When you design for the screen, it’s easy to think the screen is where you should go for inspiration. It’s definitely one place – there are some amazing people doing some amazing work in pixels. But you’d be cheating yourself if you only looked to your own industry, or medium, for inspiration.

I’ve always found inspiration looking at parallel industries. I love looking at physical objects for interface design inpsiration. Designing interfaces for physical interfaces requires more discipline because, unlike the virtual world which has no shape, edges, or boundaries, the physical world has strict limitations. How designers deal with those limitations and tough choices makes for a wonderful library of ideas.

I wanted to start our own 37signals library of physical interfaces from which we could draw inspiration. So I hired Object Design League here in Chicago to seek out, source, and begin building our physical interface library.

The initial collection was just installed last week. It’s near the entrance of our office so you can’t miss it when you walk in:

There are buttons, measuring tools, indicators, timers, and lots of other interesting physical interfaces.

We put together a short video highlighting the start of the collection. Over time we hope to expand the collection and find more inspiration for manipulating the physical, and virtual, world.