Inspiration is a widely recognized phenomenon in everyday life. However, researchers still know very little about what the process of inspiration entails. This paper investigates designers’ approaches when selecting inspirational stimuli during the initial phases of a design process. We conducted a think-aloud protocol study and interviews with 31 design Masters students while generating ideas for a design problem. The results indicate that searching for and selecting stimuli require different levels of cognitive effort, depending on whether there is unlimited or limited access to stimuli. Furthermore, three important stages of the inspiration process were identified: keyword definition, stimuli search and stimuli selection. For each of these stages, we elaborate on how designers define keywords, which search approaches they use and what drives their selection of stimuli. This paper contributes to an understanding of how designers can be supported in their inspiration process in a more detailed manner.
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