Design Inspiration

On a recent trip to Chicago, some fellow interior designers and I spoke with Eva Maddox of Eva Maddox Branded Environments, about the state of the design industry. “Are designers still inspired in their designs?” she asked us. In reflecting on my own work, I decided to explore Eva’s challenge by gathering insight from different facets of the profession and designers with multiple levels of experience. I found what they said inspiring.

Some seasoned professionals say they find inspiration from the theoretical viewpoint. Crystal Kittredge of Sasaki Associates in Watertown, MA, spoke of understanding human behavior and interaction as inspiring.
For instance, watching children on a playground can help you tap into your own inner child.

Brian Smuts, senior associate at Gensler in Chicago, said he likes to surround himself with talent and giving these talented people the freedom to be creative. Mentoring young designers is important because as a profession we learn from each other and get inspired by the people around us.

Dewey Nichols, manager of store design for Talbots, is inspired by two celebrity designers, Holly Hunt and Barbara Barry. “They capture a clean and sophisticated design language that speaks to the customer,” he says. “Both have a materials palette that is studied and harmonious.” Dewey also cheers the designs of architect Robert AM Stern. “He reinterprets the classics with a clean and sophisticated style unlike the post modernists of the 1980s.”

And young designers, what inspires them? Jillian D’Amato of Prellwitz Chilinski Associates in Cambridge, MA said, “My design inspiration comes from my surroundings, whether I’m taking a closer look at a building detail I’ve seen before, or a lone tree standing tall and statuesque amongst skyscrapers. It’s often the small things I find myself most influenced by.” However, great architectural works also inspire her. Recently, she analyzed Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center at JFK in New York. “The graceful, organic lines and simple, unfussy details are hard to resist. Recently I tried to incorporate that design philosophy into my own.”

In addition to studying their physical surroundings, many designers turn to the online resource Pinterest. This social media tool, which functions like a traditional mood board, encourages designers to organize and share things they love. They’re also using the site as a resource for creating inspiration boards for themselves and for clients. A great aspect of using Pinterest as a design resource is the ability to comment on featured designs. It can lead to an open forum for designers looking to share ideas. The popularity of this site has skyrocketed over the past few months, so much so, that it is now the third most popular social media site, behind Facebook and Twitter.


I, personally, have always found my environment (both interior and exterior) to be inspirational. The change of seasons, a fresh snowfall, magazines, commercials and auto design inspire me. My father who is an exhibit designer has always inspired me. So where does he, the “Chief Envisioning Officer” of his own firm, gather inspiration? Dad says he has six essentials: nature, geometry, architecture, color, technology, and sociology. And he quotes the author, Jack London, “Inspiration — You have to go after it with a club.”

What have I learned from this experiment? Inspiration, and the tools that fuel it, are the lifeblood of the design professions, just as they were before the information age.

Amy Warren, IIDA, is a region design specialist at Kimball Office.

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