Let’s kill the Inspiration Fairy.

I want to ruin something for you. Are you sitting down? Great.

Here’s the truth. Creating new things is work. Rewarding work, sure. But work. Hard work.

It’s nothing else.

Designers put food on our tables and fixies in our hallways by solving problems for people in novel and effective ways. We do this by breaking those problems down to constituent components, using all of the information that we can gather, and then building something new.

Presented with a new problem to solve, designers don’t surf the web, go to Dribbble or leaf through design annuals. We don’t waste our time, or other people’s money, looking for inspiration. You know why? Because inspiration is for dabblers.

I’ll say that again so you understand how important this is.


Inspiration is for dabblers. 


Designers are given a problem to address and they use all of the tools at their disposal to create a strong idea that solves that problem. Dabblers go get coffee and hope that an idea strikes them. And sometimes it does. But the truth is that sometimes is rare.

You can sniff a dabbler a mile off. Ask them to explain their work and they’ll tell you what it looks like — what the colours are and which foundry created the typefaces. Ask a designer the same question and they’ll tell you what their work does. To a designer, the aesthetics matter in so far as they are in service of an idea.

A dabbler starts looking for inspiration when they’re served up a problem. They’re only thinking when they’re on the clock, and every new project starts with a mad search to find something new or obscure to copy.

Sorry, did I say “copy”? I meant “reference”.

The designer is always on the lookout for things that are interesting, incongruous, or just plain new. It’s their main mode of being. A designer is never not working. So when they are asked to look at a new problem, they listen. They think. They synthesise. And they solve.

Laypeople, including many clients, often don’t initially understand what it is that designers do. Laypeople look at the colours, the images, and it looks like what they call Art. As designers — as professionals — it’s our job to destroy the idea that we get a visit from the Inspiration Fairy every night. When a designer is asked where they get their ideas, there’s only one answer that rings true.

“The ideas come from the work.”


  1. This is awesome. The whole point being “To a designer, the aesthetics matter in so far as they are in service of an idea.” Thank you.

  2. Great post Ross! I agree with this for the most part. However I personally think seeking inspiration is incredibly important, but only outside of working on a project. Things like going to exhibitions, watching movies, going to conferences, and watching TED talks. Even chatting to people and learning how they think. We store all these things in our sub conscious and draw on them when the time is needed. For me inspiration goes beyond looking at dribbble or behance. I absolutely agree that designing something for a client is about being strategic and using things to service a goal. But having a healthy mind certainly goes a long way too.

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