This weekend I did a quick Q&A session at LessConf via video. Thanks to Allan from Less Everything for making it all work out.

One of the last questions went something like this: “What sort of things outside of design can make you a better designer? What else can inspire you to be a better designer?”

I’m glad someone asked because I’ve been meaning to talk/write about this for a while.

The answer: Nature. Spend some time outside. Take a walk in the woods. Stroll through a prairie. Visit the desert (especially the Sonoran). Climb a hill. Get down on your knees and look at the grass. Plant a garden. No space? Get some plants or flowers and put them on your desk. And if you’re lucky enough to live near botanical gardens, visit a few times a year during peak seasons.

What you’ll experience are ridiculously good designs. Millions of iterations are folded into what you see. Everything is the product of a million successful tries. The colors and shapes and structures and textures are manifestations of survival. If it’s alive it’s good design.

Then look closer. Check out the subtleties. It’s not just green, it’s a dozen shades of green. That red may be orange from a different angle. Then flip it over. There’s a whole new design lesson on the underside.

Explore the seasons. Spring is especially enlightening for designers. It’s redesign season. From brown and dead and woody to green and alive and soft. Colors burst through, new textures emerge. And it’s not just visual. It’s temporal too. Different things popping at different times and in different ways. Each design is an idea. And each one slightly better than last year.

How does this make you a better designer? For one, just spending time around so many things that work will positively influence your design thinking. Some people like surrounding themselves with beautiful objects, furniture, and art. A walk outside is a better value.

You’ll also begin building a deeper understanding and appreciation for subtlety. Nature can be loud, but it usually whispers. You’ll also sharpen your observational skills. Great designers are great observers. You’ll learn more about color than any color wheel or book can teach you. Lastly, you’ll clear your mind and fill it back up at the same time. Very few things can achieve a simultaneous refresh and refill.

Take a walk outside and look around.