When I started working on “Finding Nemo” (or “Toy Story 2,” or the big software projects I directed at Pixar), one of the first orders of business was to pull together an inspiration reel, a collection of moments that represents the tone and spirit of what we were hoping to create. Recently, I asked some designers at other startups if they’d share examples of mobile experiences that they found inspired, exceptional, surprising in a good way, or just delightful. Folks started sending us some great stuff, but a few asked me what an inspiration reel was, why I was pulling one together, and how my team here at ToyTalk would use it.
We’re designing products that we hope will end up full of win, so it seems reasonable to surround ourselves with a big pile of already-existing win. Moments, gestures, experiences, reveals, color, timings, movement, lack of movement, or other specific things that stand out at just the right moment, in just the right way, and change an experience or propel a story forward in a remarkably efficient manner.
A collection of moments like that constitutes an inspiration reel, and we want to put one together so that we can watch it again and again, initially to help us get started and, sometimes, to suggest quick, stand-in solutions for design problems that we don’t have time to solve at that particular moment. But later on, we use it to look back at something concrete that reminds us of what got us started in the first place. When one gets lost in the sea of infinite details and nerdy decisions on the way to shipping real product, being able to go back to where a design journey began can offer a little bit of calm and reassurance when one needs it the most.
Inspiration reels tend to be a collection focused on a theme. Pulling some examples from previous work, we built collections of awesome moments of cinemascope films for “A Bug’s Life,” lots and lots of water for “Finding Nemo,” 70’s sci-fi for “Wall-E,” and prison movies for “Toy Story 3,” digging deep into each of these areas to understand what has worked in the past and why.
But then there is the other kind of reel, which is more broad in terms of inspiration and includes piles of random and amazing things. Watching these kinds of inspiration reels can often lead to “peanut butter in my chocolate” moments where two separate things suddenly come together to make something entirely new and exciting.
Movies aren’t apps, and apps aren’t movies, but efficiently communicating intent, meaning, feeling, and purpose is common to all good design. Remember…
… when you saw that flock of little buttons in Path spin, anticipate, and then gather up in the corner.
… when you heard ObiWan say, “That’s no moon. It’s a space station.”
… when you poked the button in Uber to summon a car, and then a magic map was revealed, showing you your car as it drove toward you.
… when Brody said, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
… when you hesitated and don’t pickup the next AngryBird and the pigs, getting restless, started to murmur in the background and you deeply understood their discontent.
… when Pippin asked if Aragorn knew about elevensies and, as Aragon walked away, he tossed Pippin an apple.
Taking a step back to appreciate and understand what’s going on at these particularly well-crafted moments, and how they fit into the context of the larger stories and experiences that surround them, seems like a good way to help increase the odds that as we’re creating something new, we will end up with something full of win.
Like when Dory casually comments, “You know, I speak whale.” Boom. There’s a metric ton of win.
So, in that spirit, let’s see what the readers of Pando Daily want to call out and celebrate. Reply to this post and list a mobile app or two, and a specific thing that jumps to mind about why it’s so awesome. No hating on other people’s posts, pulling together inspiration reels is a generative process. And please, don’t put your own work in the list, that doesn’t count. Putting together an inspiration reel is not about self-promotion, but about gathering and benefiting from the great work of others that has come before.