Why inspiration is so dang necessary

(Originally written for Loviv, December 2012)  

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Working off of inspiration might seem like ‘copying’ to some, but those who’ve worked with a client creating solely off of subjective material know all too well how often that path can lead to disaster! When you use images that hint to the mood or tone the client is wanting to convey, it is an excellent way to make sure both you and your client are working and communicating together.

Thought I’d share some thoughts as to why the practice is so successful:

1) It allows both client and designer a chance to voice opinions on where the project can go.

When I begin working with a client, I always ask if they have any idea what they want to communicate. The answer can be absolutely anything, but I always like to start the conversation with ideas the client has already been working on.  Considering what the client already likes and wants is a wonderful first step in helping you select the inspiration and thoughts for them. It allows the client to see what their ideas could be translated into, it keeps the big shocking “Oh that is not what I was thinking at ALL” in the beginning, when trust is slowly being built. I consider this stage more aligned to ‘translating’ than designing. I listen, observe, collect any visual samples the client may have, and then we work on our own. When we meet again, I’ve collected lots of things based off of what the client’s told me. It’s through the second ‘touch base’ call that we– client and myself– find the right visual direction. But it starts with loosely observing what the client says they want, and then begin strongly enough to talk through the reactions of what you’ve sent them.

2. Keeps miscommunications, revisions + frustrations to a minimum w/ a visual “road map”

Normally when a designer begins a project, they’ll already have an understanding of the type of work the client will need. Whether it’s visual, verbal, or just a few clippings of an idea, the designer has to have something to ‘go off of’.  A client that provides the designer not only with what they want to achieve from a design standpoint, but also from an aesthetic standpoint. There are a lot of definitions to what makes something “modern”, “vintage”, “warm” or “cool”, and very few people will see the same exact thing the same exact way. There’s some commonalities, sure, but individual tastes are just that: individualized.  When you and the client both work off the same visual reference, there can be no miscommunications as to what the client sees as “modern”, and what the designer understands in that choice. It will keep the client from feeling like the designer “doesn’t listen”, and it will keep the designer from experiencing the “client’s don’t know what they’re talking about” argument. The client very much knows, or at least they have an idea. The problem is that without visual reference, it’s practically impossible to explain.

3. Gives client and designer “visual clues” to help keep creative suggestions low, allowing success to be easily realized

So you’ve got through the initial steps, explored some directions, but now the client feels lost. The design process can surely be messy if not navigated correctly! If at any time, the client feels that what they’re being shown is not what you discussed creating, then revisit the inspiration. Go back to the samples and ideas that inspired this long journey of revisions, and talk to the client about their initial reactions. Is it close? Completely off base? Was there a misunderstanding around a certain element?  Whatever the scenario, having the foundation of agreed upon images and inspiration keeps both the designer and the client tethered to reality, and thus minimizing the frustrating back and forth.

I hope that help answer any murky questions about using inspiration with clients! Remember, inspiration is simply a way to help bridge the communication gap between the designer and those who aren’t as comfortable swimming in that subjective world.

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