There's the old saying, "Good artists copy, great artists steal." I still don't know what the difference is but I steal ideas all the time.
More and more, I've been looking to architecture for inspiration. Buildings, skyscrapers in particular, share characteristics with the common web page. They're built and designed for a vertical space. As a result, many of the design elements that go into architecture can be quite appropriate for site design.
Inspiration for Snook.ca
When I did the redesign of Snook.ca a few months back, I had gone through a number of revisions, none of which seemed to hit the mark.
To give you some backstory , I'm actually a big fan of the Art Deco style. I love hitting up Miami's South Beach and just soaking it all in. When I came across a photo from 1950 of the Waffle Shop in Washington, D.C., I was instantly inspired and felt the need to integrate that style into my work.
There are three particular elements that I took to implement into my design: the wrap, the overlap, and the 3 column grid.
This design element actually appeared in the previous version of the site design but only on the comment box. I decided to take it to a whole new level by using this wrap everywhere. It really helped soften the design and create more visual interest. I tried to implement a lot of "visual motion" into the design. There are the lines behind the logo, the subtle S in the header goes from the tagline ("tips, tricks...") to the navigation, and the dimple accent that appears just below the tagline.
The overlap on the Waffle Shop sign is highly pronounced and I tried to come up with a way to accomplish the same thing. The tagline was originally supposed to be entirely uppercase but because it appeared over the line, I didn't have any descenders. So, I switched it to lowercase to at least get the P to cross the line.
When I was working on the design, I was trying to work within two columns. But the sidebar just never felt right. There was too much information that I felt was relevant and needed some added attention. Noticing the 3 window panes, I decided to go with a 3 column layout.
Don't go overboard
My advice in taking inspiration from other places is to not go overboard. In other words, don't copy it verbatim. This is where people get all uppity. Grab the elements that you like and build it into what you're doing. Take elements from any number of places. Another example where I've done this is the books and speaking engagements listed in the left sidebar. The design approach is the same as Cameron Moll's (see books in right sidebar).
There is an image with a border with some text beside it. I changed the style to fit my site but it's still the same basic approach.
All the gallery sites and Flickr inspiration groups are great, and you can definitely find some great design elements but take some time to get walk around and see how other things are designed. Architecture, magazines, books, and signage are just a few good places to find some design inspiration.
For more information on the Waffle Shop and Art Deco check out: