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Interview with Shelby White of Designspiration.net




Shelby White is a designer focused on web and print design and website development. He is a recent graduate from the Art Institute of Seattle with a Bachelors of Fine Arts, and a blogger focused on design, photography, music and other topics. Starting with very little programming knowledge, Shelby created Designspiration.net, a new way to save and share your design inspiration. To keep up with Shelby's work and updates to the site, follow him and Designspiration on Twitter.

I had a chance to speak with Shelby about the process of creating Designspiration, which comes along with some great advice for others building something creative.

You mention going into this project with very little programming experience, which is impressive considering the outcome. This certainly tells people of all experience levels that if they devote the time and energy, they can do great things. What was this process like?

We've all heard it before, "you can do anything you want if you put your mind to it", and of course I believe it’s true. There is more to it than that though. You have to truly believe in what you're doing.

Every day of the process of building Designspiration I had to question everything I was doing and why I was doing it. It wasn't that I doubted my ability to do things. It was just that I needed to ask myself how and why so I could be truly honest with myself in the goals, reasons, and time needed to bring it to life. Really it was all about wrapping my head around something I had no clue how to do. At first the design went in a completely different direction. I was complicating things by trying to get trendy and trying reinvent the wheel — but why? The usability testing and research I'd done told me exactly what was needed: an improvement upon an existing service.

Numerous times I'd sat down with fellow designers and developers and was told that what I was trying to do was silly and that it couldn't be done. The first time I heard this I believed it. However, it didn't put out my flame. The second and third time I was told that it’s not possible it absolutely fueled my fire.

Half a month later I showed those same people a beta version of the site with the most important features built (Livetype search) and both their attitude and my own completely changed.

After that I started to list out everything that needed to happen, but throughout the duration of the project there were definitely times when I had to backtrack and rework a hundred lines of code or even the whole design. All in all, before the site was launched, it had been completely rebuilt three times. Not only was I driven because I believed in my idea but I also had read these two books: Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers and Jeff Olson’s The Slight Edge. If I could read only two books the rest of my life, these would be them. I've been through both a handful of times and still draw something new each time. Both talk about devoting the time and circumstances needed to make things happen. Outliers is an extension of this idea that talks about the 10,000 hour rule. Now, I'm nowhere near 10,000 hours with programming, but it's interesting to look at the time I spent in comparison — about 2,300 hours in slightly less than a year.

Paul Rand put it best when he said, “Design is so simple, that's why it is so complicated." Part of what makes Designspiration great is its simplicity. Did you have to resist the urge to over-design or over-build?

From the beginning I really narrowed down what features were going into the site and surprisingly the color search didn't make it until later on. I didn't see the potential at first but the moment I did it was quickly added, which goes to show that you have to let ideas brew for a while before discontinuing them.

The great Massimo Vignelli once said that “good design lasts longer” and I couldn’t agree more. Good design is design with a clear purpose and that itself is part of the reason the site remains so simple (besides the purpose of focusing solely on the content). I also wanted to keep the design away from trendy design. It seems that a lot of new start-up sites fall toward trendy design so easily. It’s not a terrible thing but if its avoidable then I like to try to steer away from it.

You’ve recently started to add some social features to Designspiration, including basic profiles and the ability to follow people. What are you plans for expanding these features or for other new features on the site?

I really see these features as ways to identify an individual’s inspiration — it’s sort of a learning experience. The feature wasn't aimed at connecting users as much as it was for giving each user a constantly updated daily feed of content they may not have seen.

As of right now there are a few more features on the plate, but nothing that will substantially change the site. The goal now is really to get more people using the site because it really is a great resource for inspiration.

How did the use of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook help to launch Designspiration and make it popular in a short amount of time?

When the site first launched it hit harder than I thought it would. There were nearly 50,000 views on the first day it launched and it was viewed in 96 countries. It really was pushed harder through blogs rather than Twitter or Facebook at first, but of course when people were comfortable using the site they started sharing it. When word got out about checking Twitter’s ‘designspiration’ search feed for invites, it really started taking off.

Because of Facebook and Twitter, the site has been visited from 179 countries. I hope to see that increase and find its way into the hands of more people.

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