What Inspires Undergraduate Design Students?

Paul Rodgers, Alex Milton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The importance of design inspiration sources and the way designers utilize them during their designing activities is well documented (Oxman, 1990). For example, the use of nature as a source of inspiration is widespread in a variety of design disciplines (Petroski, 1994), such as the invention of VELCRO in the early 1940s (Wake, 2000). More recently, architectural design firms such as Frank Gehry and the Future Systems Group have received widespread recognition for their creative use of design inspiration sources. Gehry, responsible for the design of the hugely successful Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, lists one of his main sources of design inspiration as 'fish '. The Future Systems Group (1999) on the other hand are well known for their extraordinary range of inspirational sources in their design work such as the use of cross-sectional views of racing yachts in the design of the Lords Media Centre, London. In the realm of product design, inspirational sources are also viewed as a significant factor in the development of unique and innovative objects. For example, the hugely successful Michael Young includes the work of the American conceptual artist Jeff Koons, old tractors and milk bottles in his list of wide-ranging inspiration sources (Payne, 1999). Similarly, the British furniture designer Matthew Hilton has used imagery and inspiration sources in his Wait plastic chair from classic furniture pieces of the 1960s and 1970s including Vico Magistretti's Selene chair and Joe Colombo's Universale chair (McDermott and Dewing, 2000). However, studies into what inspires undergraduate design students, to date, have been neglected. Thus the goals of this paper are firstly to investigate what inspires undergraduate design students and secondly explore any correlation between the formal undergraduate coursework performances of the students and their design inspiration sources.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-55
JournalThe Design Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2001


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