Overcoming Inspiration Overload

We've all heard of information overload, and most of us recognize that too much data overwhelms rather than educates. It kills our efficiency and distracts us from important tasks. With so much information at our fingertips, even small decisions become difficult. I can lose hours of time on Good Reads sifting through reviews trying to decide what book I should read next. It's fun and interesting, and my choice is well-informed, but I used to visit the library and choose something off the shelf in 5-10 minutes. Is the trade-off really worth it?

Inspiration Overload

Lately I've been noticing a similar phenomenon while designing. The explosion of great CSS galleries and design blogs out there has made it impossible to feel "caught up". There are so many cool things out there to discover... and the possibility of missing something eats at me. So I sift through dozens of blogs every morning, checking out web design galleries and typography samples and droolworthy industrial design projects. I take screenshots of anything striking or unique so I can refer back to it when I need inspiration. At home, I flip through a steady stream of magazines while watching interior design shows on TV. I pick up brochures and viewbooks for things I will never need or want so I can file them away in my giant box-o-inspiration, alongside bits of cool wrapping paper and witty matchbook covers. I can't run an errand at the supermarket without being tempted to buy a product so I can own its packaging.

It's a disease, and if it gets out of hand I'm afraid it will cripple my creativity - not to mention my productivity.

Inspiration is good, don't get me wrong. I'm just worried that too much inspiration has us all designing based on what someone did before that we thought was cool when we should be starting from scratch (or, closer to it at least) and letting our brains do some actual creative thinking. But how do you cut yourself off? How do you stop yourself from "researching" for hours on end?

I've taken a few small steps in the last few weeks. I took most of the CSS inspiration sites off my blog reader, figuring the best-of-the-best will filter through to me no matter what. And I cut back on how long I surf around before jumping into a moodboard or website design. But I feel like I need a more drastic change, or at least a way to stop focusing on the web as my main source of inspiration. It's just not that inspiring anymore, you know?

Anyone have good ideas for getting off the web design hamster wheel?

Mindy is a managing art director in our Durham, NC, office. She emphasizes clarity, communication, and connection for client such as The Nature Conservancy.

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