By Andrew Neitlich

Do you have one or more idea files?

By Andrew Neitlich

A key tool in any web designer’s or developer’s kit should be a set of idea files. These are files filled with great ideas that you see on the Web or in print ads, and can refer to over time.

You should have a few files, some hard copies of screen shots and some made up of bookmarks to actual sites. Depending on your area of expertise, these might include: great home pages, navigation schemes, color schemes, order page copy, clean layout, catalog structures, headlines, favorite web sites from a specific industry, competitive sites, and so on.

Knowing the Sitepoint audience, I am confident that some of you are already typing away about copyright violation. Hold on there. All I’ve said is that you should have a file or files where you store great ideas. That way, when you need ideas, you can use your files as an easy way to “jog” your mind and get some inspiration. You still need to follow applicable copyright laws.


For instance, right now I’ve started doing marketing consulting to a variety of healthcare practices, including web site design. So now part of my desk is covered with advertisements and web sites from a bunch of different medical practices. While I won’t steal copy or design, I can do three things with them:

1. I can show them to clients to get a sense of what they do and do not like. This also establishes me as a credible resource to them.

2. I can use these to develop a point of view about effective and ineffective marketing techniques in healthcare. This point of view helps me write articles and establish myself as an expert in this field.

3. I can use these examples for inspiration.

Do you follow this practice? Should you?

  • Tony

    yes, absolutely – being a design-oriented person I’m always noticing great colour schemes, design quirks, etc and think it’s what helps develop an individual’s taste and broaden one’s design horizons.
    It’s something I did way back when I started and still do (I’ve got a box-room office and half of it is what my partner calls ‘rubbish’).
    An example of how important this concept is to me: She threated to tidy up all the ‘rubbish’; I threatened to leave her.

  • Lira

    Aye, and I’ve improved a lot since I started doing it. I also add some “tags”, usually related to the colour scheme and/or typography.

  • Absolutely. I have both a folder with screenshots and a bookmarks folder for each client where I research competition, and similar websites that are good inspiration. I have time in each project for researching other websites, and it gives me some real inspiration… not just for design but also features, content, and focus. It’s amazing how much you can learn by just looking at the competition’s website.

    I recently started a project in which we were supposed to include features A, B and C. After reviewing other prominent websites in the industry we found that 2/3 of the features we wanted to include were not on competitors sites (for a reson). We eventually dropped those features and added other more personalized features in line with what was standard in the industry (and even went above and beyond on some).

    Had we not done the research ahead of time, we might have spent a lot of time and money only to release features that no one would have needed or used.

  • Great advice imho. I’ve personnaly done that for months, and felt the need to have an easily-structurable data repository for this kind of things, which I found to be a very suitable use for a wiki (dokuwiki if you want to know).

  • myrdhrin

    Files? Ideas?… I got a wiki where I store all these (and I’m using dokuwiki too)

  • Microsoft has a new product called OneNote which is absolutely great for this kind of thing.. Check it out..

  • Any chance of covering basic lead generation? For example, do introduction letters followed up by telephone calls to get appointments work? Is there any other good low-cost lead generation ideas that generate appointments, leads? I’ve tried cold calls but its not generating any appointments and I think I should be introducing myself first.

  • I do this all the time… view hundreds of sites and choose the best bits and maybe draw inspiration on them further down the line.

    A good practice is also checking out them template sites.
    Take a quick glance at the thumbnail, but don’t open the full preview.
    This way you can try to recreate the original aforementioned layout, without copying most of the styles … it’s a good way to come up with original results!

    The ‘screengrab confab’ (http://www.cameronmoll.com/archives/000043.html) is also an awesome resource for inspiration, as it never gives away the whole game/product

  • designoweb

    I have bookmarked thousands of websites urls and evertime i found new site, i saved it. Now here are list of folders, which i have never counted. We are making new designs everytime and do not get time to see what stored lasttime. Clients have specific requirements. How do you decided that the site your are looking is the only site for insipiration. Every website i see, has somthing differnt and have insipiration. How many sites are we can store for future. As future is changing.

  • I have over 1000 sites in my favorites, all organised of course.

  • Gator99

    They’re called bookmarks.

  • analytik

    Gator99 – LOL!

    Since I’m more of a programmer than designer, I have bunch of bookmarks stashed in my “_to_read” folder. And I store my ideas in dokuwiki – that is, those that I have time to formulate – and the rest of them is on paper. Putting down design ideas since I’m 8 or something :)

  • Eater

    I eat chicken and drink beer. mmm.

  • i have a word file where i was comparing between me and the other big developers and my ideas.

  • GreenBoy2000

    I find using mybase freeform database is a good tool for this. it allows the user to arrange data how they like with screenshots, web addresses and any other info they like..

    Grabbing ideas is the only way of building a resource to help spark your own imagination, but you need to be a bit methodical so you can track them down again later.. lol

  • Dr Livingston

    aye… i have a box where i put my ideas down, but my ideas and thoughts are more in regards to the development side of things only, rather than design :)

    when i have an idea of how something could be done, or even if it might be possible, ill find some time to do some research on it; ie has it been done before in one form or another? no point repeating yourself.

    next step is to put that idea into practice, when i have written enough notes, and clarified my thoughts more.

    the end result is that with this, and some time you can put together some half decent script, off the bat so to speak that has some tests to back it up and requires little refactoring.

    so yes, an ideas box/folder/whatever does help…

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