Where novel visual styles come from

In software, the most common source of visual inspiration is other software. That is, designers copy other designers. But what if you want to introduce a new visual style? Here are the approaches you can use.

Take an existing software style and tweak it

I assume this is the most common source of new styles in software design. It’s easier to be novel if the amount of change is small.

Copy artistic fields outside of software

For example, graphic design styles are usually easy to transfer to software design. Fields like architecture and painting might need some outside-the-box thinking.

Combine two or more styles

Take some characteristics from one style, and the rest from another, to create a combination that hasn’t been seen before.

Explore what a new technology can do

New technology is sometimes introduced without much purpose. Often that new technology enables new visual styles. Explore what it can do.

Pick a concept and use it to inform style decisions

For example, if you explore the concept of “wealth” and how it can be represented visually, you might discover new styles you can use.

Transform an existing style based on some function

For example, pick a visual style and explore how it would look if everything in it were “broken” in some way. The concept of breaking things might help you to change the visual style enough that it’s not been seen before.

Explore inside strict constraints

Arbitrary constraints encourage creativity. You push the limits of visual style more if you’ve got strict rules about what you can and can’t do. This is brute force creativity, and it is not possible unless you set constraints.

Use visual styles from historical software

This is not truly “novel” because the style has been seen before in software. But if you use a style that has not been seen in software for many years, it might have the same effect.

Do the “opposite” of what is currently popular

Look at whatever visual style is popular at the moment, and intentionally do something different in every way. This is again likely not to be novel, but your visual style will probably stand out.