Finding inspiration from photos via Flickr groups

I often find design inspiration from photographs. One of my favorite sources for this is Flickr groups. Lately, I’ve been really distracted by the list of my groups on the newly designed homepage. Here are some of the best that I find directly relevant to the work we do.

Visual language and interface inspiration

Possibly my favorite group of the entire collection is Inspiration Boards. This set is a compilation of people’s stuff. It might be postcards, magazine cutouts, interior design samples, shells, or a mish-mash of other objects. I find this group particularly interesting because it approaches design the same way we approach early explorations in visual interface design. When designing a product we’ll do research, define the visual strategy, and then design visual language studies that are an emotional, immediate representation of the visual strategy. The studies are arranged similar to inspiration boards in a way that separates them from any specific behavior so that our design team and our project stakeholders can have a more focused conversation about the visual design without being distracted by the interaction design.

Designing affordances using reference material

The dials, knobs, buttons etc… and Push Buttons groups are great for exploring user interface control languages. These groups cover examples from everyday life that are sometimes new, sometimes old and worn. Designing realistic controls can be difficult so it’s helpful to reference photographic material when designing your own creations. Texture is a similar group of photos with… you guessed it… texture! Of course, this shouldn’t be a sole substitute for getting out there with your own camera.

Conceptual design and a positive first impression

With so many sites dedicated to web galleries I don’t subscribe to many web design Flickr groups. Web Design, and Webdesign Inspiration are the exceptions. Instead, I look at graphic design groups that are dedicated to other forms of media. Some of my favorites are: Ad Design, books with nice covers, Cover Designers, Design & Typography, Designers’ Books, Experimental Graphic Design, Graphic [art] – from the camera [ !! ], and Wim Crouwel. I find it more useful to look outside my area of focus to explore classic and fresh ideas. These groups in particular help me consider concepts and composition over detail and craft. A well conceived visual design can enhance a company’s brand by providing a positive first impression and an ongoing emotional experience.

The dominance of color

In addition to concept, color is often one of the first things we notice about something and, therefore, a dominant factor in determining a customer’s first impression about a product. It’s helpful to find harmonious colors through photographs of life. Catchy Colors and Color and Colors are two good groups that do this. Of course, neither of these groups compares to the amazing Multicolr search lab. That tool will blow your colorwheel.

The lost art of typography

When building web interfaces or software applications we’re often forced into using one or more system screen fonts. Partly, that’s because typefaces need to be legible but partly it’s because there might be technical limitations on what typefaces the product can show. When that constraint is lifted I’ll scrounge through my collection of typeface books but also look in these groups for new and interesting ideas: Found Type, my favourite letters, Typeface Identification, and Typography and Lettering.

Other groups for simply getting lost in

These remaining groups can help inspire you when tackling other interface design elements like icon design and illustration. In no particular order: Icon Favorites, Ideograms, Pictograms and Public Space Typography, Character design, Illustration Now, and finally POP ART.

Flickr is merely one place to find inspiration for visual design. There are many others. Some of these groups are moderated more thoroughly than others so don’t expect every photo to be perfect. And if you don’t find what you’re looking for in the groups then you can always resort to searching tags.

Nick Myers

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