A question that sometimes pops up in design interviews is ‘which designers inspire you?’. I enjoy answering the question but find myself reflecting on my answer after I’ve left the interview.
In no particular order, here are the three designers I picked and my reasons below.
These inspirational designers are completely candid about how they approach the process of design. Each start with a small idea and build it iteratively. They rarely seem to draw inspiration from Dribbble or other digital sources but find ideas in everyday, tangible products like vinyl records, collected bric-a-brac, mundane objects and elements of modern art. These abstract things seem unrelated to design but they help build a narrative to give their work meaning. It can be tempting for the average designer to skip this pivotal inspiration stage and jump straight into making or copying an existing design concept, but the results are rarely as impressive.
Aaron Draplin and Stefan Sagmeister explore how found objects can impact the design world and both consider themselves collectors. Being a native of the rust belt state of Michigan, Aaron often draws upon an aesthetic that stems from industrialised, blue collar America. His design work prioritises practicality, quality and timelessness above anything else.
Stefan often uses tangible objects in his typographic designs, which gives his work a textured, hand-made feeling. Watch some of his experiments in the trailer for his movie The Happy Film.
I revisit Mike, Aaron, and Stefan’s books, articles, video lectures, and interviews whenever I need to crawl up and reinvigorate my passion for the possibilities of design.
In particular, Mike Monteiro’s publication Dear Design Student is a must-read for designers at any level. Reading it has helped me put the work I create into perspective and reminded me that there are thousands of designers who have similar professional experiences as I do.
All three designers have similar stories about how they got into the design industry. They cut their teeth working for major brands or agencies before deciding to take a leap into self-employment. Working in-house helped them develop business acumen skills alongside their design training. Mike Monteiro even wrote a great book focusing on the business of design, which acts as a sobering reminder that design is more of a trade than an art form.
There are countless other designers from many design disciplines who should get a shout out, but these three guys consistently keep the fire burning in my belly. Their work is incredible and I’d be lucky to have even half their talent and guts.