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How To Find Design Inspiration For Your Next Project

Design – even before I understood what that meant I was doing it.

I would play with different size text, images and icons to entice my family to read my stories. And I drew everything by hand because there weren’t any computers, just my sister’s portable typewriter. Which of course had one ‘font’ and no option to change the size.

It took me hours to produce one page of stories, but it was always worth the effort. Because I wanted my stories to look like the newspapers, magazines and books that I saw on every library visit. Back then I didn’t understand the reason behind large headlines and well-spaced body copy. I just knew that I liked some pages more than others.

Choosing different elements from a variety of materials is the foundation of design. You take what you like and transform it to be something unique and new.

Now I do this process intentionally rather than by accident. And thanks to the internet it’s something that is a whole lot easier now that it was thirty-five years ago!

Are you wondering if this process would work for you as well? Good news, it will.

Finding design inspiration

Inspiration is everywhere – on the internet, in your mailbox and on your bookshelf. So you can start building your ‘design inspiration library’ from the comfort of your favourite chair.

Maybe you think it can’t be that easy. The most accessible place to start is an internet search and take it from there. And just like you’ve done many times with genealogy searches, define the keywords you’ll use for the search.

Use the formula you used when you first began tracing your family history – start with what you know.

Start with what you want to produce

Define your search terms by deciding what you want to create. Eventually, you may want to make multiple versions but start with the main project because you only need one design. Then it’s a matter of resizing and adjusting it to work in the other formats.

So, what do you want to produce? Fill in the blank in the sentence below:

I want to create a family history _______.

Not sure? Maybe it’s one of these:

  • Book
  • Blog
  • Cards
  • Presentation
  • Game
  • Documentary
  • Poster
  • Mural

Or you may have something else in mind. Whatever it is, that’s the keyword that you’ll use in the search.

Discover what you like

Now you know what you are looking for, the fun begins!

You’ll want to spend some time on this task but do set yourself a time limit. Like anything else on the internet, it can be easy to fall into a rabbit hole once you start searching. Before you know it, you’ll have hundreds of screenshots and become completely overwhelmed.

For personal projects, I give myself 30 to 45 minutes and use a kitchen timer to keep myself on track. I also set a limit on the number of images I save. Once I hit 100 screenshots, I sort what I have to see if there are any gaps.

So start by searching on your project type and add inspiration at the end. EG “Family history ________ inspiration

TIP: Create a Pinterest board to save all the images that take your fancy

Don’t restrict yourself just to looking at family history projects. Look at magazines, coffee table books, and annual reports. The content isn’t important here, but the presentation is. And don’t overthink anything at this stage! If you think, ‘I like it’, then save that image. And don’t ignore the stuff you see offline! Take a photo and add it to your folder or Pinterest board.

Need a head start? Check out my Pinterest board of design inspiration for family history, memory books and ways to share my ancestors’ stories.

Example of a feature page.
The Letter.
Created by Stefdesign on
Example of a text-only feature page.
The story behind the name Singleton.
Creator unknown.
Example of multiple photos.
Once upon a time.
By Shutterbug on Desert Road Trippin’

Breakdown the inspiration

Now you have a treasure trove of inspiration it’s time to break down what you like about it. Sort these into folders or sections (if using Pinterest), so you can see each category by itself.

Ask yourself what you like about each image you saved. Is it the:

  • Fonts
    Is it because of the headline? The body copy? Or large text such as a quote?
  • Image style
    Is it because of the colour (e.g. sepia, grayscale, faded etc.)?
  • Colours
    Is the overall presentation dark or bright? Soft or harsh? Subtle or intense? Is there a background colour on some pages? Or are headlines in a different shade to everything else?
  • Structure of the page
    Is it because of the margins, the number of columns, the text over images etc.?
  • Formatting of key text
    Are there quotes or similar text formatted differently to the general body copy?

I always set a time limit for this task as well. Don’t overthink the process but go with your first impression. Finally, remember that you can like multiple things about each image you save. If you like fonts and colours, be sure that image into the folder for each category.

Example of layout and captioning photos. 1818 Magazine design by Stephanie Toole
Example showing how to use font weight, size and colour to guide the reader through the text. Annual print copy of 99U Magazine
Design inspiration the cover of The First Seventy Years
Front cover of Mum’s story
Design inspiration of internal pages of The First Seventy Years
Internal pages of Mum’s story

Design inspiration is everywhere

Discovering what inspires you starts with knowing what you want to create. After that, it’s a matter of finding what you like and then analyse why. Maybe it’s just one piece of text or an image filter. Perhaps you like the colours and nothing else. Or it could be the page size and grid.

Then test the elements together to see what works together. This step is the starting point for the design of your family history. Next is tweaking and fine-tuning until you have an original design ready for your content.

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