Design in his DNA - Dave Snowden - An Art Director's tips on how to find inspiration when there isn't any

Dave's DNA was designed with design in mind!

His Grandma was a cartoonist/colorist - drawing Woody Wood Pecker, Andy Panda and Chilli Willy with Walter Lantz.  AND colorist work on the all time tear-jerker "Bambi".
His Grandad drew signs by hand for a living.
His wife keeps him grounded and his dad taught him "Treat others how you want to be treated, son."

It's easy to see these foundation have made him the humble, sucessful man he is.

Listen to my interview with Dave, Founder/Creative Director @ Snowden Industries and read his insights in the link below:

Listen to the interview:

Click the play button below to stream the interview in your browser:

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Drawing Inspiration: An Art Director's tips on how to find inspiration for new website projects - for the times when there isn't any.
As a website developer or designer, you might find yourself staring at a new canvas in Photoshop, drawing a blank. Your job is to ultimately, (and, hopefully) create a design that will both satisfy your own client and appeal to their customers.

But how can you rise above and beyond just a nice layout and color scheme to really capture the heart and soul of what your client is all about? How do you capture the “essence” of your client and translate it into your design, and why is this so vital and, important?

If you are already a design pro, or, design challenged, and, have found yourself running into creative road blocks, here are some tips that you may find useful to help you come up with a basic yet effective game plan, which you can employ as a creative blueprint for your next website design.

When I begin art direction for each new project, I follow a four-step process that really helps me to jump-start the creative process.

The steps are as follows:

1) Know Your Client
2) What Physical Elements Relate to Your Client?
3) What Is the Mind Set of the Visitors Coming to Your Client’s Website?
4) Utilize Photoshop Resources to Help with Art Direction

Know Your Client

It's a simple concept however; you really need to find out who your client is, in detail. For example, maybe your client is a florist and needs an ecommerce site to sell flowers. You could simply take a look at their competition and come up with a pretty site, standard layout, and not really put much thought into it. Or, you could pay your client a visit (if location permits). Find out what their daily job entails. Take a look at their workspace. What tools do they use every day? What are their favorite flowers? What items do they enjoy selling most to their customers and, why? Pay attention to the surroundings. You get the idea.

Observe and, ask pertinent questions that get to the crux of what makes your client tick and who they are as a person or business entity. Can’t make it to their location? Call or email them, ask questions, and ask for photos, lots of them! Be almost annoying about it (well not really), but really try to get at understanding them on a more intimate level. Really immerse yourself in the culture of whatever subject you are working with, it will pay off.

What Physical Design Elements Relate to Your Client?

Once you’ve learned all you can about your client, as a person or entity, and, all you can feasibly know about their business, it's time to come up with a list of items that can be used as physical, cohesive, design elements. If your client sells organic coffee, what elements can you use to give the user a sense that they are sitting in a coffee house, smelling and tasting a high quality coffee? If your client sells vintage motorcycles, maybe you could visually invoke that they are standing in a garage, with the smell of gasoline, the feel of a worn leather seat, and, the coolness and shininess of the metal accents. This may sound nuts, but it works, it’s fun, and clients love it.

Recently, we designed a site for the star of a reality show called American Trucker. The premise of the show relates to finding old trucks and restoring them to glory among other Big Rig related topics. After a chat with my client, I sat down to begin art direction and created a list of elements that I felt represented Big Rig trucks.

My list of physical elements looked something like this:

• Smoke Stack Exhaust Pipes
• Rusted Out Auto Parts and Paint
• Chrome Pipes & Metal Accents
• Vintage Diner
• Diamond Plates
• CB Radio

For this particular client, because the subject matter was entertainment based, the fact that we went a little overboard with the textures, and, styles, worked out great, and, really suited the design aesthetic that they sought to create.

See the final result here:

Conversely, some companies, such as corporate businesses, simply won't allow for, or even need such a high degree of art direction or use of design elements. For example, a website for a law firm may only need clean white pages with defined headings and, classy fonts, and, that's just fine. Do what you can with these types of clients. Clean and minimal doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with use of fonts, photography and the like.

This concept is evident in another case study; in the way we approached a site for a client who specialized in Land Development. Their client base consisted of real estate professionals and developers. An industry saturated in sites with white backgrounds, and mostly typical plain corporate aesthetics. The challenge was how could we apply some of the same creative principles described above while still keeping it relevant to their industry? What we came up with was the idea to combine the traditional approach of a clean classy corporate site with a theme inspired by tangible and, palpable physical elements.

In this case, the browns, tans and greens served as a visual representation of “land”, and, were set as the color scheme, while clean fonts and other content areas were encased within the typical parameters of corporate design. The result was a completely unique concept within that particular industry.

See the final result here:

What Is the Mind Set of the Visitors Coming to Your Client’s Website?

This is a basic question that if addressed correctly in your design, can have many positive benefits such as high conversions for sales. What is going on in a surfers mind as they visit your client’s website?

Does your client sell food, are users coming to their site hungry?

Are they looking for legal advice and someone they can trust?

Addressing these questions in your design will help to visually connect your client with their site visitors.

A site selling food might want to integrate actual elements of the cuisine, by using nice, hi-rez, clear photos of their food or actual textures of the food itself. A fancy restaurant who is known for a dark, romantic environment, would undoubtedly benefit from a website that does the same, to evoke the sense that you already have a feel for being inside the restaurant just by visiting the website.

The better you understand these minds, the more you’ll open yourself up to creative ideas. Don’t be afraid to really press your client for this information. They know their customer’s needs and tendencies very well.

Utilize Photoshop Resources to Help With Art Direction

One of the things I love about Photoshop is the seemingly never-ending amount of layer styles, textures and patterns available. If you are not already utilizing these resources to jump start the speed with which you can create more amazing designs, I highly suggest you get started. Sites like are a fantastic source to get quality Photoshop resources for dirt-cheap.

For the Robb Mariani site I mentioned earlier, I was, in no time at all, able to find a nice amount of styles, and, textures, for things like pipes, dirt roads, chrome parts, shiny and, grungy effects, that all fit perfectly and, cohesively into the list of physical elements I had created.

In Summary

Begin with an email or phone to your client, and ask questions, lots of them. Come up with a list of related physical elements while remembering to address these elements from the perspective of a potential client or visitor. Most of all have fun with it! If the project allows, don’t be afraid to go overboard with the awesome capabilities of Photoshop layer styles, textures, and patterns. If the project demands a more “basic” approach, see what you can do to combine the idea of using great physical elements built around minimalistic framework. You can have the best of both worlds.

The end result should end up being unique and if all goes well, your client, and even you, will really enjoy the entire process.

Cheers, and, happy designing!

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