As long as I can remember, I've maintained an library of inspirational imagery. I'm always consuming visually appealing material, so if I find something, I grab it, whether it's an interesting font, photograph, texture, color palette, icon, or UX pattern. Growing as a visual designer means keeping up with the ever-shifting trends and visual innovations out there in the world, and a library of inspiration can be a place to stockpile the state-of-the-art.
Just about anything can inspire visual creativity. Don't limit yourself to obvious things like icons or UI elements; branch out and explore non-digital works like paintings and illustrations. Over the years, I've collected thousands of these interesting and inspiring artifacts, including fonts, photographs, textures, color palettes, and even code snippets. As my collection grew, though, it became increasingly difficult to maintain it and keep it useful. Enter Evernote.
Evernote excels at nearly everything I was looking for in a digital asset management application: it makes content collection, tagging, and sharing a snap. But Evernote's secret awesomeness is in search: it can instantly find text not only in tags, titles, and notes, but also, using very accurate OCR, within the images themselves.
Search inside images
Suppose I'm working on a contact form and I want some inspiration from the outstanding examples in my library. Instead of hunting and pecking for interesting form elements amongst the hundreds of images I've clipped from around the web, I can search using text I think might be included in the images I want. Typing "First Name", for example, finds all of my clips with that text inside the image or its metadata. This is a killer feature - it makes quickly searching my library a whole lot less painful, and also frees me from needing to exhaustively tag every single artifact as I go.
If you find yourself running the same searches over and over, Evernote can save it for you as a shortcut. (See this great article on Evernote power searching for more tricks.)
Dead simple content capture
To build your inspiration library, grabbing content has to be dead simple - otherwise it's a chore and it doesn't get done! Fortunately, Evernote has super fast capture tools for pretty much any situation. In a browser, take your pick from: Chrome, Firefox and Safari extensions. Even Internet Explorer gets the love (install the Windows desktop client to get the IE extension).
With the recent acquisition of Skitch, capturing extends beyond browsers to any screen content. With Skitch, you can screen-grab, annotate, and send to Evernote in just a few quick steps. (Here's a video demo of skitch in action.) Skitch works on your Mac, iPad or Android device.
Disclaimer: I worked on the design of the Skitch icon.
Your inspiration library, everywhere
One of Evernote's key strengths is being able to access all your content on any device. Apart from the desktop clients, Evernote has an excellent web interface. In many ways, I prefer the web version - it's a simpler front-end. It's great when I need quick access to my inspiration library.
The Evernote iPhone and iPad apps are some of the best on the iOS platform, hands down. They are free, and offer everything that is great about the desktop and web versions in a mobile form factor. Evernote has an Android app, as well.
More Evernote quick tips
A few other random pieces of advice for those of you using Evernote to capture the inspiration around you:
- It's a good idea to organize and tag stuff as you enter them. You'll thank yourself later.
- Re-title notes to make them more content specific. Titles like "DSC00003" will end up making finding things later more difficult.
- Keep well structured folder stacks.
- Use the Saved Searches feature.
- Another quick way to capture: on a Mac, drag and drop items onto the dock icon.
Go get some inspiration
I've focused on the virtues of Evernote, but whichever application you use, building and maintaining a personal inspiration library of visual materials can be an extremely valuable tool for any designer.
Here are some places I go when I want to find new material for my library:
- From thenextweb.com: 97 places to find design inspiration
What about you?
How do you use Evernote? Any fresh ideas for maintaining a personal inspiration library? Do tell!