’m very grateful for all the knowledge he’ve shared over the last months. Both Jon and John had, and will continue to have, a great impact on me and my style. Kind regards to both of them.

    However it’s not only (web) typography I got that excited about. After seeing Andy Budd speaking at the Future Of Web Design conference in London last year I got interested in user experience design and have been developing my passion for that since then. I have a great respect for Andy’s work and I wish I could be at least half as good as he is at what he does.

    There are tens of things that inspire me every day, hundreds every week, thousands every month. The above are the main ones, the BIG stuff.

    This is truly wonderful post, but you already know that ;)


  14. @Jennifer Thank you. I’ve yet to get addicted to Somehow I’m more comfortable with my FF bookmarks, and how I’ve organized them there, but I do make an effort to save them to from time to time ;)

    @Piotr You’re very welcome and thanks for elaborating more on your sources of inspiration. Much better than your very eloquent response on Twitter ;)

  15. Indeed, I had no idea what was it that you needed when you posted the question on Twitter. Now I know. Hence, the longer version :)


  16. Hi Vivien. Terrific article. I have to line up behind web typography as a source of inspiration — the more I learn about it, the more curious I become, both from a design and a more artistic viewpoint. The use of fonts and typography in Web design is, for me, exists on the “cusp” of art and craft — a place I’m endlessly interested in (though my interest far outstrips my competence).

    I was also inspired by the huge outpouring of effort and passion on behalf of the Obama campaign here in the States. It wasn’t so much a “we love Obama” phenomenon as a tide-turning outcry for change and positive growth, and a mass rejection of the policies and mindsets of hatred, xenophobia, and criminality that has become the political norm in the US. I played a tiny part in that and am very happy to have done so, even if the Obama administration doesn’t turn out to be the progressive “saviors of the universe” that some people hope.

  17. @Piotr hmm, I guess I have to more specific with my requests on Twitter next time. I’ll keep that in mind ;)

    @Michael Thanks for the compliment. Yes the year 2008 was politically super charged not only in US. All the best to you and the rest of the world with the new changes. Hope we’ll see some improvements sooner than later.

    I think you’re being a bit too modest about your competence in the field of Web Typography. And your recent article on SitePoint is proof for that (even though the published version differs from your original).

    @Everyone, if you haven’t read it yet, be sure to check out Michael’s excellent article on SitePoint: 8 ‘Definitive’ Web Font Stacks

  18. Vivien, thanks for the link. I’m hoping that SP will allow me to do a “follow-up” to that article that would incorporate some of what they cut out the first time around. As it stands, the article has some major gaps; people in the forum have asked several times about why I didn’t include this or that item that was in the original but not in the published version.

    I’ve gotten spoiled by working with the History Commons, where I can control pretty much what gets published throughout the process. :)

    I think what surprised me the most is how many professional or semi-pro Web designers posted about how they had never considered their font usage before reading the article. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but jeez….

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Selected Bits





Hi, I'm Vivien. Thanks for visiting my Inspiration Bit. I often find myself scouring the internet looking for either answers to many questions I have or websites that inspire me, sites that I can learn from. On what topics you might ask — any topics that interest me, anything from web design to typography and art, from blogging to entrepreneurship, from programming to open source.
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When I'm not blogging, I design web sites, teach, play with my daughter and try to balance family, work, friends and a somewhat active social life on