When a designer gets stuck, they often turn to design inspiration websites to satisfy their curiosity. It’s nice to watch someone with amazing talents showcase a design but I’ve also found fixating on inspirational ‘design porn’ can be harmful to the creative process.

 

What is ‘design porn’?

‘Design porn’ is a tongue-in-cheek term to describe any form of design that is foremostly pleasing to experience but may not be practical in the real world. Communities like Dribbble and Pinterest are usually home to these purveyors of pleasant pixels.

For example, a designer might challenge themself to completely redesign the Facebook news feed to look like a slick interpretation of the Instagram feed. The redesigned interface now looks more visually appealing because every post includes imagery like Instagram.

But during this redesign process, the designer has ignored important factors like how Facebook users prefer to see or interact with their news feed in favour of making just a beautiful visual design. The design concept is uploaded to Dribbble and other users praise the work for looking good, but in reality the redesign is more difficult to use than the existing experience. The redesign lacks the substance of the original so it can’t be considered an improvement. It is just design porn.

 

Comparing yourself to other designers

Dribbble and Pinterest are major hunting grounds for design talent, which encourage designers to create this kind of speculative work.

There is a lot of incredible design work on these sites that will help give you ideas. The problem with design inspiration is it can also lead you to fixate on comparing your work to speculative work. And that can be damaging.

Seemingly perfect designs can make you unfairly critical of your work, which may have lost some of it’s visual gloss through client revisions, project changes, user testing outcomes, and other factors. The speculative work you admire might’ve even been created so the maker can flaunt their skills and get paying work. This kind of work prioritises style over substance like a peacock shaking their flashy feathers to impress a mate. Although it’s tempting to look, you may be better off abstaining from this kind of inspiration and search for better ideas elsewhere.

 

Doing great work within constraints

Designers love working on unconstrained, greenfield projects that let them put their personal touch on a product. But chances are you’re more likely to work for an established business with pre-defined needs and expectations. Under these circumstances, a designer may have fewer design tools to use inside a rigid business framework, but this is often a blessing. The clearer the design objectives, the more likely you’ll be armed with a deeper understanding of the client, customer’s needs, and you’re purpose as a designer.

Working with an established product or brand forces designers to be more creative and solve problems that fit into an existing ecosystem. A designer making speculative design porn may struggle to create a practical solution because their ideas are based purely on guesswork.