Inspiration is perishable. And, unfortunately, it often strikes when I least expect it—when I don’t have a pen or pencil handy, or a piece of scrap paper to write on. I’m sure, like most people, I have forgotten more good ideas than I have actually been able to execute.
However, over the years I’ve developed a way of coping with the fleeting nature of good ideas: the morgue file. Traditionally, morgue files were folders kept by detectives and contained notes, pictures and documents for reference during the course of a criminal investigation.
As these folders grew during a case they began to tell a story; each clipping a different part of the puzzle. When taken as a whole, these morgue files could help investigators solve a mystery.
In a peripheral way, designing for the web is much like solving a mystery, or putting a puzzle together. It makes sense then that morgue files have been adopted by designers, illustrators and artists. As a visual person, I find that my memory is triggered nearly as much by seeing familiar objects as it is by my sense of smell.
By collecting interesting magazine clippings, flyers, packaging, photos, screenshots and etceteras I find that I can catalog little bits of inspiration, put them in a safe place and draw upon them for later use. Essentially, it’s a system for memory recall. Taken together, these scraps help ground my decision making and help define my vision as a designer.
Rather than keeping one large file with everything thrown in together, I compartmentalize my findings so that when I’m looking for say, typographical inspiration, I have a place to start. Here’s a sampling of the categories I use to organize my morgue file:
And here’s a quick snapshot of some of my recent clippings: